Climbing used to be all about disco; in Flanders, it still is.

Climbing used to be all about disco; in Flanders, it still is.

De Vlaamse Disco

by / / 108 posts

I’m not a good dancer. I’ve come to this conclusion not through study but through ridicule and injury. Apparently it demands the ability to exhibit control over your limbs in some rhythmic capacity where “rhythmic” is defined both as “not chaotic” and “not stationary”. To make matters worse, this extends to all your limbs, not just one or two; you aren’t allowed to just wave one arm about because that’s all you can concentrate on. Like most men, I function with a two-item queue; I’m not a multitasker. This, I believe, is the reason why women are better dancers than men are.

The seventies is when male dancing went mainstream in the form of “disco”. If you look closely, you will notice that disco moves involve moving no more than two appendages at once; most moves can be done with half that. Convincing women that this is “dancing” is the Male Gender’s most significant accomplishment since Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity. Male dancing has not evolved since, if the local pub is anything to go from.

Prior to the invention of the compact crank, climbing was good practice for disco dancing: if the gradient was anywhere near respectable, you could ponder long and hard about the one leg that was doing all that pushing right at that moment. Even the climbers like Charly Gaul who were accredited as “spinners” came nowhere close to modern climbers’ cadential sensibilities where cols are gobbled up at 110+ rpm.

For the book signing event we held for The Rules in NYC, @Gianni loaned me his trusted steed, Bella, whom he keeps back on the East Coast. This lovely lady is clad in old school Campa and the gritty 42×23 low gear to go with it. He giggled as he watched me rise out of the saddle to do Le Disco over the stout ramps along the hills of New Jersey.

At the risk of sounding like an old grumpopatamus (the slightly less charming relation to the hippopotamus), climbing for us big blokes used to be about breathing and pushing on the pedals (that’s our two-item queues at capacity) until the eyes went dark, at which point you kept breathing and pushing until you got to the top and went down the other side like you trusted your tires more than you appreciated physics. Now its all about “cadence” and “heart rate” and “wattage” and “not being fat” and probably a few other things that I disagree with that I haven’t even thought of.

Not that I have anything against spinning; I used to be a “spinner”. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I was always the spinner in the group, riding along at 80 or 90 rpm. These days, I’m the “masher” in the group, riding along at 80 or 90 rpm. This is one more reason why I love Flanders; I’ve never seen a Flandrian spin, unless it was the 53×11. On the one occasion I caught Johan Museeuw riding a compact (testing it, he was), his only remark was that the 50T wasn’t big enough for climbing.

The Flemish riders are all about doing De Vlaamse Disco as they mash a monster gear up some unimaginable cobbled grade. I am given to understand Boonen trains by riding the Koppenberg in the 53. That’s my kind of climbing; more stubborn than brains, more burnt cartilage than knees.

That’s what Merckx invented Advil for.

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  1. @Ccos

    @Ccos

    @VeloJello

    Both my dancing and climbing style tend to match this Mancunian mad mans monkey gait…

    Jazz hands and maracas: that may be illegal. If this dude offered you pills, I wouldn’t take em.

    I wonder if this fucktards path ever crossed with Bez?

  2. @frank

    @gilly

    I always wanted to be a climber, was it just me? Sadly I’m the wrong side of 80 kilos and can’t spin so I don’t excel going north, not quickly anyway. As graceful as Robert Millar was in the Z years, my loyalty was with his team mate Greg LeMan, grinding a monster gear all around Europe. That era had some great GC climbers, Fignon could smash the 53 as well. I remember reading that he would often punish himself during altitude training by keeping to the 53 all day. Those men were gods. Great article.

    I stuck to my 53t today just to prove a point to myself. Its good punishment, if not good common sense.

    I went out for a ride with a mate on the weekend, and he’d been off the bike for a while (for various poor reasons including ‘winter’, ‘Christmas’ and ‘holiday’) so was slower than he would usually be. I usually ride hills in a low gear and spin (I’m too much of a fatty to grind a big gear for long), but as he was suffering slowly behind me I took the opportunity to experiment with climbing in the big ring.

    It was cool. I pretended I was The Prophet on Mourenx.

  3. @RobSandy

    @SamFromTex

    Both my dancing and climbing style tend to match this Mancunian mad mans monkey gait…

    Arcade Fire had a dude who basically just ran around and rocked out on a big drum. It was actually pretty cool, he was really intense and worked the crowd up a lot. It’s hard to resist someone who looks like he’s having the greatest time of his life.

