My introduction to fixed gear riding came in the late 80s in a London where cycling had become my passion. I lived in a flat in Whitechapel, with two fellow cycle commuters; my then girlfriend had a father who ran a bike shop in Yorkshire. I was fairly naive about many aspects of cycling, but the simplicity and elegance of fixed gear bikes appealed to me. My Condor was ripe for conversion, and on a grey Saturday the drive parts and handbuilt wheels (araya semi-aero rims on maillard and pelissier, double fixed) arrived from the North along with my girlfriend (and a substantial invoice); girlfriend then departed to her flat, to unpack her stuff.
My friend and I set to work, planning to assemble my beast. Our other flatmate was out, so we felt no shame turning the lounge into a workshop. Having no workstand, the classic solution of upturning part-assembled machine was adopted. All went well, until I approached the tricky issue of chain tensioning. I do recall being aware of fingerless bicycle mechanics before what happened next, but suffice to say, we were both pretty amazed by the damage chain and chainring teeth could do to the index and middle fingers of my right hand. Fortunately, given my distaste for blood and gore, my flatmate (happy to share with me that he could ‘see the bone’) managed to get me to the local accident and emergency, having effected an emergency dressing.
Now, in a state of shock and quite anxious about losing the use of my right hand, we sat in one of the scariest places you could ever be on a Saturday night: drink, drugs, violence; all of the lunacy of East London was there to see in rather too bright fluorescent light.
After some time I was taken into a cubicle. My friend, until now fairly together, later recounted how he could see a growing pool of blood on the floor under the curtains, and how his anxieties, magnified by the Victorian setting, started to get the better of him.
Finally free, my fingers stitched, we returned home, rather lost for words. Our flatmate had now returned, and was about to raise the alarm, having discovered an open door, and blood on the ceiling. Clearly a scene of bicycle related horror, but mysterious as to its cause…
I rode that bike for 3 years, crashing it twice without too much damage to flesh or metal, until it was stolen from a shed in Lewisham.
After the theft, I never rode fixed again.
My fingers still hurt though, and the scars are visible memory.
To be fair, the hills around here don’t really allow for much fixie action…