fixed gear cycling adventure

Sundried ambassador John Fitzgerald from Fitzedgear completes 467km distance to celebrate the 117th anniversary of the inaugural stage of the Tour de France on his 1940s fixed gear bike.

So after weeks of building up an 80 year-old frame with parts from eBay and anywhere else I could find them, the 1st of July arrived. The 1st of July is significant because it marks the 117th anniversary of the inaugural stage of the 1903 Tour de France.

Ever since I first heard of the Tour de France, I decided I wanted to do the 467km distance they covered on my vintage bike. The original start time was 3.16pm, so I lined up at the canal with a few minutes to go as the pocket watch on my moustache handlebars ticked down to 3.16pm. As I set off, the excitement of what was ahead and the historic significance of the time and date was going around in my head, so much so that 2 minutes passed before I started my GPS.

As I settled in, I realised I had a long way to go. The area I picked was the canal in loais, Ireland with many back roads and routes so I constantly changed routes and directions so as not to get too familiar with any one loop. Strangely, after 24 hours, 48 minutes, and 50 seconds, all routes look familiar!

After 10pm, with the night shift coming in and 140km done, I put on my high visibility jacket but then took it straight back off to put on my rain jacket as it began to rain and continued to rain for the next 6 hours. By the time the sun started to come back up it was 4.30am; I was tired as the night and rain had drained most of the power out of my legs. I was on 235km (roughly half way) and felt broken. I knew I could go on but that feeling of how fresh I had been at 3.16pm heading into the first 235km and then the realisation of how I was now feeling did play some mind games on me.

I carried on and, like a solar panel, I could feel my battery recharge as the sun came out. At 11am, the 300km mark was passed and it was a strange moment. I have done full Ironman triathlon in the past and the cycle stage of 180km is hard, but somehow with 167km to go on this adventure I persuaded myself I was nearly there. I still hadn't got my speed up to where I wanted to be but I was feeling good.

My bike is a 1940s track bike built up to be a path racer with a 16t fixed gear. A fixed gear is a bike with no freewheel so if you stop cycling, the bike stops moving. I like that about fixed gear bikes as when you have finished your cycle, when you look at the distance travelled you know you pedalled every single one of the metres shown.

At around 4pm I entered into the last 100km. At this point I really persuaded myself I was nearly done and at one of my food stops, which was at the wall of my house, my two children ran out to meet me with an excitement of "are you finished?" I could tell if I had been finished they had something planned, but unfortunately I had to say no. After saying goodbye to my children, I rang my wife who informed me they had made up a poster for the finish. A quick calculation told me I'd be finishing at 10pm - a good bit after my 3 year-old's bedtime - so a quick plan to do a fake finish at 8pm was hatched. I continued to cycle and was feeling good, but still with a lower speed than I had hoped.

8pm arrived and I was met on the road by my family with a giant "bravo papa" sign and a drawing of a bicycle with a sun and moon. It was amazing to see them but it would have been a lot better if I was returning home with them and heading to bed. Unfortunately I had 40km still to do, but the break, which had been the longest of the trip, had given me my legs back so I powered on and the last 40km seemed to fly by. I felt as strong as I did 31 hours earlier.

Fixed gear bike cycling adventure 

At 10.37pm, after 467km, I finished my anniversary of the inaugural stage of the Tour de France. I would have been placed 33rd out of the 60 starters but remembering I did it on modern roads not the dirt tracks these early pioneers did it on. The winner of this stage and overall winner was Maurice Garin who did the stage in 17 hours 45 minutes 13 seconds, averaging 27km/h.

Would I do it again? Yes! Am I going to do something different? Yes! As I was doing it, I hatched a plan to complete the Mizan to Malin bottom-to-top of Ireland and since completing my 1903 challenge I haven't found anyone who has done it on a fixed gear 80 year-old bike so this could be next. As someone once said, "if you want to be the best in your field, make it a small field."

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  • Cycling