    There’s a British band called Misty’s Big Adventure who have a guy who dresses in a big red onesy with blue gloves stitched all over it, and dances around like a maniac all through their gigs. Goes by the name of the Erotic Volvo.

    I’m not making this up.

    This he. Legend.

  4. After a year on the compact x 28, plateau is seeing me dropped. 25 goes on the back this month, then a standard crank as budgetatus allows. Compact kept for dream trips to the half hour climbs. Its time to get strong.

  5. @frank

    Top and bottom ratios are the same as the Damocles.

    As well as doing CX racing (the VMH says I’m “taking part” not racing) the V-bike does duty in gravel racing in ‘Murica and as the winter road bike.

    + Chain (almost) always stays on – no Schleckanicals – only have to remember to use one trigger on the Bro-set so can concentrate on not crashing (“not crashing” is my CX racing technique) – clutch on the mech so no chain slap and back wheel changes are easier.

    – Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio as the steps at the big end of the cassette are quite big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

    Will take the V-bike to the KT with tubeless road tyres to see how she does on pave.

  6. @the Engine

    – Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio as the steps at the big end of the cassette are quite big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

    Hmmmm – the two ends of that seem to conflict! “Sometimes ….. can’t……who uses…..”

  7. @VeloJello

    @Ccos

    @Ccos

    @VeloJello

    Both my dancing and climbing style tend to match this Mancunian mad mans monkey gait…

    Jazz hands and maracas: that may be illegal. If this dude offered you pills, I wouldn’t take em.

    I wonder if this fucktards path ever crossed with Bez?

    I think Bez’s drug regimen may have been a tad more unregulated in terms of quantity and variety. Also, if his dancing “style” was the result of performance enhancing drugs, he’d be entitled to a refund from Ferrari!

  8. @VeloVita

    @tessar

    @VeloVita

    For those of you that don’t follow European cyclocross and haven’t heard of Mathieu van der Poel, fear not for he will surely be coming to the pro road peloton in the relatively near future. For cruising around the steep ups and downs of the Euro cross circuit his bike is set up 1X11 with a 46 tooth ring up front and a 25t large cog on the rear. This is much larger gearing than most of the pros run, and yet he is able to power up steep ramps that leaves other top riders running. Oh yeah, he’s 19…

    …and then Nys spanks the young kids on the technical sections. MvdP is talented, but if he and Lars van der Haar want to survive they have to improve their running. Burning way too many matches trying to close the gaps.

    But SRAM’s CX1 sounds amazing. Can’t wait to try 1x drivetrains on the MTB, too.

    Except Nys hasn’t been lately…Its been MvdP and Wout van Aert riding away and staying away. Sure they’re making tactical mistakes racing each other, but right now they’re the still the class of the field. From a pure power standpoint, even Nys has said he’s impressed with MvdP – watch Zonhoven where he rides up the roped run up…its ridiculous. He won’t stay with cross though much longer – he has road aspirations just like Boom and Stybar.

    Yeah, Nys has been a sorry sight this season. And it’s clear van Aert and MvdP are a different league on the bike, which is why I’m very happy to hear he’s harbouring road aspirations. A rider that talented on the bike should concentrate on racing his bike. Can’t wait to see them tackle Paris-Roubaix once they’ve grown to handle the length of these races.

  9. @SamFromTex

    @frank

    @Bruce Lee

    Alas, poor 144mm bolt circle, I knew you once…dressed in a 42t inner ring and a 54t ’cause I was young, dumb, and Bruce Gordon convinced me it was as good as a 53t. And my MTB had chainrings of such magnitude too back in the day, a 34t x 50t. Why? To go faster. ‘Nuf said.

    This whole 1x micro drive thing on the MTBs these days boggles my mind. I’m sure it makes sense somewhere some how but I’ll be fucked if I have any clue why.

    It’s cause MTBing is obsessed with downhill riding, where it doesn’t matter, and like the rest of the industry it’s obsessed with finding something new to sell to the punters.

    I’ve seen a lot of new people out in the boonies lately with the newest and fanciest double-boinger downhill 1x setups. Some of them don’t even try to ride up, they just walk the bike uphill.

    I ride XC and the occasional trail, and done the maths. I’ve currently got 3×9 on my aging 29er hardtail, I never use the smaller granny anyway and fuck me if I’ve ever walked a hill (unless it was due to insufficient technical skill). So what is it about 1x that doesn’t make sense? Even with Shimano’s XTR 11-40, I’ll still have a lowest gear lower than what I ever needed, and a highest that provides more speed than my cowardice allows.

