Monday, November 17, 2008

2 wheels, 1 gear... Sounds about right to me!

By KATE MOLLESON, FreelancePublished: Thursday, October 18 2007

Fixed-gear bikes, designed for velodrome racing, are gaining popularity on the streets - to the point of obsession for many of their converts

Before we get started, I should admit I, too, am a fixed-gear fanatic. My first awkward ride on one of these peculiar machines was little over a year ago, but full-on obsession was already apparent when, after winter rides on salt-strewn roads, I started sneaking my Miele, a 1980s aqua-marine road-bike-turned-fixed-gear, into the bathtub for sudsy rub-downs - several times a week.

True, a bike designed for velodrome racing doesn't necessarily make for the most practical city ride. Braving Montreal's peril-ridden roads without gears, freewheel or visible brakes requires a near-senseless degree of gall.

But for a growing subsection of the city's pedal pushers, "practical" isn't top priority. Montreal's "rues sales et transversales" are especially conducive to the fixed-gear romance, the gritty allure of our Expo-era aesthetic matching that of the flaking steel frames. That stripped-down simplicity, the hypnosis of continuous pedal motion, leaves fixed-gear riders feeling in tune with the road - and in love with their bikes.

So it was with some trepidation that, one clammy summer night, I approached my first street-track event. This is where fixed aficionados gather, usually in dark and decrepit corners of the city, to show off their bikes - and their bags of bike tricks. Amateurs are rare at such events, females even rarer. This particular street-track's flyer advertised skid, sprint and track-stand competitions with a picture of a gooey green dinosaur riding a fixed-gear. His teeth looked awfully sharp.

But I dug into my toe-clips and rolled up to a cluster of Converse-clad twentysomethings cooing over an array of sleek-looking frames strewn around Lafontaine Park's Sherbrooke St. parking lot.

A pierced blond ambled toward me, spindly legs wrapped tightly by the requisite ripped black jeans. Dayne Waterlow, a messenger-turned-mechanic, is co-founder of fixed appreciation group Skids in the Hall, which organizes the street tracks. He's also a local legend for his ability to skid absurd distances.

While his eyes shrewdly scanned my Miele's aging components, I noticed four menacing blades replacing the spokes of his back wheel.

"Aerodynamic?" I ventured. Waterlow patiently explained the blades are so sharp they once sliced a rider's knee right off. Gosh.

I also noticed mine was the only bike in the parking lot with a front brake. "When I ride with a brake, I feel lazy," explained fellow-Skids member Dan Pelissier.

What about careless drivers? "If I see an accident about to happen, I avoid it," Waterlow said. "You can just feel it. It's like having the force."

After a good hour of bike chat, the competitions revved up. Two dollars for entry, winner takes all. Onlookers lingered, sipping the ubiquitous Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Waterlow offered a word of warning before the sprints: "We're racing on open roads - don't get hit just to win the $20. Not worth it."

But the greater fear seemed to be being beaten by a girl on a geared road bike. I asked her how she copes with the machismo of the fixed-gear scene.

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