TT with HD: Jimmy Raggett
[Ed. note: A fixed-gear bicycle has a 'fixed' rear cog which rotation
matches the forward and backward rotation of
the pedals. If the rear wheel is turning, the pedals are also turning. There is a culture associated
fixed-gear bicycles, and one element of that culture is the notion of an alley cat race. Two recent Ann Arbor alley cat bicycle races
are mentioned below, the Night of the Living Tread and Skids and Sprockets (the second of these
was hosted at the Bluish Barn). Briefly, these entail bicyclists
(many of them on fixed-geared machines) cycling around town to complete a circuit definited by a collection
of checkpoints. The specific rules of every alley cat vary with the organizer.
Jimmy works at Ann Arbor Cyclery on Packard, which as best I know is the only place in town to buy a recumbent style bicycle, but they have others, too, as well as cycling gear. Jimmy's website is Jimmy Rigged Bikes: Fixed Gear Nirvana ]
JR: Where should I sit?
HD: Well, the idea is to be roughly balanced, so maybe scoot back a little bit. Yeah. Alright one, two, three. [Ed. note: photography] Alright, well first of all, welcome to the teeter totter. Thanks for coming.
JR: Thanks for inviting!
HD: Let's try to get this thing going.
JR: So the idea is that my feet leave the ground, right?
HD: Well, yeah, ideally.
JR: I haven't done this in so long!
HD: And thanks also for spinning out my load of laundry this morning. [Ed. note: Elsewhere on this site readers can find documentation of a pedal-powered laundry spinner. It is not a requirement that totterees help HD do his laundry. However, JR rode his bike to the Talk and was already wearing SPD compatible shoes, which allowed him to just clip right into the SPD pedals of the laundry spinner.]
JR: No problem.
HD: So I mentioned to you that it has some some design issues.
JR: Umm Hmm.
HD: Gearing being one of them.
HD: One thought I had was simply to put a really small front chain ring on it, like a granny gear.
JR: Right, yeah.
HD: But really, I think the fundamental problem is having the resistance unit of the trainer as a part of the equation.
JR: Is that a magnetic trainer?
JR: So you only have three settings on it, is that how you adjust the tension?
HD: Uh, it has multiple settings, but yeah, I have it on the lowest setting obviously. But even if it had no resistance, having the tire turning the roller, which then turns a pulley, seems like an unnecessary complication. I'd like to do it directly. So I was wondering if you had any ideas about how to accomplish that? I've been looking around online and talking to some people and one popular idea seems to be to use a flip-flop cog on the rear. [Ed. note: The notion here is to use the cog on the reverse side to drive the washer.]
JR: Okay. So go fixed or free? Or?
HD: Well, is that inherent to a flip-flop design that one side is fixed and one side is free?
JR: Usually. Usually one's fixed, one's free. Or it's fixed-fixed. Like my hub is fixed-free, but most people don't run a freewheel. Once you go fixed, you usually don't go back.
HD: Now is that just a slogan, or do you find that it's actually true?
JR: I find that it's actually true. I've found that when people don't ride fixed anymore, it's usually because they can't, not because they don't want to.
HD: And why would someone not be able to?
JR: Knees. You know, body issues. If your knees are bad.
HD: So like with old guys like me?
JR: Older folk, yeah, such as yourself! [laugh] I don't know, though, I mean, there are plenty of people up there in age that still manage to ride fixed.
HD: You know, speaking of age, and age differences, at this alley cat bicycle race, Skids and Sprockets--which was what, two weeks ago or three weeks now?
JR: December 3rd, so yeah, two, three weeks ago.
HD: Average age was, I don't know, mid-twenties, something like that?
JR: Yeah, I think the first one [Night of the Living Tread] we had 33 people so there was a broader range as far as ages represented. So yeah, I'd say mid-twenties is safe to say.
HD: I felt plenty old. One thing I noticed about the organization of that, as you were checking people in: you have a tremendous amount of patience, it seems to me, for the same questions over and over and over again. It seemed like everybody who came through the registration line had exactly the same questions.
JR: For that specific race, it raised a lot of questions and I was practicing patience, consciously practicing patience. Normally, I get to a certain point and I can't take it any more. But at that one, it tended to be a little more complicated than some of the others, so I made a conscious decision before I sat down and gave everyone a game board and instructions to go, Okay, I'm going to have to explain this. Because I had already been doing it for two weeks before while I was planning it. With my checkpoint people, and with other people emailing me and asking me what the format was going to be.