  10. @frank

    @Ron

    The VMH refers to my dancing as “interpretive” and I’m okay with that. Heck, I coulda been a good dancer, but I was too busy playing sports all the time.

    Spinning is so fucking boring. Why do I want to sit around and do that when I can stand and dance?

    What do we have going on in the photo – is the Hardman on the right in clips ‘n’ straps and the Hardman on the left clipless? Talk about an interesting peloton when you had those two forces coexisting.

    I love it when your meds are off a little bit and you start posting three randomly intertwined ideas in one shot. But what happened to your avatar?

    I knew something was wrong! The deceit of the wayward avatar. I think I sorted it. I was feeling odd all day, pretty amazing you picked up on this from my post.

    I do my best to keep things interesting.

  11. @the Engine

    @frank

    Will take the V-bike to the KT with tubeless road tyres to see how she does on pave.

    I seem to remember @Grlla suggested taking his Cross/Graveur on KT13. The responses weren’t so much one of encouragement but derision.

  12. @Teocalli

    @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    – Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio as the steps at the big end of the cassette are quite big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

    Hmmmm – the two ends of that seem to conflict! “Sometimes ….. can’t……who uses…..”

    Try – “Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio and the steps at the big end of the cassette are especially big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

  13. @Chris

    @the Engine

    @frank

    Will take the V-bike to the KT with tubeless road tyres to see how she does on pave.

    I seem to remember @Grlla suggested taking his Cross/Graveur on KT13. The responses weren’t so much one of encouragement but derision.

    Put it this way – I’m nearly old enough to be @Grilla’s father and my V-bike caught his Cross/Graveur rig on HOTN – it was only because he’d charmed my VMH in to not feeding me properly at the half way point that I was unable to show him my fat arse disappearing over the finish line. As it was I wobbled in 30 seconds or so behind him and had to steal some food from a small child to summon the energy to drink some beer.

  14. @the Engine

    @Teocalli

    @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    – Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio as the steps at the big end of the cassette are quite big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

    Hmmmm – the two ends of that seem to conflict! “Sometimes ….. can’t……who uses…..”

    Try – “Sometimes on the road can’t quite find the ideal ratio and the steps at the big end of the cassette are especially big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

    To get yourself out of the double bind I choose to interpret you would need….

    “Sometimes on the road some may not find the ideal ratio as the steps at the big end of the cassette are especially big – but hey, who among us uses those big sprockets anyway?

  15. @wiscot

    @VeloJello

    @Ccos

    @Ccos

    @VeloJello

    Both my dancing and climbing style tend to match this Mancunian mad mans monkey gait…

    Jazz hands and maracas: that may be illegal. If this dude offered you pills, I wouldn’t take em.

    I wonder if this fucktards path ever crossed with Bez?

    I think Bez’s drug regimen may have been a tad more unregulated in terms of quantity and variety. Also, if his dancing “style” was the result of performance enhancing drugs, he’d be entitled to a refund from Ferrari!

    I won’t mind shaking hands with Bez, but I fear the contact high would keep me out of commission for a week or so.

    The stink from shaking hands with the other would likely persist for far longer.

  16. @Ccos

    @wiscot

    @VeloJello

    @Ccos

    @Ccos

    @VeloJello

    Both my dancing and climbing style tend to match this Mancunian mad mans monkey gait…

    Jazz hands and maracas: that may be illegal. If this dude offered you pills, I wouldn’t take em.

    I wonder if this fucktards path ever crossed with Bez?

    I think Bez’s drug regimen may have been a tad more unregulated in terms of quantity and variety. Also, if his dancing “style” was the result of performance enhancing drugs, he’d be entitled to a refund from Ferrari!

    I won’t mind shaking hands with Bez, but I fear the contact high would keep me out of commission for a week or so.

    The stink from shaking hands with the other would likely persist for far longer.

    I’d recommend a fist bump wearing thick rubber gloves for both scenarios. Or maybe just a full-on Ebola suit to be completely safe . . .

  17. @tessar

    @SamFromTex

    @frank

    @Bruce Lee

    Alas, poor 144mm bolt circle, I knew you once…dressed in a 42t inner ring and a 54t ’cause I was young, dumb, and Bruce Gordon convinced me it was as good as a 53t. And my MTB had chainrings of such magnitude too back in the day, a 34t x 50t. Why? To go faster. ‘Nuf said.

