So, now that I’ve got pictures, I’ll give y’all the whole story on yesterday’s Century ride.
My bike is set up as a street bike (one gear, fixed, narrow bullhorn handlebars, hard, flat seat), so I had to make a few purchases to be ready for a long ride. The first thing I bought was a pair of bike shorts, and I won’t go on another long ride without them. My future kin are grateful, if you catch my meaning. Those were absolutely the most important purchase I made. The rest was for the bike: a 16 tooth freewheel for my flip-flop hub and a bottle and holder.
My brother-in-law Kalim had discouraged me from riding the whole ride fixed gear, so I bought the freewheel with the intention of riding the century on a singlespeed, but not fixed. That morning, I rode to the startline with the freewheel, but standing in line after registration, I changed my mind and decided to start out fixed. After all, if I changed my mind during the ride, I could always switch back to the freewheel.
switching back to fixed at 5:30 AM
I was glad I went with fixed. It’s what I’m used to, and when you’re used to the fixed gear, you have a lot more control over your speed than you do with brakes. There’s nothing like being able to ride for long stretches of time with your hands off the bars and still being able to regulate your speed. The ride had a pleasant start through Manhattan with very little traffic so early in the morning, and before we knew it, we were at the first rest stop in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. We ate, checked out the next stretch of the route, stocked up on some free Accelerade, and set back off on our way down along the Brooklyn coastline.
Kalim on his Fetish Inizio
Once past Coney Island and on a nice greenway along the water, we got into our first good paceline. I lead the pack for several miles, and Kalim took over for the second half. The next rest stop was at Canarsie Pier, and the next leg of the trip took us through residential Brooklyn and Queens, up to Flushing Meadows park, which you might know as the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, or, to the younger set, the place where the giant cockroach stole and crashed the flying saucer at the end of Men in Black. From there we headed east, out to the Kissena velodrome, where we had the privilege of taking a few laps. it’s fun – it took me a lap to realize that the curve and lean of the track steers for you, allowing you to keep your tire straighter than normal.
Shortly after the velodrome was the halfway point (54 miles) and another rest stop. There were still two fixed gear riders at this rest stop, but that was the last time I saw them. Kalim later said that they looked worn out, which I wouldn’t doubt.
From there, we set out through the very suburban areas of Queens to the northern coastline, which was a nice sight for Kalim and me, being native to coastal New Hampshire. We rode along the coast past the Whitestone Bridge, past Shea Stadium and eventually La Guardia Airport and the entrance to Riker’s Island. This put us close to Astoria, my neighborhood. This was the hardest stretch for me – my shoulders hurt more than anything, but my legs were getting tired as well. Fortunately, the 75 mile rest stop in Astoria Park came up quickly. I raced ahead, preferring to stay on top of my one gear, and Kalim met me at the rest stop shortly after I arrived. I loaded up on pita and hummus, which put something back into me.
After that, I definitely got a second wind, and had little trouble as we left Queens along the Triboro Bridge and made our way to the Bronx. This was early afternoon, and traffic was heavier here and now than it had been all day. Fortunately, most of the riders were experienced and familiar with city riding, so it didn’t hold us back. By now, I was getting serious looks and comments about my choice of ride – lots of concern for my knees (which are fine after a day’s rest). The Bronx loop was difficult, and for the most part, I just looked for the markings and muscled through it, though I was really starting to feel it on the climbs. We didn’t stay long at the Van Cortland rest stop, having only ten miles left. Soon, we found ourselves back in Manhattan, celebrating as the numbers descended to the low hundreds as we approached the top of the park. We were cheered to the finish and welcomed with free t-shirts and water bottles.
at the finish – 3:30 PM
a victorious bike lift
Kalim’s cyclometer reading 110 miles (incl. travel to startline)
We lay in the grass for a while, then it was time to ride home, so we took the central park loop south to 59th St, and crossed the Queensboro bridge. On the other side, we split off, Kalim headed south to Brooklyn and I north, back to Astoria, where I sat in front of the TV stuffing my face with hummus on pita and grapefruit juice.
I wouldn’t recommend it to an inexperienced rider, but riding a century on a fixed gear bike was not as hard as I thought it would be. I certainly enjoy the bragging rights, and it felt great to blow past a pack of riders as they downshift for the uphill. But please, if you do decide to do a distance ride on a fixed gear, throw a front brake on the the thing if you don’t have one already. Yes, we’re all very impressed that you can stop yourself using only your legs, but it’s very hard on your knees, and you will be able to ride faster and longer if you occasionally rely on the brake to come to a stop.
I also want to reiterate that my only training for this ride was riding to and from work every day, which goes to show you that consistent riding makes for a good cyclist. All you cyclists looking for an edge over your mates should take note. I’ll definitely be riding next year, and probably on the same bike. It’s a great ride, and I encourage anyone in the area to join me next fall!
Keep riding, y’all.