On bicycles and cameras


I went for a ride on the fixed-gear on Saturday.  It wasn’t a long ride, and I didn’t ride particularly fast.  I figured it would be good to get out for an hour or so and see some of the countryside and work some of the soreness out of my legs from Friday’s soccer and a recent Crossfit workout.  It was.

Riding the fixie pleased me in ways that I’m having trouble identifying or articulating.  Part of it is the aesthetics.  When you look down, there’s no extra stuff.  The drivetrain is incredibly simple.  A simple (cheap) probably mild-steel frame without too many things bolted to it supporting only what is necessary to go down the road.  Flat black everything, some bar tape I had lying around, nitto bullhorn handlebars, and a brooks saddle.  The only concession to style (and visibility) on this bike is the bright yellow wheels, tires, and chain.  I like bright yellow- it’s a happy color.

The feel was nice, too.  Kinesthetically, you feel every degree of gradient, because you’re more connected to the back wheel.  You don’t get to coast, so you experience going down hills differently.  You can’t just store energy from coasting down a big hill and use it to get up the other side, you have to moderate your speed so your legs don’t fly off the pedals.

The sound was probably the best part.  You don’t realize how noisy a normal bicycle is until you go without the freewheel and derailleur.  If you’re pedaling smoothly on a fixie, you don’t hear much.  The chain is nearly silent when it doesn’t have to go through idlers and pulleys and scrape past derailleur cages.  It just goes around in its pleasantly asymmetrical rounded shape and propels you forwards.  The perfect chainline, lack of anything to slap, and constant chain tension make for a very pleasant, quiet ride.

My gearing wasn’t ambitious (42×18), but neither are my lungs or legs.  I muddled through, and managed not to forget to pedal and send myself over the bars.  (I’ve nearly done that before, and it’s not fun.  The urge to pedal-pedal-pedal-coast must be overcome, because the coast bit just doesn’t exist anymore.)  I didn’t wear anything particularly special, save for bike shorts under my normal shorts.  I wanted to be able to wander around Hudson without looking like I just stepped off the set of a superhero movie.


While on this ride, I wanted to be able to take some pictures, so I slung a $10.00 messenger bag I picked up at Goodwill on my back and loaded it with cameras.  I was thinking about bringing along my Olympus XA, which is a fun little rangefinder (and also a $10 garage sale find), but I need to get some batteries for it so I can finish off the half-exposed roll of film that’s in it.  Who knows what’s on the already-exposed frames?  Not I.  Instead, I brought my Voigtlander rangefinder along.  Now this is a camera.  It takes Leica M-mount lenses, if you are so inclined.  I’m not… yet.  They are a bit spendy, so I opt for the Voigtlander versions instead (which are made in Japan, not Germany or Canada as the Leica lenses are.)   I brought the 40mm 1.4 and the 12mm, but only shot with the 40.

I had about half a roll of Ilford Delta 400 to finish off.  There were a couple of interesting spots worth shooting, including the main drag in Hudson where a few interesting store signs line up in a particularly pleasing manner, at least to my eye.

Shooting with the rangefinder pleased me in ways similar to riding the bike.   It’s quiet.  It’s solid-feeling.  You have to know what you’re doing… if you forget to set the ISO on the camera, you get under- or over-exposed pictures.  If you leave the lens cap on, you get black pictures.  If you backlight something, you have to figure out how to do the exposure compensation or use AE lock (an unlabeled silver button on the back of the camera that could be for anything.)  If you forget to pedal, it sends you over the bars, in effect.

I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with these toys.  We’ll see how the pictures turn out, and we’ll see if I get the strength back into these legs to put the 46t chainring on the front again and get some decent miles on the bike.