    This whole 1x micro drive thing on the MTBs these days boggles my mind. I’m sure it makes sense somewhere some how but I’ll be fucked if I have any clue why.

    It’s cause MTBing is obsessed with downhill riding, where it doesn’t matter, and like the rest of the industry it’s obsessed with finding something new to sell to the punters.

    I’ve seen a lot of new people out in the boonies lately with the newest and fanciest double-boinger downhill 1x setups. Some of them don’t even try to ride up, they just walk the bike uphill.

    I ride XC and the occasional trail, and done the maths. I’ve currently got 3×9 on my aging 29er hardtail, I never use the smaller granny anyway and fuck me if I’ve ever walked a hill (unless it was due to insufficient technical skill). So what is it about 1x that doesn’t make sense? Even with Shimano’s XTR 11-40, I’ll still have a lowest gear lower than what I ever needed, and a highest that provides more speed than my cowardice allows.

    As I ride (or most accurately- as I push up hill) my single speed 29’er I curse the day I thought it was a good idea and I crave the option to shift to any gear. Mashing the pedals like a circus bear riding a unicycle just doesn’t work going up a technical session.

    @frank thank you for your always apt depictions of the reality of cycling.

  18. @VeloJello

    This image has driven me too far

    .

  19. @unversio

    Ha ha ha. Like the way he’s been valmorphanized!

  20. Back in the day (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) when I was racing, pretty much everyone rode a 53/39 with a 12-21. And I remember that I was a pretty decent climber in a 39×21 … even on long mountain climbs. I even remember a particular circuit race that had two steep climbs (like a camel’s two humps) where my team would intentionally switch to a 42t small ring as a way to play mind games with everyone else on the climbs (and it worked because lap by lap we would whittle the field down so that by the finish the lead group would be a dozen or so riders and most of my team intact). But I have to admit that now as an “old guy” who only recently made the changeover to riding a “modern” bike, I appreciate compact gearing. My Felt FC has a 50/36 with an 11-28 (although I’m not doing any real “mountain” climbing these days. I think if I did, I’d probably put a 34t small ring on just to give me even more bail out). I probably still mash more than spin (but I’m trying to re-learn how to do the latter) on climbs, but it’s nice to have lower low gears when the going gets really steep. And I like being able to stay in the big ring a lot longer on climbs. But even with compact gearing (mine is a combination of compact and mid-compact), there are pitches on roads I ride on where I still have to do the disco. :-)

  21. @unversio

    @VeloJello

    This image has driven me too far

    .

    That’s too funny by the way. So does Shaun Ryder stand in for Johan Bruyneel?

  22. @unversio

    @VeloJello

    This image has driven me too far

    .

    That is the creepiest thing I’ve seen in 2015. That includes footage of the cold-blooded murders in Paris.

  23. @chuckp

    Back in the day (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) when I was racing, pretty much everyone rode a 53/39 with a 12-21. And I remember that I was a pretty decent climber in a 39×21 … even on long mountain climbs. I even remember a particular circuit race that had two steep climbs (like a camel’s two humps) where my team would intentionally switch to a 42t small ring as a way to play mind games with everyone else on the climbs (and it worked because lap by lap we would whittle the field down so that by the finish the lead group would be a dozen or so riders and most of my team intact). But I have to admit that now as an “old guy” who only recently made the changeover to riding a “modern” bike, I appreciate compact gearing. My Felt FC has a 50/36 with an 11-28 (although I’m not doing any real “mountain” climbing these days. I think if I did, I’d probably put a 34t small ring on just to give me even more bail out). I probably still mash more than spin (but I’m trying to re-learn how to do the latter) on climbs, but it’s nice to have lower low gears when the going gets really steep. And I like being able to stay in the big ring a lot longer on climbs. But even with compact gearing (mine is a combination of compact and mid-compact), there are pitches on roads I ride on where I still have to do the disco. :-)

    I think there is a lot of promise in Shimano and Campa’s new spider design; I like the idea of getting ride of the BCD and just having a one size fits all. On my Graveur in particular.

  24. *old man croak* In my day our low gear was 42 x 19 and you’d see guys fighting out hill primes or finishes at a tempo of approximately 20rpm – you kids don’t know how lucky you are with your “contact gearing”! *shakes walking stick* *incontinence*

  25. The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

  26. @minion

    The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

    Unpossible?

