Friday, October 9, 2015

#WhyAFixie: Things to do With a Fixed Gear Bike, Part I

Let me be clear: I did not cut up the fixed gear bike I made and weld it into a tape dispenser. That statement may not be accurate next week, but moving on.

As you know I’ve given fixies and the fixed gear bike culture a gentle ribbing from afar over the years but then I thought: why mock something I don’t understand when I can just take a little time to use a fixie…and possibly find so many more valid reasons to make fun of fixed gear bikes - if not the culture that seems to go with them. 

When I started that first ride (after making sure the rear wheel was on tight) everything  was running quite nicely. I felt as though I was pedaling in just the right rhythm. I enjoyed the quiet since there was no rattle of the chain working through the rear derailleur. With the relative silence I could hear birds singing and wind rustling through the trees. As I picked up a little speed, I felt peaceful.

Then I tried to stop.

Now I don’t mean stop in the red traffic light sense - I tried to stop pedaling. But, being a fixie, my legs kept moving. Yes, you don’t hear that clickclickclickclickclick sound on a freewheel when you’re riding a fixed gear but that comes at a heavy cost. Namely: if you’re riding a fixie and decide you want to coast, you become the intimate partner who has forgotten the safe word facing the wrong end of a whip. 

The thing I made - even at low speeds - just wants to keep going. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voiceover in Premium Rush was right. Not built on a small frame, my fixie feels like a big dog constantly pulling the leash in the direction it wants to go.

And I can only shake my head at the thought of people riding these things without handbrakes - and quite a few do. I was going to made a video of me trying to stop without the brakes but couldn’t find any clothes I’d feel comfortable going viral in. 

I became convinced the beard trend is somehow connected to fixies so riders would have something to cushion their faces in a fall. 

I also began to put pieces together in my head of the times I was a pedestrian in New York City: sometimes, when I’d have a ‘walk’ signal, I’d take a step off the curb only to pause while a brakeless fixie zipped by close enough to make my nosehair rustle. 

Even when riding back and forth to Good Karma Bikes I could feel myself reacting differently at yellow traffic lights. Yes, stopping a fixie is a chore because of its design and starting it back up again isn’t a walk in the park, either - especially if you have a 52 tooth cog in the front and a 16 tooth gear in the back. 

We can come back to that later.

True to my word, I used the fixie for everything the last couple of weeks. Adding my homemade bike trailer I was able to make a Goodwill run and even come back with one of those foldable bookcases (more on what I will do with it later).

I’m still riding the fixie and will finish up this series on fixed gear bikes next week, so if you are a dedicated fixie user and know why please log onto twitter and tweet your reason to #WhyAFixie and I’ll share some of the most entertaining responses next week.

And don’t forget: if you live in the Bay Area and need a bike for Viva CalleSJ this coming Sunday, visit Good Karma Bikes; they are open today (Friday) from 2:00pm to 6:00pm, tomorrow from 10:00am to 5:00pm and on Sunday from 11:00 to 3:00pm. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

DIYBIKING.COM is Now Writing for!

Created for Good Karma Bikes using old reflectors arranged on my garage floor shot with an iPhone using the flash (if you try this and don't use the flash, it looks like a bunch of reflectors arranged on a garage floor).

Here’s something you’re going to like: I’m now writing for Blaze; the U.K. based makers of the innovative Blaze Laserlight. This changes absolutely nothing about DIYBIKING.COM except make my grin wider.

Here’s the link to my first column: ‘The First Six Places to Bike When You Move to a New City.’ Read it. Like it. Share it on social media. Follow the Blaze blog as they have a lot of talented writers working with them (and me). 

Also (and this is for my San Jose/Bay Area readers): I’m still volunteering for Good Karma Bikes in San Jose and doing a push this week to get more likes on Facebook. GKB uses Zuckerburg’s brainchild to ask for volunteers and make announcements - and there’s going to be a lot of both going on in the next few weeks, so please click her to 'like’ Good Karma Bikes on Facebook. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

#VivaCalleSJ is in a Week - Get a Bike for it at Good Karma Bikes

Open Streets event in New York City, Summer 2013

Note: I'm still riding a fixie and am still alive - but that's not why I'm posting today. Don't forget: if you have a fixed gear bike and know why you ride it (that may be a tall order, I know) Tweet the answer on Twitter with the hashtag #WhyAFixie

Viva CalleSJ is a week from today - and if you don’t know what that is I am pleased to report that not all of the knowledge I brought with me when I moved to San Jose from Connecticut a few months back is completely useless.

Viva CalleSJ is an open streets event, which means city streets (six miles of them, in this case) are closed to cars for a period of time and people can walk, bike, do yoga, juggle and just…what’s that word…play

A couple of years ago my wife and I went to one in Manhattan and it was just. Period. Plain. Period. Fun. Period. Just getting out of Grand Central Terminal and not being greeted by a swarm of angry motorists was striking. Laughter instead of car horns. Relaxing instead of rushing. Just beautiful.

