Adam fixed-gear bike

Fixie Freedom: How $450 and a Single Speed Changed My Life

Filed under: Biking  Urban 

Yes, you can ride a fixed-gear bike even if you don’t drink PBR. (But why wouldn’t you?) In this episode of Time Tested, GearJunkie editor Adam Ruggiero tells us all about his favorite piece of gear.

There’s a unique terror that comes with carrying $450 cash in your pocket as you walk into a complete stranger’s shed. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you realize you’re about to lose in a game of tic-tac-toe — only more murder-y.

As with most encounters that find one person following another person into a shed, I’d been led here by Craigslist. More specifically, I’d been lured by the promise of a shiny new bicycle. I was in my 20s, independent, and gainfully (hourly) employed. And I was ready to buy my first bike.

Of course, I’d owned and ridden bikes since I was a child. But up to then, they were woefully neglected machines of last resort. I rode them when my car battery died and no one could give me a ride.

But on that fateful August afternoon in 2011, I decided to graduate from weekend rider to full-on biker. And when I walked into that backyard shed in South Minneapolis, I didn’t just find a new bike. I found a new best friend — a partner in crime, a companion for impromptu adventures, and a trusty ride home every time I needed it.

My Favorite Piece of Gear: Fixed-Gear Bike

In hindsight, I wasn’t just buying a steel frame with two wheels and a chain, I was choosing a new life. After a few years living in downtown Minneapolis, I’d discovered what life on a bike could be: riding fast through gridlock traffic, navigating routes through a maze of city streets, and experiencing the thrill of pedaling snowy roads in subzero winters.

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I learned that a bike, not a car, better served the needs of urban life. It’s cheaper, cleaner, healthier, and oftentimes faster. But to truly understand — and embrace — life on a bicycle, only one bike would do: a fixed-gear.

One cog, one speed, and no coasting. It’s as simple and elegant as a bicycle can be. Its design promotes speed and control and demands constant attention. Because of this, fixed-gear bikes receive a bad rap as impractical or unsafe. But since adopting the riding style, I’ve found just the opposite. A fixed-gear intimately connects rider and machine — every input has a response.

It allows the bicycle to communicate with the rider in a way other systems can’t. Every ounce of speed, gained or lost, must be felt and matched by the rider’s effort. In short: Everything the bike feels, the rider feels.

Swobo Sanchez: My Favorite Bike

I bought that shiny new bike in 2011 and still ride it. It’s a 62cm Swobo Sanchez in a galvanized finish. In the 8 years I’ve owned it, I’ve ridden it thousands of miles. In fact, I’ve put more miles on that bike than I have my truck over the same time period.

I took it on a century gravel ride (probably wouldn’t recommend it), a few alleycat races, and through the winding roads of Arches National Park (totally recommend it). And, of course, it’s ferried me on countless trips to school, work, and nights on the town.

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It’s earned a few battle scars too, as any daily commuter worth its salt should. Most notably, the bike (and I) survived being rear-ended by a city bus — at a red light. I’ve even made some custom (and possibly questionable) modifications along the way. While I don’t remember why I inverted my handlebars and chopped them to half their length, I know would-be thieves would have a much easier time riding away on almost anything else.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I’ve learned to look after it just as I would any member of my household. From replacing brakes and fixing flats, to installing new bottom brackets and overhauling hubs, I make a point to keep this bike healthy.

And while this bike might be the best investment I’ve ever made, I would never, ever advise meeting a stranger in a shed holding $450 cash.

Adam Ruggiero
By
Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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