  27. @minion

    The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

    Mine is 11-25. I had an major pain cave experience on a steep climb recently so bought a 12-30 to use it instead, particularly for hilly routes.

    I have since meditated on Rule #5 and have decided to put off fitting it for as long as possible in the hope that I can stop being such a big baby.

  28. @RobSandy

    @minion

    The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

    Mine is 11-25. I had an major pain cave experience on a steep climb recently so bought a 12-30 to use it instead, particularly for hilly routes.

    I have since meditated on Rule #5 and have decided to put off fitting it for as long as possible in the hope that I can stop being such a big baby.

    I’m debating internally on whether the fact that I fit my new cassette myself (first time doing that) or that it’s an 11-28 to replace an 11-25 carries more weight. One step forward, one step back…

  29. @Quasar

    @RobSandy

    @minion

    The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

    Mine is 11-25. I had an major pain cave experience on a steep climb recently so bought a 12-30 to use it instead, particularly for hilly routes.

    I have since meditated on Rule #5 and have decided to put off fitting it for as long as possible in the hope that I can stop being such a big baby.

    I’m debating internally on whether the fact that I fit my new cassette myself (first time doing that) or that it’s an 11-28 to replace an 11-25 carries more weight. One step forward, one step back…

    It’s an easy job (if you have a chain whip and a sprocket tool). I normally make a pigs ear of any task and last time I did it it took me less than 5 minutes.

    How much difference does the extra 3 teeth make?

  30. @RobSandy

    @RobSandy

    @Quasar

    @RobSandy

    @minion

    The last cassette I bought was 11-21. This entire post and most of the comments are unpossible for me to comprehend.

    Mine is 11-25. I had an major pain cave experience on a steep climb recently so bought a 12-30 to use it instead, particularly for hilly routes.

    I have since meditated on Rule #5 and have decided to put off fitting it for as long as possible in the hope that I can stop being such a big baby.

    I’m debating internally on whether the fact that I fit my new cassette myself (first time doing that) or that it’s an 11-28 to replace an 11-25 carries more weight. One step forward, one step back…

    It’s an easy job (if you have a chain whip and a sprocket tool). I normally make a pigs ear of any task and last time I did it it took me less than 5 minutes.

    How much difference does the extra 3 teeth make?

    It certainly turned out to be easy, once I had the tools. This was more a matter of finally having a go. I haven’t tried the new cassette yet as we have 20-40cm of snow right now (and clear ice banks under that) so the steed of choice at the moment is my 29er with spiked tyres. That is why I’m replacing a lot of things on my road bike now (cassette, chain, all cables, bar tape, all entirely minor things for the majority of the crowd here), giving me time to correct fuckups or have the LBS do it before April…

    The 11-28 was chosen for just one climb, I can’t wait to have a go at it although it will probably not be until May as the road does not open until then.

  31. @ErikdR

    Great article, @Frank – petje af.

    I’ve mentioned it before, I think – but the blue steel ‘Moser’ (late eighties vintage) given to me by my dad, has a 52-42 chainring and a 14-18 straight block. My aging knees seem to prefer the 50-34 compact on my (much newer; 2012) Giant for riding over the short, steep hills of Eastern Jutland – but there’s definitely something old school cool about mashing up a steep incline on the 18.

    Very minor point (*pedant alert*) – but the French word for describing people or stuff from the region of Flanders is “Flamand”. The Dutch/Flemish term (you’ll like this) is ‘Vlaams/Vlaamse’, with a capital ‘V’

    @antihero I’ve been giving some serious thought to converting one of my old steel steeds to fixed. What gear are you using on yours?

    48×16 seems to do the trick. It’s fairly hilly here in Tennessee, and if I go much stiffer than this getting uphill becomes unpleasant, and going bigger makes spinning down hill awful. I also keep an 18t freewheel on the flip/flop for a bailout gear on brevets.

    The 48×16 plus a 165mm crank and 24mm tubs yields about 79 gear-inches.

    That winds up giving you approximately 45.5 kph @ 120 RPM, and a cruising speed of 34.1kph at 90rpm. That’s fast enough to keep up with all but the fastest of the groups around here, and will get you down most hills without requiring too much braking.

  32. @antihero

    Excellent. Thanks!

