Monday, April 03, 2006

Fixed Gears & Road1

There's a discussion on the League's instructor list about fixed gears and the skills test for Road1. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the skills portion of Road1 consists of learning to stop and turn quickly. The instant turn is initiated by counter-steering, slightly bumping the handlebar forward on the side where you desire to turn. This momentary steering input causes the bike to heel over in the desired direction. So, for instance, if you want to turn right, push the right side handlebar slightly forward, then lean and steer into the turn.

But the question arose as to whether fixed gear riders could actually perform that maneuver without snagging a pedal. Furthermore, there was some question of whether fixed gear riders should be turned away from the course. Personally, I'd prefer that we develop better cyclists through the BikeEd program, and that means educating the riders regarding both their personal limits and the limits of their machines. We educate cyclists, not their bicycles.

Have any of you been turned away from a BikeEd class because you rode a fixed gear?

I'd hesitate if a student unacquainted with fixed gears showed up for a class expecting to ride it for the skills course. I have thousands of hours on a fixed gear, and in all honesty, the instant turn is much more daunting when you cannot coast. After snagging a pedal in a sharp corner, I'm well aware of the risks.


Given the current popularity (some would say 'fad') of fixed gears, it's almost a certainty that some of us will have students arrive on one. Which is better - turning a student away because the instructor is unfamiliar with fixies and afraid of their handling characteristics, or providing a cyclist with the information and skills he needs to be a better, safer rider? I'd come down on the side of making the students better riders, regardless of the type of machine they choose.

We've all had students who were intimidated by the instant turn. Learning it pushed their limits as a rider. They learned about the limits of their machines as well. It's no different for recumbent or fixed gear riders. We educate cyclists, not their bicycles.

Counter-steering isn’t a special skill, though it IS counter-intuitive to most people. I've told students that they already know how to do the quick turn. They just don't know that they know. They don't realize that they can deliberately initiate such a fast maneuver. Even some very experienced cyclists have trouble with counter-steering. But everyone who knows how to ride a bicycle already controls it via counter-steering, whether the rider is aware of it or not.

You may remember a book "Zen and the Art of Tennis" that said we over-intellectualize rather than rely on muscle memory. The idea is simply to think, "I want to go THERE!", focus on your destination, and your body will do it without further conscious thought.

I first heard of counter-steering in a study of motorcycle crashes long ago. When a motorcyclist (or a bicyclist, for that matter) tried to steer away from a car pulling out in front of him, he'd often drive right into it. The cyclist made a deliberate leftward turning motion that began a right turn and ended in a crash.

There’s a mistaken perception that a fixed gear cyclist is less able to perform these maneuvers. I don't subscribe to that idea, but I'll state quite plainly that the instant turn is still difficult for me on a fixed gear, mainly because I'm afraid of snagging a pedal.

One or two said they'd turn away a student who showed up on fixed gear or even a BMX bike. To my way of thinking, that's simply wrong.


Blogger George said...

I agree with you. If a rider shows up on a fixie and flunks the course, it's not the fixie's fault-it's the riders fault.

That being said, I would expect that if a rider shows up on a fixie, they are already more then likely an experienced rider.

5:27 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...

I showed up at Road 1 with a fixie. The LCI (Lauren Greenfield LCI #338) is a friend and I asked her ahead of time. The only requirement she insisted on is that I have brakes on the bike.

I went into the class already knowing about countersteer.

11:21 AM  

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