Memorial Day weekend of 2006, I went on a bike
with my buddy Fred
Mulder. Fred rode his multi-speed Surly Long Haul Trucker and I rode my
Kogswell Model G fixed gear. In general we rode at about the same pace
and I had no problems keeping up with Fred on the climbs but on the
long descents I'd watch Fred disappear into the distance and I had lots
of time to think. One thing I thought about was that maybe it would be
nice to ride a coasting bike instead of a fixed gear. I've ridden plenty
of miles on a fixed gear
miles on a single speed bike
but I was starting to feel that perhaps it was time for a change. I was
also thinking about something Henri Desgrange wrote in 1902, "I
still feel that
varable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to
triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the
artifice of a derailer? We are getting
soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"
The cycling world mostly adopted the derailer geared bicycle and over
the years the prevailing philosophy has been to strive for more gear
combinations, varying the ratio to suit the terrain and the fatigue
level of the rider. Today, drive trains with ten cogs in the back and
at least two and often three chainrings up front are commonly
available. But there has also been a strong resurgence of interest in
fixed gear and single speed bikes, people still drawn to simple
machines and the joy of triumph by the strength of their muscles. Fixed
gear bicycles, which were once seen only on the track or in the hands
of a few messengers, are now urban fashion accessories.
I like bicycles. I tend towards the simple and William of Ockham
proposed that “Plurality should not be posited without
necessity.” William would probably not be riding the latest
Dura Ace ten speed group if he were alive today and riding bicycles.
But I am alive and riding and Fred is waiting down the road at the next
bakery. Like William, I won't be riding Dura Ace ten speed
any time soon. There's nothing wrong with the shiny ten speed stuff,
it's just not something that interests me. But maybe something more
than a single gear. After all if variable gears are only for people
over forty-five, I earned my gears a couple of years ago.
Actually a couple of years ago I picked up a wheel that I still had
tucked away somewhere, a 700c rim laced to a 1963 Sturmey-Archer
three speed internal geared AW hub
. As I thought about this
wheel it occured to me that it would probably fit nicely onto my Kogswell Model G
A few days after my trip with Fred, I dug through my pile of parts and
converted my Model G from a fixed gear to a three speed. I had a
strange old crank with a 46 tooth chainring that mated perfectly with
the 20 tooth gear on the hub. The planetary gearing of the AW hub gives
three distinct gear ratios: a direct drive together with a low gear
that is 75% of the direct and a high gear that is 133.3% of direct.
Thus my bike now has gearing of 46.5, 62.1 and 82.8 gear inches. I
select between each of the gears by flipping a tiny lever that I
mounted on the stem of the Kogswell. Since the frame lacks cable guides
and stops, I routed the cable along the top tube with zipties. An old
seatbinder cable-stop fit perfectly onto the right rear rack mount and
made for a nice straight cable run down to the hub.
I now think of the bike as the G3. It is fun to coast and the 62.1 gear
is what I ride in most of the time. But I've adopted a trinitarian view
of the world. I worked for years in the world of computers and software
and know the ways of ones and zeros, black and white, yes and no. And
I've lived 47 years in the larger world, the world of multiple colors
and infinite shades of gray. But the three speed view splits the world
into the normal, the very good and the difficult. Much of the time
things are normal and I'm comfortable in my 62.1 inch gear. But
sometimes I am feeling strong or things are especially good and I am
zooming down a hill or have a tailwind and then I have the 82.8 inch
gear. It is a good gear to have for good times. And for bad times, when
the climb is steep or I am weary, I have my low gear. 46.5 gear inches
is low enough.
I do not claim that three is better than one or better than thirty.
Each rider chooses his ride or perhaps the ride chooses the rider. I do
not know. I ride to find things out, to have interesting rides.
For now, for at least a while, I will coast, I will shift, I will split
the world into the normal, the very good and the difficult.
Issaquah WA USA
June 6th, 2006