Get a Brake
There are certain corny, contradictory maxims designed to make you do the right thing that simply aren’t true. A good example is the one about how abstinence is the best form of birth control. That’s complete crap. One has nothing to do with the other. It’s like saying building a garden shed is the best way to avoid hang gliding mishaps. Another is the one about getting high on life instead of getting high on drugs. Sure, you may be happier without drugs, and you'll certainly be better off, but you won't be high. Life is irritating, not intoxicating. If living your life made you high then waiting in line would be illegal and you’d pay lots of money to go to parties where you could stand in them for three or four hours.
But here’s one corny maxim that is true: brakes make you faster. I suppose some people think riding without a brake in traffic is somehow daring. But it's not. Actually, it’s pretty low on the spectrum of dangerous things you can do on a vehicle. Riding a liter sport motorcycle at high speed is dangerous. Racing cars is dangerous. Hang gliding instead of building a garden shed is dangerous. And guess what? Except for the hang glider, all those guys use brakes. Not only that, but they actually care about what kind of brakes they use, and instead of removing them, they sometimes even upgrade them! Why? Because you can go faster when you can stop faster.
Consequently, riding without a brake doesn't say, "I'm hardcore." It says, "I'm afraid of exploring the full performance potential of my bicycle." Indeed, in the gym class of death-defying vehicle operation the brakeless fixed-gear rider is just the slightly less nerdy kid who picks on the really nerdy kids but gets beat up by everyone else. Basically, you rank somewhere between skateboarders and actual bicycle racers in the amount of danger you flirt with. Serious motorcyclists confront death much more regularly than brakeless fixed-gear riders, and they don’t rely entirely on their transmissions to stop. The only things that don’t use brakes are skateboards and things without wheels that don’t touch the ground, like boats. I guess that’s why most brakeless fixed-gear riders these days ride like they’re driving Boston Whalers while intoxicated—they’re slow, they weave, and they take a lot of time to stop. (That might also explain why they wear canvas boat shoes.) So put a brake on your bike and you can actually start to flirt with some speed on a bicycle.
Ride The Right Way
Bike salmon are the new wheel-suckers, and now that the weather is nice and all the vanity bikes have come out of mothballs I feel like a rolling sample sale in that I’m constantly being mobbed head-on by fashionistas. I’m not sure when it became mandatory for fixed-gear riders to go against traffic all the time and I’m not sure where it came from. The only thing I can think of is how when I was a little kid I went to that birthday party at Hot Skates in Lynbrook and the DJ suddenly announced that everybody had to spin around and skate the wrong way. Maybe it’s something like that, but since I’m not a real part of the “bike culture” I didn’t get the message from the fixed-gear DJ that it’s time for the reverse skate. At any rate, whatever the reason for it, trust me when I tell you guys you can go a lot faster when you ride in the right direction. Especially because I won’t keep coming at you and force you to ride into a truck. (You can even keep your neckerchief on.)
Fixed-gear riders have a lot to learn from their singlespeed mountain biker cousins. For one thing, singlespeeders know a lot about how to achieve a straight chainline. They also know where to get good weed. And perhaps most importantly, they know that an important part of putting power to the ground through a singlespeed drivetrain (especially when there’s an incline involved) is leverage. That’s why they actually use riser bars that show some metal between the grips and the stem. Granted, you don’t need bars as wide as your typical singlespeeder’s if you’re riding through traffic. But you also don’t need bars that are narrower than your Q-factor. And if you’re still worried that your wider bars will impede your progress through all those cars, just remember that you also have brakes. If that gap in front of you suddenly closes you’ll be able to change your line on a dime.