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Fixed Wheel is More Fun

9th May 2008, 09:49:08

By James Stocks

Since I traded in my Marin hybrid for a Specialized Langster, I've become a fixed-wheel convert.

Wheel Fixed wheel

Fixed gear bikes were once the norm, but fell out of favour when derailleur gears became popular in the 1960s. In recent years however, this type of bicycle has seen a resurgence in popularity. Accordingly, the major bicycle manufacturers have started purpose-building fixed wheel bikes for the road.

The Specialized Langster 08 is one of the latest examples of the genre. It is essentially a road bike with everything unnecessary stripped off and equipped with horizontal dropouts. It has a flip-flop singlespeed/fixed hub with a 42t chainwheel and 16t sprocket.

Without all those ugly braze-ons and unsightly cables, personally I think it looks fecking gorgeous:

Specialized Langster 08

"If it were not a violation of God's law, I would make it ma wife!"

The Langster seems to come in for some stick on bike forums, but it rides brilliantly. The gearing seems a good compromise between hill climbing and all out speed and the handling characteristics don't give away its £399 price tag. It leads me to conclude that those people who dismiss it as a poser's bike have never actually ridden one.

The wheelset, whilst not exactly the finest available, is certainly as good as once can expect for under £400 and feels sure footed when combined with the Specialized Mondo tyres. Even at 125psi, these soak up most bumps and imperfections in the road surface, but at only 23mm wide, they clearly aren't going to stand crashing over potholes. It might be possible to fit 700x28C tyres, but I'm not going to.

The clearances between the frame and wheels don't allow the installation of mudguards and it lacks the necessary braze-ons to fit them in any case. This really rules out winter use, but I don't care about that since I have my Brompton to use in poor weather or for carrying any luggage. This is a bike to ride just or the sake of it.

My Marin Larkspur was hardly a heavy bike, but it seems like a challenger tank compared to my new toy. The frame is aluminium, but it is fantastically light and is equipped with carbon forks which make the bike feel much better balanced and lithe compared to the cro-moly fork equipped Marin.

This is the first bicycle I've owned with dropped bars and these took some getting used to. I'm used to having the brake levers to hand all the time, so it can be a bit disconcerting if I'm forced to stop suddenly. This got easier once I plucked up the courage to turn over the rear wheel and use it on the fixed side, since I can now just use the pedals to slow down or skip-stop. On the plus side, I really do feel more efficient if I'm riding downhill or into a headwind, the bars really allow me to get into a good aerodynamic position.

On the subject of brakes, these are probably the least impressive feature of the bike. A couple of hard stops is enough to get the brake pads all clogged up with debris from the rim which seem to bunch up into little pearls of aluminium, making the brakes ineffective and noisy. Thankfully, the brake blocks seem to be Tektro's cheap imitation of Shimano Dura-ace brakes, so I'm hoping that the installation of some kool stop salmon Dura-ace compatible pads will sort out this problem. I guess at £399, they had to save the money somewhere.

I've been on a couple of 10 mile rides or so and considering I'm not very fit, I did OK. Since there is only a single gear, when I encounter a hill, I know I'm only going to get up it by good technique and pedaling hard. I anticipate that this is going to make me fitter quite quickly, because it is absolutely knackering but at the same time quite satisfying - there is a real sense of achievement when I reach the top!

So far, I've only managed 28 MPH on the bike, which equates to spinning the pedals at 135 RPM. Hopefully I will learn to spin faster than this without bouncing up and down in the saddle like an idiot.

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