    I have no experience whatsoever with riding fixed, but I suppose it would be wise (to put it mildly) to start out in relatively flat terrain, and build it up from there? (Luckily, there are quite a few roads with only mild inclines nearby, and I can save the steeper hills for later. Looking forward to trying this, once the weather gets a little bit less nasty here in DK.

    I assume you actually use your legs quite a bit to slow down on the decline, prior to (or in combination with) applying the brakes?

  33. @antihero

    Here’s an idea: how about an article on the ins and outs of riding fixed, submitted to Velominati.com? (Just a thought…)

  34. @ErikdR

    @antihero

    Excellent. Thanks!

    I have no experience whatsoever with riding fixed, but I suppose it would be wise (to put it mildly) to start out in relatively flat terrain, and build it up from there? (Luckily, there are quite a few roads with only mild inclines nearby, and I can save the steeper hills for later. Looking forward to trying this, once the weather gets a little bit less nasty here in DK.

    I assume you actually use your legs quite a bit to slow down on the decline, prior to (or in combination with) applying the brakes?

    Your legs generally take the place of the rear brake, yes. While it’s trendy to ride fully brakeless, that’s unsafe and should not be encouraged in places other than a velodrome. But a fixie only really NEEDS a front brake. Mine has both, for symmetry of the handlebars, and because I have a flip/flop rear so sometimes it’s just a singlespeed rather than a fixed.

  35. @SamFromTex Check – and cheers.

    I remember reading (ages ago, in the 70’s) that there used to be a tradition (in the Netherlands, at least – where there are no hills to speak of) for letting junior cyclists ride fixed for a season or two, before they were even allowed to start using a derailleur – in order to prevent them from mashing to heavy a gear right off the bat, I reckon.
    And of course, I’ve often heard that going fixed contributes to a good pedal stroke. I think I see a new rear wheel in my immediate future.

  36. @Chris

    @the Engine

    @frank

    Will take the V-bike to the KT with tubeless road tyres to see how she does on pave.

    I seem to remember @Grlla suggested taking his Cross/Graveur on KT13. The responses weren’t so much one of encouragement but derision.

    Yeah…this would be the subject of endless pisstaking. But I have to say that the CCX is an incredible bike and I can see why he’d want to ride it there.

  37. @SamFromTex

    @ErikdR

    @antihero

    Excellent. Thanks!

    I have no experience whatsoever with riding fixed, but I suppose it would be wise (to put it mildly) to start out in relatively flat terrain, and build it up from there? (Luckily, there are quite a few roads with only mild inclines nearby, and I can save the steeper hills for later. Looking forward to trying this, once the weather gets a little bit less nasty here in DK.

    I assume you actually use your legs quite a bit to slow down on the decline, prior to (or in combination with) applying the brakes?

    Your legs generally take the place of the rear brake, yes. While it’s trendy to ride fully brakeless, that’s unsafe and should not be encouraged in places other than a velodrome. But a fixie only really NEEDS a front brake. Mine has both, for symmetry of the handlebars, and because I have a flip/flop rear so sometimes it’s just a singlespeed rather than a fixed.

    I use a front and rear brake: I like the additional control that the rear gives me on fast downhills, and the symmetry as well. Just rolling front-only is cool too – this is just personal preference. I don’t use my legs for braking – it totally kills my knees. Leg speed control for subtle velocity corrections is important in a paceline, though. You’ll find it’s very fluid and pleasant once you get used to it.

    Riding brakeless is childish idiocy (outside the track, of course.) Besides, good tubs are $100 a pop, and riding brakeless will destroy a good tire in short order. The kiddies that skid buy nasty hard rubber bricks for their rear tires.

    Flat to rolling terrain is where the fixed-gear shines, for sure. Climbing isn’t the pain that it’s often made out to be, either: you wind up using a different set of muscles when climbing fixed, and you learn to extract every ounce of leverage from the foot/heel/knee that you can. It can be taxing until you get used to it. Just apply more V and you’re set :-)

    It’s getting down that’s the problem – if you ride any big hills regularly you’ll soon learn to spin at crazy rates. The trick is that once you get spun out, it’s easy to lose control of the rear wheel, and then you’re in for a world of pain unless you channel the souplesse.

    Ah, and don’t forget: you can’t stop pedaling. Ever. If you do, the bike will remind you of this fact in unsubtle fashion.

  38. @ErikdR

    @antihero

    Here’s an idea: how about an article on the ins and outs of riding fixed, submitted to Velominati.com? (Just a thought…)

    Tempting. I’ll consider it….

