The hard way — fixed gear cycling

There’s something to be said for doing things the hard way. While progress and innovation have eased our lives and given rise to the leisure class, emancipating women from the tyranny of housework, harnessing steam to conquer the frontier, and channeling the electron to bring light to darkness, there are times when a dinner by candlelight is better than one by fluorescents.

So it goes with fixed-gear cycling which is best defined as bicycle riding without gears. I got into it three years ago when I stumbled upon the Fixed-Gear Gallery and began to fall in love with the classic, stripped-down look of an Italian racing bike reduced to its most basic essentials. With a retired Bianchi steel-framed bike rusting in the garage, I did some research, found the legendary Sheldon Brown’s compendium of online cycling knowledge, and placed an order with Harris Cyclery for bullhorn handlebars, a leather Brooks saddle, a flip-flop rear hub, and new Mavic wheels with extra stout spokes. I had the frame powder coated in International Harvester Green, then asked the wrench (mechanic) at the Bike Zone in Hyannis to build it up. He thought the green was very ugly, but did me proud.

Today I waited until my wife was out on her morning constitutional, before sneaking out for a fast Tour de Cotuit on the fixie — nicknamed the “Snotrocket” because of the time I tried to clear my nostrils one cold winter morning and thought I would coast while blocking one nostril with my index finger. Since coasting is out of the question, when I sat up and stopped pedaling I was nearly thrown off the bike, leading me to the rule that one can never, ever stop cycling while aboard the bike.

Fixed gears are very old school, from the day before derailleurs and freewheel hubs. The first Tour de Frances were ridden on fixed gears. Velodrome track racers ride fixed gears, and urban bike messengers ride fixed gears. In the past few years the subculture has exploded, becoming the in thing in urban centers. A few weeks ago I spotted a beautiful specimen chained to a parking meter next to Manhattan’s Bryant Park — it had a Park Tool bottle opener fixed to the seat tube.

My route this morning was ten miles on the nose, and since it didn’t cross the very dangerous Route 28, and since I don’t want to press my cycling luck with a pan-Cape ride, I confine my pedaling to the village. Here is my 10 mile loop.

Bye-bye summer

Daphne and I camped out last night, beachside, at the prettiest spot in Cotuit. Tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags, Coleman lantern, campfire. The whole deal. We went to sleep, or tried to go to sleep to the sound of crashing surf, but …

…We brought the dog. The dog, who is smaller than a cat, was in a complete and utter frenzy of outdoors paranoia, running laps around the tent until 5 am when it finally collapsed in a ball on my head. The dog is now banned from future camping expeditions. It may be cute, but it lives on a couch from now on, not a tent. It’s also a perfect coyote snack. Live and learn.

Yesterday was the last skiff race of the season, I sat it out and watched it from the beach, not wanted to wallow in a sea of poignancy as the summer winds to an end. As a townie I get to keep my boat in the water for another month, but reality says I’ll only use it one or two more times and lose sleep over it when I am in North Carolina and start tracking the September hurricanes with the obsession of someone who lives in a place overdue for a Big One.

As sailing ends, fly fishing takes over. These are the days when it sucks to be bait, as the gamefish ferociously feed on the juvenile herring and menhaden before making their southern migration in late October. Big balls of bait get corralled off the beaches, and the feeding frenzies are a sight to behold. So yesterday morning I cleaned my reel, sorted out my gear, and got ready for a month of fishy weekends. I tried to cast at some false albacore running off of Osterville, but they were skittish and mixed in with pesky adolescent bluefish, so I worked on my casting and my sunburn and enjoyed an hour of solitude before returning to the beach to watch the final parade of skiffs and the twilight of the summer.

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