By Monte Wehrkamp
In my community, we have some very nice trails. Note that I do not call them “bike paths.” Cyclists do use them, but these trails are not for bikes exclusively. Riders share these trails with a host of others, including walkers, joggers (with obligatory earbuds drowning out calls of “on your left” no matter how loudly shouted), moms pushing strollers, dads pulling wagons, grandparents riding adult trikes, skateboarders, squirrels weaving around on BMXs, dogs on 12-foot leads, and the occasional eliptibike (dude, what possessed you to buy that thing anyway?).
So as you can see, trails can be busy places. A cyclist using these trails has to be aware of all trail users and the trail itself at all times, lest carnage occur. You, the rider, will meet people who, upon hearing “on your left,” will move to their left. “Um, okay, on your right, I guess.”
You will meet noob riders coming the other way with no idea they should stay to their right. I’ve literally had to pull off into the weeds as an inexperienced rider, going the other way, is riding while paralyzed with fear, yelling, “Sorry, sorry, ohmygod, sorry, sorry, ohnooohno!”
Dogs and children are always a hazard, as their movements are completely unpredictable. Left, right, left, waaaaay left. No right. Best to stop and let the owner/parent corral their whirling dervish, then pass.
Then there’s the group of casual riders or walkers who stop to chat on the trail. Not off to the side. No, right there. Usually on a bridge where there’s a pretty view. That leaves other trail users traveling both directions about seven inches of clearance.
I ride these trails to get to open roads west of town, out in the country where I can get into a rhythm, set a good pace, and roll past farms and fields. Ahhh.
But getting to those roads via the trail requires awareness, patience, some quick thinking, and decent bike handling skills. You have to be able, and willing, to stop quickly. Or slow down and pick your way through other trail users. Stay on the hoods, keep your hands on your brakes.
So imagine this…
There’s a new cycling club being formed in my community for trail-riding fixie riders. Holy smokes, in the immortal words of John McEnroe, “You can’t be serious!”
But they are. “Fox River Fixies is now recruiting new members to be part of an elite fixed gear club that hauls ass down Fox River Trails. You must have a fixed gear bike, no single speeds and no brakes.”
This has disaster written all over it.
First, what’s a fixie? It’s a bike that has one gear, and no ability to free-wheel or coast – a free-wheeling one-speed is a “single speed” and these aren’t allowed in this too-cool club. If you’re moving on a fixie, the pedals are turning. Period.
Fixies are the new “throwback” trend in cycling. You’ll find them now in movies, underneath hipsters, and usually in urban environments. To be especially cool, the fixie rider will express their complete mastery of cooler-than-you coolness by riding sans brakes, instead choosing to halt their forward progress much like Fred Flintstone. Oh, and no helmets allowed. Which makes sense because if you ride a fixie, there’s probably little or no brain in your skull to protect.
Let’s now parse the Fox River Fixies’ Craigslist solicitation. “Trail-riding fixie riders.” Remember what I said about the trails being for everyone? For walkers and joggers and babies in strollers and dogs and kids and….fixies with no brakes now? On second thought, maybe the trail shouldn’t be for everyone. I’m thinking bikers on bikes with no brakes should probably be invited to ride anywhere but the trail.
Next, “An elite fixed gear club.” Elite? So, only master bike handlers allowed (will there be a skill test for all prospective members)? Cat 1 racers, maybe? Pros even? I doubt it. The elite riders in these parts are on their road bikes and mountain bikes, eking the last bit of speed and fitness from their training rides (on roads and single-track trails, respectively). I think “elite” in this context is merely a euphemism for “elitist.” As in, trendy, fashionable, and way cooler than the Lycra set. Riding skill hasn’t anything to do with it.
Finally, “Hauls ass down the Fox River Trails.” Really? Hmmm, let’s ride as fast as we can on bikes with no brakes down trails being used by joggers who can’t hear you coming, walkers that have no idea where they should go upon being overtaken by a cyclist, kids and dogs oblivious to your existence, and hell, other clueless, brakeless fixie riders, possibly.
Not to mention, most of the trail network throughout the greater Chicagoland area is limited to 15 mph, max. So, Fox River Fixies, haul ass someplace where you won’t kill somebody. Because the person you crash just may be me.
Responsible trail riding comes down to respect and courtesy. Good judgment. And that includes well-maintained brakes and saving ass-hauling for appropriate settings. Usually, tarsnakes happen to riders. Tarsnakes are rarely riders themselves. But in the case of the Fox River Fixies, we have found the exception to the rule.