  39. @ErikdR

    @SamFromTex Check – and cheers.

    I remember reading (ages ago, in the 70’s) that there used to be a tradition (in the Netherlands, at least – where there are no hills to speak of) for letting junior cyclists ride fixed for a season or two, before they were even allowed to start using a derailleur – in order to prevent them from mashing to heavy a gear right off the bat, I reckon.
    And of course, I’ve often heard that going fixed contributes to a good pedal stroke. I think I see a new rear wheel in my immediate future.

    Interesting…makes sense to me. Same reason that they keep juniors in restricted gears.

    There’s been a good bit of debate about the fixed-gear > good pedal stroke thing. The current wisdom seems to be against it, but I disagree. I think that riding fixed has taught me loads about how to get maximum efficiency from my pedal stroke. It’s certainly taught me how to spin at 140rpm without bouncing on the saddle. (Well, without bouncing much. Depends on how tired I am.)

  40. @antihero

    When I ride fixed it’s usually agreed with my mates that I get a free pass to attack the climb to avoid stalling, and get a headstart on the descent that follows where they’ll catch me anyways.

    There’s a nearby ~80km loop that I ride a lot, and it wasn’t until I rode it fixed that I realized it includes a 20km false flat, lightly downhill with a constant backwind. Spent 40 minutes hanging on for dear life until I dropped out the back…

  41. @tessar

    That’s the rhythm, for sure. Kind of like a see-saw.

    Any you always wondered why that section was so easy….

  42. @antihero

    @SamFromTex

    @ErikdR

    @antihero

    Excellent. Thanks!

    I have no experience whatsoever with riding fixed, but I suppose it would be wise (to put it mildly) to start out in relatively flat terrain, and build it up from there? (Luckily, there are quite a few roads with only mild inclines nearby, and I can save the steeper hills for later. Looking forward to trying this, once the weather gets a little bit less nasty here in DK.

    I assume you actually use your legs quite a bit to slow down on the decline, prior to (or in combination with) applying the brakes?

    Your legs generally take the place of the rear brake, yes. While it’s trendy to ride fully brakeless, that’s unsafe and should not be encouraged in places other than a velodrome. But a fixie only really NEEDS a front brake. Mine has both, for symmetry of the handlebars, and because I have a flip/flop rear so sometimes it’s just a singlespeed rather than a fixed.

    I use a front and rear brake: I like the additional control that the rear gives me on fast downhills, and the symmetry as well. Just rolling front-only is cool too – this is just personal preference. I don’t use my legs for braking – it totally kills my knees. Leg speed control for subtle velocity corrections is important in a paceline, though. You’ll find it’s very fluid and pleasant once you get used to it.

    Riding brakeless is childish idiocy (outside the track, of course.)

    Ah, and don’t forget: you can’t stop pedaling. Ever. If you do, the bike will remind you of this fact in unsubtle fashion.

    I wouldn’t dream of ever riding a fixie without brakes – and it’s precisely this aspect of “not being able to stop pedaling – ever”, that has kept me from trying fixed in the first place. I’ve had some knee trouble recently and would be very nervous about attempting anything that might make matters worse. But I’m definitely going to try it, with both brakes firmly in place. Small steps.

  43. Just out of curiosity: has anyone tried riding with a standard, double chainring in front (say: 52-45, for example), and using an old-fashioned chain tensioner to combine it with a fixed cog on the rear? Would that even be possible?

  44. @antihero

    @SamFromTex

    I use a front and rear brake: I like the additional control that the rear gives me on fast downhills, and the symmetry as well. Just rolling front-only is cool too – this is just personal preference. I don’t use my legs for braking – it totally kills my knees. Leg speed control for subtle velocity corrections is important in a paceline, though. You’ll find it’s very fluid and pleasant once you get used to it.

    Riding brakeless is childish idiocy (outside the track, of course.) Besides, good tubs are $100 a pop, and riding brakeless will destroy a good tire in short order. The kiddies that skid buy nasty hard rubber bricks for their rear tires.

    Flat to rolling terrain is where the fixed-gear shines, for sure. Climbing isn’t the pain that it’s often made out to be, either: you wind up using a different set of muscles when climbing fixed, and you learn to extract every ounce of leverage from the foot/heel/knee that you can. It can be taxing until you get used to it. Just apply more V and you’re set :-)

    It’s getting down that’s the problem – if you ride any big hills regularly you’ll soon learn to spin at crazy rates. The trick is that once you get spun out, it’s easy to lose control of the rear wheel, and then you’re in for a world of pain unless you channel the souplesse.

