Dec. 7th, 2008

sacredchao: (Default)
I have a new bike. Many of you have seen it and know how pleased I am with it, which is mainly down to the fact that a lot of it comes from my own hands. It's an exercise in making a silk purse from a sow's ear by dint of removing most of the sow's ear, carefully tanning the tiny remnant and then covering the whole thing with swathes of silk. The fixed gear thing confuses people though. I explain that it doesn't coast and people develop fixed polite smiles and say things like "How...interesting." *shuffling of feet, peering at shiny bits* "Why?"

Not an easy thing to explain really. Reams have been written on this and for the most part it sounds like some mystical navel gazing exercise. There are some benefits forces you to work harder up hills and pedal more smoothly, more quickly and generally with better form downhill all of which make you a better cyclist. There are arguably benefits in efficiency overall, simplicity begetting reduction in losses from various types of mechanical drag which is an effect more noticeable than you might think, particularly given how good the average bicycle is in that respect already. But really, it's an exercise more analogous to cooking over an open fire or performing music unamplified. It's not necessarily better, but it's definitely different. In some ways it recalls the way the particular thing used to be done and because you're removing intermediary bits and pieces the whole thing becomes more immediate and more intimate. This is the navel gazing part, but it's definitely real and apparent. In this case, there is no discontinuity between what the back wheel does and what your legs do. At all. Ever. This leads to people rambling on about being "at one with the bike" and suchlike and they're absolutely right. Add this to the utter lack of complexity in the mechanism and it really is a case of thought begetting action. I suspect that people who have played with bow lathes or kick wheels for pottery or treadle sewing machines and found that they like them have the same sort of connection with what they're doing.

I'm not about to discard my more conventional bike and it will doubtless become my usual commuter again at some point. For now though, I'm getting a little extra fun in my daily commute. Given how arduous most people seem to find getting to work and home again, I figure being able to genuinely apply the word "fun" to the exercise is a win.


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