One of the attractions of cycling is the many varied forms of machines and events. You can potter through the lanes on a tandem trike complete with sidecar, or wizz around the boards of a high tech velodrome on a state of the art composite dream machine. The endless variations available in this sport cater for all conceivable needs. I was converted to fixed wheel cycling about twenty years ago as a cycle tourist. Once the delights of feeling at one with the bike were realised by dispensing with the sloppy freewheel, I never looked back. My love affair with the cog soon moved into racing as I realised that I was far more consistent in club 10's on cog than I ever was on gears. By the end of the 1980's I was totally converted and I swapped my 14 speed road bike for a 24 inch front wheeled 165 mm cranked track bike complete with single front brake. For the next few years I only raced on gears only in mountain time trials or road races.
Now 98% of all cyclists will tell you that fixed wheel is only good for track racing or steep hill climbs. Of course this is a classic case of the few knowing better than the majority and the current competition records for the 10 and the 25 miles are proof of the superiority of fixed wheel. But even the 2% of the converted will mostly agree that fixed wheel is hopeless in mountain time trials. With this belief firmly in mind Mr fixed wheel himself, Steve Morris set me a challenge at the start of the 1990 Buxton Mountain Time Trial. This event is a 32 mile roller coaster whose exposed roads in the Peak District are windswept on a good day and are subjected to blizzard conditions on a bad day. I rode the event most years and Steve was always the start time keeper. With 15 seconds to go Steve commented on the fact that even I couldn't ride this event on fixed. 10 seconds to go I said, "put up a fixed wheel prize and you're on". 5 seconds to go Steve said, "You're on".
Twelve months later and I approached the same time keeper at the start of the 1991 event on my 71 inch fixed geared track bike. Steve sniggered no doubt thinking that this was the best £5 prize that he had ever donated when considering the amount of pain that it was going to require to win it. My cold legs heaved the gear to a start on the hill start. At the top of the first 400 yard climb my thighs were already exploding with pain. But this was nothing compared to the 35 mile per hour descent to Glutton Bridge. Although this does not sound particularly fast it equates to a pedalling rate of about 175 RPM. Needless to say by the bottom of the hill I was well and truly warmed up. Next comes the gruelling climb of "Hitter Hill". To my great surprise and relief this tough climb some how felt much easier than usual and by the top of the climb I had caught my one minute man. The downhill stretch which followed to Brierlow Bar seemed much easier than the first descent, although the minute man who I had just caught rocketed past me as I faught to keep control of the bike at such high revs.
The long and boring straight through Harpur Hill helped me recompose myself as I slowly re-caught my bewildered minute man again. He looked at me as I passed and his face said it all, "who the hell is this nutter on fixed wheel and am I really going so badly that he has caught me?" As the long and exposed climb of Axe Edge commenced the strong side wind troubled me and I toilled up the climb on a gear which was far to large for the conditions. However I am no stranger to being over geared on climbs and once over the first hard section I kept it rolling over the moors towards Royal Cottage. By the sharp turn off the main road at Royal Cottage I was quite pleased that nobody had caught me, but by the same token I could see no other riders ahead. Had the event been abandoned and was all the pain in vain. My concentration wandered and the natural tourist in me started to admire the scenery, I thought its no wonder that I can never win as the main reason for riding this event is to take in the views.
My day dreaming was suddenly shattered as Nicky Craig, the mountain bike Pro shot past me shouting, "Dig in Dave". He hadn't caught me for a minute, he had taken out 5 minutes and I was on a seeded five mark. I started the long fast drop back to the start at Longnor and Nicky disappeared in seconds. Despite revving at between 175 and 200 RPM I knew that I was losing a lot of time on the field. At long last I reached Longnor and I knew that I had competed a hard circuit. Unfortunately the Buxton does 2 laps and the pain was far from over. Fortunately for me I was about to have my most successful season ever although I didn't realise it at the time. My Winter preparation held me in good stead and the second lap was completed in a quicker time than my first. The only other rider to catch me was Fred Salmon who caught me for 10 minutes and went on to win the event.
As most cyclists do after they have ridden an event I tried to put my performance into perspective. I finished the event in 42nd place out of 94 finishers. I was first and last in the fixed wheel race. On the first climb of the dreaded Hitter Hill which was timed, I was 25th fastest. I was only 3 minutes slower than my best ever performance of six years earlier which put me in the top ten that year. To this day out of eight rides in this event this was my second fastest. I beat the previous years performance by five minutes. I have never ridden a mountain time trial since on gears and this includes the Adorior "Circuit of Kinder Scout" and the "Circuit of the Dales" 50 mile mountain time trial.
At this point I will explain what I think is the secret behind successful fixed wheel riding. If you train hard on fixed you learn to pedal extremely fast and you develop a considerable amount of strength and stamina. Conversely if you do not train hard enough you will fade away. The process of fading away is replaced by a slow and painful death if it happens on the wrong side of the circuit in the Buxton mountain time trial! I have experienced both of these extremes in this event on the four occasions that I have completed it on fixed wheel. I very much doubt that anybody will ever win this event on fixed, but then again a very famous fixed wheel advocate once took the World Hour record on a washing machine! Nothing surprises me any more.
Pictures will follow shortly.