Wabi customer answers the question “Why ride fixed?”

Photos courtesy Boris Kort-Packard.

Wabi customer and avid cyclist Boris Kort-Packard has been a devout fixed gear rider since he moved to Memphis in 2005, though he argues that the instinct dates back to his tricycle years.

Among his fleet of 13 bikes is an orange Wabi Lightning SE, which he customized to perfection, including alternating silver and black spoke nipples for the wheels.

Boris, 47, said he rides hard and long with several centuries (single-day, 100-mile rides) and eight 10,000-mile years under his belt.

Here’s what Boris had to say about why he loves riding fixed gear:

When I’m on a ride with a new group or new person, eventually there’s the same question: “Why do you ride fixed?”

And it’s a reasonable question from someone riding a bike with thirteen to twenty-one more gears than I have.

What they really mean is “why would someone choose only a single ratio and take away the ability to stop pedaling and coast?”

I bought a single-speed bike, a Specialized Langster, when I moved from the mountains of El Paso, Texas, to the much flatter landscape of West Memphis, Arkansas, which is barely above sea level. Many of the miles I rode had a total elevation gain or loss of less than 100 feet—a big change from El Paso, which was at 4000+ feet.

Fixed-gear was basic and simple, and I didn’t need gears for the area’s “big hill” that climbs only 30-40 vertical feet on the gentle slope of a side road crossing I-40.

There’s more to it, though. What really got me hooked on cycling was my first tricycle at four years old. It wasn’t what we normally call a tricycle, with a large front wheel with pedals directly attached and two smaller rear wheels. This was an orange, chain-driven tricycle with three equal-size wheels around 17 inches in diameter; narrow, solid rubber tires; and a chain going to the back axle. Plastic bushings instead of bearings and cotter pins held the steel crank on. It was cold-war era Eastern Block manufacturing. It was remarkably light and quick under the legs of a 4-year-old boy riding furiously around the park in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I could corner hard and get one of the wheels to come up off the ground.

“What do the squirrels think when I ride by so fast?” I would ask my mother. The fixed-gear cycling hook was set early and deep in my psyche.

Single speeds are reliable. When your legs go faster, you go faster. Always. It creates the sense of speed and flying that I had then and still have now on my orange Wabi SE, which reminds me of the tricycle I started on over 40 years ago.

“Just keep pedaling.”

Because of the direct wheel-to-pedal link, I am aware of my momentum and work to maintain it to crest the next slight rise that would be just a downshift or two on a conventional bike. Fixed gear bicycles are nearly identical, in a mechanical sense, to what fueled the worldwide industrial revolution over 100 years ago. With the machine distilled to its essence, I respect that my legs both propel and slow my motion.

Fixed gear is quiet, with less chain noise and zero missed shifts or out-of-adjustment derailleurs.

And deep down, I like the intensity of coast-less riding. I like the burn when I have to mash on the cranks and grunt over the crest of a hill on a century, and the giggle-inducing, cartoonish blur that my legs make on the downhill as I try to avoid bouncing off my saddle.

But that level of personal history and introspection doesn’t work so well as an answer to the question of “Why ride fixed?” So my usual answer is a bit more condensed: “It’s light, simple, and I like it.”

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