    Ah, and don’t forget: you can’t stop pedaling. Ever. If you do, the bike will remind you of this fact in unsubtle fashion.

    I wouldn’t dream of ever riding a fixie without brakes – and it’s precisely this aspect of “not being able to stop pedaling – ever”, that has kept me from trying fixed in the first place. I’ve had some knee trouble recently and would be very nervous about attempting anything that might make matters worse. But I’m definitely going to try it, with two brakes firmly in place on the frame. Small steps.

    Just out of curiosity: has anyone tried riding with a standard, double chainring in front (say: 52-45, for example), and using an old-fashioned chain tensioner to combine it with a fixed cog (e.g. 17) on the rear? I.e.effectively creating a two-speed fixie. Would that even be possible?

  45. Oops, I think I just broke the Internet. Sorry guys.

  46. @ErikdR

    Just out of curiosity: has anyone tried riding with a standard, double chainring in front (say: 52-45, for example), and using an old-fashioned chain tensioner to combine it with a fixed cog (e.g. 17) on the rear? I.e.effectively creating a two-speed fixie. Would that even be possible?

    No, won’t be possible. There’s no chain-tensioner strong enough to resist back-pedaling.

  47. @tessar

    @ErikdR

    Just out of curiosity: has anyone tried riding with a standard, double chainring in front (say: 52-45, for example), and using an old-fashioned chain tensioner to combine it with a fixed cog (e.g. 17) on the rear? I.e.effectively creating a two-speed fixie. Would that even be possible?

    No, won’t be possible. There’s no chain-tensioner strong enough to resist back-pedaling.

    Terrible chainline, too. This is why flip-flops exist. As a plus, you get to pretend you’re Tullo Campagnolo in the Alps when you stop to change gears.

  48. @Erikd

    As @tessar points out, a chain tensioner only works on the slack side of a drivetrain and on a fixed gear that’s neither.

    You can run a double chainring with a double fixed cog like a Surly Dingle, but you would need to keep the total teeth of each pair pretty close (48:16 / 46:18) depending on how much room you have in the dropouts or track ends. This still means stopping, loosening your rear wheel, moving the chain and retensioning to change gears, so a clunky solution with little benefit over a flip flop hub. There is a Sturmey Archer 3 speed fixed hub but it adds at least a kilo in weight plus a cable and shifter.

    I agree there’s some validity to the idea of riding fixed developing a smoother stroke, but I think the real benefit is in increasing comfort and power at a wider range of cadences.

  49. @SamFromTex

    @tessar

    @ErikdR

    Just out of curiosity: has anyone tried riding with a standard, double chainring in front (say: 52-45, for example), and using an old-fashioned chain tensioner to combine it with a fixed cog (e.g. 17) on the rear? I.e.effectively creating a two-speed fixie. Would that even be possible?

    No, won’t be possible. There’s no chain-tensioner strong enough to resist back-pedaling.

    Terrible chainline, too. This is why flip-flops exist. As a plus, you get to pretend you’re Tullo Campagnolo in the Alps when you stop to change gears.

    Chainline is at the heart of making your fixed-gear safe, efficient, and adhere to The Principle Of Silence. On a derailleur bike, the chain obviously must change its angle relative to the bike’s horizontal axis. You’ve seen what happens when you cross-chain your drivetrain (i.e. the big front, big rear combo): everything gets noisy, shifting starts to suck, and you’ve got a much bigger angle drawn between your chain and the bike’s horizontal axis.

    Not so on a fixed-gear bike. If you attempt to make the chain wrap around the cogs at even a slight angle, you’ll find the chain begins to skip before it seats upon the cogs. You’ll hear a telltale grinding if this happens – it sounds not unlike a hub with a bad bearing. Having your chainline off by as much a half a millimeter can put you into trouble territory. In bad cases, you can cause the chain to come off the bike while you’re riding. This is very, very, very, bad on a fixed gear, and almost always ends with blood being spilled.

    This is one reason why many fixed gear riders still use square-taper bottom brackets: it’s easy and cheap to swap them out for a different axle length if you need to move your chainline around a bit.

  50. @antihero @tessar @SamFromTex Thanks for all the excellent info, gents – highly appreciated. (it’s always a pleasure to read posts by people who clearly know what they are talking about – especially when I personally, and just as clearly, do not.)

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