It’s possibly one of the greatest adrenaline rushes you can have on two wheels short of throwing yourself down a mountain. Brakeless fixed gear crits take crit racing to a whole new level. Shorter and more aggressive races, tighter technical courses and a sense of relinquishing any fears you may have of crashing. Your legs and mind are now in charge. Stay on your toes, keep your hands in the drops, and prepare for battle.

The bikes

Fixed Gear Crits
The simplicity of track bikes make them all the more stunning.
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Fixed Gear Crits
A moments lapse in concentration can have expensive consequences.

Fixed Gear Crit requirements are effectively the same as a velodrome. Your frame must have horizontal dropouts, you must use drop bars and of course no brakes allowed. Carbon frames are creeping into the peloton more and more but aluminium and steel still take preference for most teams. While the courses may suit carbon frames with their often less than pristine road surface, crashes are pretty much a guarantee, so you don’t want your carbon frame disappearing into a million little pieces. Cue Jeremy Santucci…

The Setup for Fixed Gear Crits

Considering the technicality of the courses most riders opt for compact road drops and generally very long stems for an aggressive position over the front end to handle the rapid interchange of corners. Some riders also position their saddles a touch lower than say on road bikes to reduce strain on your hip flexors as you cannot stop pedalling for the duration of the race. Crank length is also a major consideration for the same reason so 165mm is a given. Cornering at angles of 45+ degrees you need to ensure sufficient clearance in the corners. That being said it’s pretty much a do or die situation in every corner with riders leaning in as hard as they dare so sparks do fly!

Fixed Gear Crits
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Fixed Gear Crits
With only the bare minimum of parts to make the bike function, bike prep is crucial.

The Gearing in Fixed Gear Crits

The clue is in the name here, fixed gear. Needless to say there is no chance of shifting gears during the race so choosing the correct one is key! As with most crit courses each will vary in technicality, gradients and even cobbles. Many elite racers will go for 48x14t which is 92.6 gear inches. A good gear to start out with is something around 50x15t giving you 90.0 gear inches. You’ll no doubt find yourself exceeding 110rpm cadence and hitting 50km/h even in qualifying! With your legs having to do all the work including slowing down from high speeds, it is a physically draining discipline with no real rest in effort. Your choice of gear then is imperative to avoiding crashes and being able to keep up with the bunch.

Fixed Gear Crits
Using the peloton to rest …
Fixed Gear Crits
… ready for breakaways.

The Skinsuits

The days of murdered out kits forming a shadowy peloton are long gone. More and more teams now are fully customising their kits head to toe. The melting pot of creative cyclists is rich among the fixed gear community and its becoming an inspiration for “the mainstream”. Not having to adhere to sponsorship brand requirements it instead follows each individual teams identity.

Fixed Gear Crits Fixed Gear Crits
Fixed Gear Crits
Bright colours and lairy patterns liven up the peloton.

The Tactics

Efficiency is of prime importance because you cannot coast so you need to carry speed wherever possible to reduce excessive acceleration and deceleration. In the sprints riders are limited on their top speed by gearing or cadence. This makes moving up places difficult but timing a sprint right so as you’re first or second into the corner can work. Tactics as with all crits are tricky to nail down because every race differs hugely but having a rough plan and finding a good wheel to follow into corners can make all the difference. Stay out of the wind!

Fixed Gear Crits
Fixed Gear Crits
Positions are constantly tussled for with attacks …
Fixed Gear Crits
… on every stretch of the circuit.

The Fanfare in Fixed Gear Crits

Loud, proud, and not afraid to let out a death metal roar. At more major races especially, you are guaranteed to find mass gatherings of people cheering on (often) friends and team mates in the races with a beer in one hand and a cowbell in the other. A variety of portable speakers can be heard blaring out everything from Michael Jackson to Black Sabbath.

Fixed Gear Crits
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Fixed Gear Crits
Beer in one hand, cowbell in the other – this is the supporters uniform.

The Camaraderie

The beauty of a racing discipline spawned from a community of cyclists rather that UCI regulations is a strong sense of camaraderie between even rival teams. Each race is treated with as much intensity in racing as it is with catching up with overseas friends. Lending components, chainrings, spare chains, rollers is all part of the vibrance in Parc Ferme. Visitors at each race can freely wander through the ranks of pro and semi professional athletes to observe these rituals for themselves.

Fixed Gear Crits
Sharing …
Fixed Gear Crits
… is caring.

Why Fixed Gear Crits?

There aren’t many chances you’ll ever get to Line up on the starting grid alongside professional riders. Fixed gear crit racing captures the imagination of people who want to get into racing but are put off by the long process of getting licenses and working up the ranking. Thanks to newly modified qualification formats, you will always have a chance to race even if you don’t make it into the main events. If you can compete and ride at a high level, you can become an overnight success in this discipline.

Fixed Gear Crits
Team GB’s Dani King and pro cyclist Loïc Chetout both competing with completely different results.
Fixed Gear Crits
It’s testament to the variety of bike skills required for this unique discipline.

The Afterparty

Whether it’s at the start or the end of the season, you party hard. You’ve earnt it right?

For more information about crit racing head to granfondo-cycling.com/criterium-fixed-gear-racing

Words: Charles Nicholson Photos: James Nicholson