Walking down a New York street we've driven or taken a taxi on scores of times before made us think differently about a city and really, for the first time, experience it on our own terms. That’s just one part of what an open street event can do (if you think it has echoes of other ideas that involve reimagining public space like Parking Day you’re right).

New York City. San Jose will soon find out just how fun and exciting six miles of city streets can be when cars are kept away. 

So for those of you who - justifiably so - do not bike on city streets because you think they are dangerous please reconsider for Viva CalleSJ: Inherently, streets are not dangerous - motor vehicles are. 

And they aren’t invited. 

And if you don’t have a bike you should absolutely go get one at Good Karma Bikes which is located (for the next several weeks, anyway) at 345 Sunol St. in San Jose. It’s open today from 11:00 - 3:00pm.  If you already have a bike but need a part, GKB will help you there as well. Have fun today and especially have fun at Viva CalleSJ a week from today. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Note: This post covers how I went about building a fixed gear bike but it will be followed up on on a later date with more information about why people use fixies - if I can find a reason. So if you ride a fixed gear bike and are on Twitter follow me at @michaelknorris and tweet your personal reason you ride a fixed gear bike using the hashtag: #WhyAFixie - and I'll cover the most entertaining Tweets in another post. 

A couple of years ago I built a single speed bike under the headline Unleash the Hipster Within. But thanks to a cheap fixed gear wheelset I bought online (and an old steel frame I bought at the always-fantastic Good Karma Bikes in San Jose) I headed to the valley between the twin peaks of hipster culture and bike subculture.

Yes, I built a fixed gear bike - also known as a fixie. 

For those of you who haven't spent time in the really cool cities like New York or San Francisco: a fixed gear bike, as the name implies, is a bike with one gear that is fixed to the wheel, which means the pedals are always turning and the rider's legs are always moving (no clickclickclickclick sound/no coasting).  If you're well-practiced, you can pedal backwards, slow down and stop just by using your legs. If you aren't well practiced you can fall harder than the coyote in a roadrunner cartoon. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Fixies have been staples of hipster culture for so long I wondered if one could objectively look at the fixie trend and see if the Tinder-using, flannel-wearing, irony-wielding, gluten-free, locally-sourced hipsters are actually onto something with fixed gear bikes…or if they aren’t.

The only way to figure that out was to build a fixed gear bike myself (even though I have no experience riding one) and ride it for a couple of weeks (hence the 1,000 Words for Sunday pic).

Now a common reasoning for building a fixie is the simplicity of the machine. So far, so good. In less time it took to get through ‘Batman Begins’ - which was playing on the DVD player in the shop for background - I had my own fixie.

The Centurion frame I bought - other it being big enough for Stephen Merchant to need a spotter before mounting it - is a decent frame that had the proper dropouts that allow for a fixed gear wheel. I stripped off the derailleurs, shifters and the inner chainring before putting the back wheel on. The front fork, however, was made for a narrower axle so I had to carefully grind the opening in the fork a little larger.

I know that a big part of the fixie lore has to do with not having any brakes (like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s bike in Premium Rush) and just using your legs - or the closest tree or parked taxicab - to stop the bike. But I left both brakes on, which is the fixie culture equivalent of wearing a winter coat over a Halloween costume. 

I was lucky to find a set of clipless mountain bike pedals I bought a year earlier a Connecticut tag sale in my workshop to use with my new fixie. I mounted it with apprehension…and will detail how the first ride went - and if I'm any closer to understanding the fascination with fixies - in another post.  In the meantime, fixie owners of the world: tweet your reasons for riding a fixie to the hashtag #WhyAFixie and I’ll cover some of the findings in Part II. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Help The East Bay Innovation Academy Replace Their Bike Shop!

Distressing news last night from NBC Bay Area by reporter Jean Elle: the bike shop at the East Bay Innovation Academy in Oakland was decimated by thieves. Bikes that students had fixed that were meant to go to a women’s shelter - and the tools they used - were stolen out of a locked shipping container. 

I’ve nearly had one of my own bikes stolen and I’ve comforted friends who have lost theirs. It’s upsetting. Not just because of the loss of a machine you love and use to get around, but because it shakes the trust you have in humanity - and that can be harder to replace than the bike itself. 

But I have a theory: most of humanity is better than the few who steal bikes. 

Now 99.9% of the time there is nothing we can do to help those who’ve had their bikes stolen, but this post is about the 0.1%. So what I’m asking you to do is make a contribution at the East Bay Innovation Academy’s donation page to replace their bike shop. 

Cycling brothers and sisters: let’s put a big, Making-A-Difference story big enough to land on the desk of Lester Holt in the next news cycle. Donate here. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Follow me on Twitter: @michaelknorris