Brakeless Fixed Offroad

One of my favourite bike websites is It’s all about fixed offroad - great site - check it out. Anyway, after digging through the old articles one day my thoughts started turning to the old Steamroller collecting dust in my garage. Hm, potential radness was going to waste so I figured I’d better do something about it. The result :

First ride today, I took it out on the Yarra Trails from Heidelberg up to the old Hill Climb Circuit in Templestowe. Faaaark! It was ridiculous fun! I just wanted to keep going and going. So much fun.

The bike is basically a stock Steamroller with Soma mustache bars jacked up high for an upright position. They’re nice and wide which means great leverage when you need it and there’s plenty of bar to hang onto through the rough, bouncy stuff.

It’s got 28mm Schwalbe Marathons - I usually run these at about 90psi - onroad and offroad - but I decided to kick it down a notch to 70psi - gotta say it felt noticably smoother over the rooty, rutty parts. Could probably go way lower than that before pinch flats become an issue - I only weigh 63kg or something last time I checked.

I slapped a 20t Surly cog on it to give me about 64 inches. This is nice and low for spinning through singletrack and torquing up short steep inclines. It’s a little lower than I usually run so it felt nice and speedy with plenty of kick to get over and out of holes and whatnot. Not low enough to make it far up the Hill Climb Circuit though.

The last piece of the puzzle was the terrain itself - all those little singletrack bits that run alongside the Main Yarra Trail. Pretty flat and un-technical. Which means it’s not real MTB territory where you’re bombing down rocky hills into huge ravines and whatnot. It’s all easily do-able with no suspension, it was bone dry so 28mm tires gave more than enough grip. Ok, I did unclip and footplant over a few logs but it’s pretty tame and fast for the most part.

The best part though, the lack of brakes forces you to commit to a line and keep moving. Sure you can brake with your legs and lock up the rear but if the surface is loose it may not slow you down much anyway. I started the ride consciously thinking I’d focus on flow, not braking, not losing momentum, not slowing down to over-analyse the terrain and pick my way through slowly. I’ve ridden those trails heaps of times so I know them pretty well and I know that there are no hidden surprises. It’s all pretty safe really, even if you don’t have a MTB with suspension and fat tires etc. So it became all about how smoothly I could get through it. How little I could brake and how light I could roll.

Fark, and therein lies the fun.

Total concentration, going as fast as you dare, reacting in an instant, so many calculations and feedback loops happening between you , the bike, the terrain, but it’s all automatic, it’s all so fast, the thoughts fly by and are gone like the roots, rocks and dirt under your wheels. And when you pop out onto the main trail and slow down for an old man and his wife and dog you realise… you were in a state of flow.

I’ve never ridden a proper mountain bike before and this was the first time I’ve ridden brakeless so I’m probably just coming across like a gibbering idiot noob and you’re all thinking “Yeah, of course it’s that cool, I thought you knew that already?!” but, meh, I don’t care - it’s so much fun I can’t help but write about it and I want to be a noob forever because I can’t wait to see what’s next!

i cant wait to try this, i plan to do next years careflight race in sydney on a fixie.

I have been wanting to put fat tyres on my fixed gear and ride loftus oval for a long time now. I guess I better get around to it now.

Angry, that is awesome :smiley: I started riding as a MTBer and know the enjoyment you are talking about! (not on fixed gear though) love your work






Thanks for the report Angry - this is why a lot of us ride. What a great way to distill the flow and connection of fixed-gear riding.

i took the local lads for a roll along some dirt single track (o-bahn, NE adelaide) a while back and like you said Angry, you gotta flow. I knew these tracks from living in the area a while back and knew they held no huge suprises. A fast and beautiful riding experience. Took me freakin’ ages to realise that they had decided this had hairs on it and turned around to go skid a car park. Been out to kuitpo forest as well but fucked a wheel (was on 23’s, now 25’s) within 20 mins. Used to ride a roadie out there before i knew cyclocross even existed.

Anyone up for a little fixed cyclocross or even 4x eliminator?

sweet post

i totally wanna do the muribindi trails fixed now

Mundabidi trails would be awesome! If I had a fixed gear bike to ride them :cry:


You should try it with a brake also - just to see :smiley:

This is probably a really good way to progress in to mountain biking, the way you have to analyze the terrain and pick your line accordingly is a good start to becoming a smooth and efficient mountain biker.

When people ask me about buying a new mountain bike they ask me about a dually v hardtail. Always go the hardtail as they are less forgiving and will teach you to ride smart instead of becoming lazy and rolling over everything on the dually.

Thats freakin awesome to see how stoked you are on it though. I wonder if you can get some wider tyres then run some stans no tubes to get that tyre pressure down for some more traction.

Great post! This is similar in some ways to effective motorbike riding. I have participated in advanced rider courses at Phillip Island where you ride the track in 4th gear and aren’t allowed to use brakes, the idea being to set your speed early and enter a corner smoothly. In the end, what feels slower but smoother results in faster times!

Cheers everyone. I was out today on some gravel and dirt roads on my Crosscheck (fixed, brakes) and I dunno if I was imagining it or not but I felt more confident throwing it around, popping over rain ruts and squirming through deep gravel etc. Bonus! Riding singletrack is good for bike handling skills in general.

As with most things I guess it’s all in the mind, eh?

first thing that comes to mind is death wish, but looks sick. Guess it would make you a better rider, more aware of the terrain coming up…

I m sure that riding on dirt road without brake is challenging, can’t wait to try it!! Thanks for the sharing

Mate, how many times did you fall off? I can imagine slip-sliding all over the shop!

Seven months later and still going strong :

This has been my daily commuter for a while now, which is good coz my daily commute takes in the Yarra Trails from Heidelberg to the city, or even Eltham to the city if I feel like it. I was pissed when daylight savings ended and I couldn’t ride the trails home from work at night. Solution? Drop a bucket of money on some bright lights and keep on rollin’.

Feeling much more confident off road now. Pedal strike is just something that happens - no big deal as long as you’ve got some momentum. Logs are a lot easier now too - a lot less dabbing and a lot more just getting the timing right - and if you don’t get the timing right you just smash into it and get thrown forward which results in the rear wheel unweighting and, again, your momentum drags it all up and over and you keep going anyway.

Stopping’s much less of an issue than you’d think - I very rarely skid when I’m on the trails and I have no problem modulating my speed with back pressure. This is on the Yarra Trails of course - throw in some big hills and I’ll be skipping and skidding all the way down.

Oh, and fat tires make a big difference - I started off on 28c’s at 90psi - now I’m on 35c knobbies @ 45psi and it feels positively plush. Much more grip too - used to get real squirrelly in loose and sandy stuff but now I just float over the top. Almost feels like cheating actually.

Man, this is the ride that just keeps on giving. How can such a simple bike be so much fun?!

I can vouch for Angry’s skills. On the last CX ride he crushed me, and i had brakes and gears. Amazing.

Awesome, I love this shit!

I took my track bike on a scouting mission through a local reserve a while back. I was sussing out CX courses and just happened to by on my brakeless track bike with 23mm tyres. It was a hell of a lot of fun.

That said, we’ve got big hills here and I wouldn’t trade my 6" trail bike for the world!

Rattling around at walking pace on a rigid fixie won’t make you a smooth and efficient mountain biker…unless you just want to roll around at walking pace. All this ‘rigid bikes make you a better rider’ is pretty mythical stuff, all they do is force you to take different (rarely better) lines and go slow.

I’ll keep my mountain bike for mountain biking.