The greatest things in life often hatch from a silly idea. “Let’s ride to Augsburg to eat a Römer bun!” Summer, 2020 and 18 riders, male and female, saddle up their fixed gear bikes for a ride without much rhyme or reason, in search of the ultimate adventure.
Fixed gear. One gear, no freewheel. It doesn’t get purer than this. Stripped back to the essentials, riding a fixie eliminates any risk of cross-chaining. No distractions. A mesmerising, non-stop mantra of pedals turning, uniting rider, bike and the landscape in a way that’s unmatched by other forms of riding. The experience is all-consuming, leaving you aware of nothing but yourself. I knew the sensation, but I was keen to taste it again, so I joined the Heaven and Hell Cycles Club and the Stuttgarter Velohelden (Bike Heroes) to ride from Stuttgart to Augsburg, 50 km west of Munich, population 300,000. The reason for the ride: one of our group was desperate to eat a Römer, a hearty bread roll with caraway seeds that is a local Augsburg delicacy. Over the course of the 175 km journey our thoughts, conversations, and encounters run the gamut from the banal to the surreal.
The brand new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 has entered the office, boxed up and placed in front of me. It momentarily distracts me from the task at hand: applying fresh bar tape to my old FIXIE Inc. Floater. I wonder if it is a test. How would you react to seeing the current most-hyped bike in front of you? I overcome the temptation and finish building-up the € 100 fixie frame before repacking it. The anticipation ahead of what’s probably my maddest ride of the summer is peaking.
The early hours of Saturday, 01:10
The bike is packed. Time to shave the legs, hoping that I’ll look the part even if I don’t ride like it. One bike bottle, one gear, 175 km ahead of me. Four hours of sleep should suffice. It’s about to be the year’s longest bike ride. My brain whirs. Is one gear enough for 1,300 metres of climbing? These guys won’t dawdle on the flat. Have I got the right gearing? Will it be leisurely or limit-pushing and lung-burning? Despite reducing the bike to the essentials, my inner dialogue does the opposite. One single question is louder than the rest. Is this a stupid idea?
My mate Hannes has a bike bottle but no bags.
“Hey, where are your things?”
“I’ve got a bike and a phone, what else do I need?”
I try to gauge his response. Confident, naive or simply the essence of adventure? Before I reach a conclusion, Marc, whose idea this all was, starts the briefing, remnants of the city’s previous night’s debauchery littering the ground around his feet.
“Ok, all clear? Let’s go.”
One gear, no freewheel. It’s going to be great!
First lesson of the ride: a can of Faxe fits comfortably into the pocket of the Rapha Cargo Pants. The only drawback is a rapidly chilled thigh. Seems like a fair price to pay for a Danish beer though.
“Want to share some of this Weißwurst sausage breakfast roll?”
“What about a fish bun? They’re delicious.”
“Um… I’m a vegan.”
“But isn’t fish more of a vegetable than an animal?”
I note that our grip on reality is showing signs of slipping. But should it really surprise us? What can you expect from a group that is riding 175 km on fixies for a glorified bread roll?
High-tech from another century: fixies are appreciated on long rides as the pedals just keep turning. Sure, climbing isn’t anything like it is with gears but nonetheless, we get up everything with one gear and no freewheel. It’s going to be great.
Pedal stroke after pedal stroke. The heavier the legs, the more existential our thoughts. What the hell am I doing here? Where’s the logic in my decision? Speaking of logic, what’s the logical thing to do as you prepare to turn 30? Do you do like GRAN FONDO founder Robin and buy your dream Porsche 911er, or be like me and weigh up watch choices. Is this a mid-life crisis? Am I in the midst of one?
As it’s the first time I’m riding with this group, I stick to the front where you’re usually out of trouble. Maybe a part of me also enjoys the fact that I’m facing the wind head-on. Maybe I am subconsciously trying to prove something to someone, or show myself that I can still boss a fixie ride? Whatever. Logic is thrown out the window now. One gear, no freewheel. Will it still be ok?
There’s always one, the erratic one up at the front, who sends unsettling waves through the group. They might be known for taking selfies. Today, this is me. Until a few minutes ago I was engrossed in a conversation with Fabi but now it’s time to leave our heroic exploits for future generations to recount. Even with a long way still to ride, our inflated stories get bigger and bigger: all those crashes we’ve had have left enough metal inside of us to build a Terminator. We’re not in the league of Patrick Seabase, riding over the Alps on our fixies but our legs are still made of steel… well, our shins anyway. My pre-ride doubts continue to swirl in the background, entwining themselves with our collective pangs for food. The ride, an idea conceived out of an insatiable desire for a local delicacy, now decides to protest to our stomachs, the majority of which appear to be crying for pizza. The yearning is so strong that you can almost smell it. The fragrance of freshly baked dough, fresh tomatoes and euphoria mix with the odour of sweaty cycling kit.
“Let’s bring it home!” Still just one gear, no freewheel. It’s getting good.
Augsburg, made it. City Hostel, check-in, pick up keys, straight to the Proviantbach for a dip in the water, bib shorts still on. Next, pizza by the metre paid for in cash, eaten in a circle, sat on damp bib shorts that will be hung up over the hostel beds to dry overnight.
The entrance to Susis Hexenhaus, a bar in Augsburg:
“Hi, I’m Fabi!”
Hm… yes, more or less the same. So that’s how nicknames come into existence! But it wasn’t the day’s only realisation. We also learned what is needed to make an adventure work:
1. One gear
2. No freewheel
3. The belief that everything will turn out okay.
175 km from Stuttgart to Augsburg. Documented with a smartphone. One gear, no freewheel. Stripping back to the bare essence was definitely a different experience. The act of pedalling so incessantly takes you to your limits. In a way, it confirms just how much you can achieve by concentrating on turning the cranks, time after time, revolution after revolution. This won’t be the last adventure of its kind. This journey didn’t ask for much but it gave us a lot, taking us not just to Augsburg but also closer to ourselves.
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Words: Benjamin Topf, Susanne Feddersen Photos: Benjamin Topf, Heaven and Hell, Velohelden Stuttgart