Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Can I tame this bucking bronco?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The grit and slush of winter are thoroughly ingrained on my rear derailleur. Every gear-change sends a grinding tremor through the levers.

One solution would be to clean it all up. A more radical option would be to get rid of derailleurs altogether. Either you adopt a technological fix - those crazy Rohloff 14-speed hub gears - or you give up on gears altogether.

This is the solution favoured by Will Meister, who runs hubjub.co.uk. A few years ago, Will fell in love with riding fixed gear. He set up a website, 63xc.com, for fellow fixed off-road enthusiasts, and hubjub followed.

Now Will has gone into partnership with the Ohio-based bike designer Gaansari to market a British version of its Scorcher model, built by Mercian - a elegant, old-fashioned steel racer.

Fixed doesn't just mean you have only one gear - that's single-speed - but that you don't have a freewheel. When you stop pedalling, the bike stops moving. You can't coast.

Stop pedalling and you find your momentum is pushing upwards at your feet: you can be thrown off. Also, you don't have gears to change down into up hill - and can't relax on the way down. Lastly, because you use your legs for braking, it can be hell on the knees (have a front brake fitted, too).

Fixed, however, is getting more popular. For many, it is an aesthetic thing - they enjoy the intimacy it gives them with the bicycle, the way that effort translates directly into movement.

Fixed is also good training - you use your muscles more, you develop a very even cadence (important for efficient riding), and you learn to handle a bike better. Bike guru Sheldon Brown, at sheldonbrown .com, recommends riding fixed as a way of learning to handle a front brake - what they told you at school about using the back brake is nonsense.

Because there are fewer moving parts, a fixed set-up is cheaper, and very low-maintenance. Unlike derailleurs, which change gear by pushing the chain sideways, the chain runs in a dead straight line, so it suffers far less wear and tear. A fixed set-up is also far more mechanically efficient than a freewheel, which means that the lack of gears isn't quite as much of a problem as you might expect.

Those were the arguments Will used to talk me into borrowing the prototype Scorcher. And I've started taking it out in our local park to get used to the sensation.

The bike handles superbly: slaloming around the trees, I could take far tighter turns than on my homemade boneshaker. The sensation of the pedals pressing upwards as you slow down is weird, but using the front brake I've avoided pain. The next stage is to get out on to the roads for some real hard work. You'll be reading my report - or my obituary - soon.

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