Principles of Urban Riding, Part 1: Hardware Selection

This is the first posting in what is to be a series of posts on urban riding. This is something that I've been doing, by force, since I was about thirteen. I've been riding in NYC, playing in traffic if you will, since I was a teenager. In the many years that I've been riding on the streets, I've learned more than a few tricks for staying fast and live on the road. I've been meaning to put them on paper somehow for some time now, and I figured that this was as appropriate a forum as any.

My commuting bike is a 2006 Fuji Track Pro, 49/17 gearing, with a front brake. This is an interesting and well thought out choice for a number of reasons.

The fixed gear is better in traffic for all of the reasons professional bicycle messengers know and love. Fixies, as they are called, offer a substantially lower cost of maintenance, offer faster handling frame geometries, are lighter, and even look cool to boot. The lack of dérailleurs or multiple gears means that they are easier to service. Their minimalism means that it is quite easy to have a 14lb bike, which really matters when your riding forces to to accelerate and decelerate constantly.

I have chosen to run a 49/17 gear ratio in addition to a front brake. Many people will tend to run a lower gear ratio, and no brake. This is a religious debate. It is my belief that braking a fixie with your legs is really bad for your knees, and as a result, you are lining yourself up for knee troubles down the line if you do this. Additionally, it is rare that I need to do a really hard stop on the bike (more on this later). I'm strong enough to turn a 49/17 from a dead stop pretty well, and I tend to "spin out" the gear at about 25 MPH on flat road.

For a commuter level bike for use in a fairly flat area, I'd say that the key is minimalism. I feel that the Fuji achieves this quite well.