HD: Well, I'm happy that you had to exercise some self-discipline consciously, because as I was watching, I thought to myself that if I were in Jimmy's shoes right now, I would want to stab somebody in the eye with my pen. Something struck me, though, manning the West Park Band Shell checkpoint. This crowd, even though they have this counter-culture quality, they're young folks, a lot of them have tattoos, there's this sub-culture flavor to the whole event, yet for the most part they all had really good manners. I mean, leaving the checkpoint, almost to a person, they all said, Thanks for helping out today!
HD: To me that really made an impression. It's not the sort of crowd I would have expected that from.
JR: I think everyone knows what it takes to put on one of those to a certain extent. It's run strictly on a volunteer basis, so everyone out there running a checkpoint, freezing their toes off, suffering hypothermia, such as you were, is volunteering. You know, they understand that you're there because you want to be there, because you want to help out with the whole local scene as far as that goes. So it doesn't happen without people like you or whoever's putting on the race, so I think they have a certain appreciation for people who are running it.
HD: And it's nice to see that appreciation verbalized. You can think it privately to yourself, but it take an extra step to actually have it occur to you in the middle of a race that, oh yeah, Thanks.
JR: It's not just a bunch of unruly punks running wild on the streets!
HD: Right. Although my sense is that people actually embrace that perception? That it's part of how they want to be perceived? Is that fair?
JR: Yeah. Absolutely. It's one of the things with riding fixed that sets you apart a little bit. Some of that if-you-have-to-ask-you-wouldn't-understand kind of mentality of, We enjoy bikes, but we want to distinguish ourselves from other people who ride bikes as well. And there's lots of people who ride in the [alley cat] races who also ride in the sanctioned events, accumulating points throughout the year, racing for something else towards a bigger goal. But the fun thing about the alley cats is the instant gratification at the end. Prizes get handed out and winners get announced.
HD: So for the Skids and Sprockets on December 3rd, it was Rodger Bowser who took home the cash?
JR: Rodger Bowser took home first-place cash. He won the 'Night of the Living Tread' as well.
HD: So is it that he's more physically fit, or does he just know the area better than anyone else?
JR: I don't know! In the first race, he rode on a geared bike, and when he came in, he had two other guys behind him and they were riding together, was my understanding. So they were first, second, and third respectively. And there were a few people who griped about, They were drafting! and the whole approach they took to the first race. So the second one, he flew solo and rode a fixed gear bike and still won.
HD: Hmm, so just to make a point?
JR: Exactly. He's fast. You know, you can't argue: he's fast. He does other races as well and he rides quite a bit, so he's fast and he knows the area. That's all it takes.
HD: So could you imagine putting some effort into organizing sort of a gentrified version of the Skids and Sprockets, something where families with kids could participate?
JR: Absolutely. I think it'd be great. But ...
HD: ... do you think you'd be able to get the alley cat crowd to also participate, to lend the event a little extra texture and flavor, or would that be something where they'd just ...
JR: ... I think if we did, for the sake of younger kids participating in it, we could do divisions, where they'd be let go at different times. Because you don't want an eight-year-old kid getting mauled over by a guy who has the 'eye of the tiger' and is just hauling ass for his bike and trying to make it to each checkpoint. The only thing that's hard with that--and that's part of the reason when you were asking me about emailing whoever on City Council to some mass email list for our local government--is permits and insurance and all that. I think it's as big as it could be without the support of the City and I don't think that's something they'd get behind. And granted, I haven't made an attempt to pursue it. Only because I'm afraid that if I even ask, it'll get shut down.
HD: That even the alley cat version would get shut down?
JR: Right. Because it just sounds unsafe to someone who doesn't know what's going on. My biggest hope at the beginning of each one is that nobody gets hurt and that everybody makes it back okay and that nothing happens and there's no police contact or anything like that. They're illegal bike drag races, that's all they are.
HD: But what's so illegal about them. Do you know for a fact that they're illegal? Or is this just part ...
JR: ... I know that up north for the Fixed Gear Symposium, when Dennis does his alley cat, which is a part of the Symposium, he has to have his insurance company back it to get the permit through the City. And main roads, he's only allowed to cross at certain intersections, and there's a lot of stuff they impose upon the race. So in order to keep it pure, it's nice to keep it at the level we have it. At the same time, yeah, it'd be nice to have families and everybody come out and participate. When Erica Briggs asked me about it, and asked if she could put it up on the getDowntown calendar, I would have loved for that to happen. But I think it would have brought on ...
HD: ... a level of scrutiny that you wouldn't have been prepared to handle?
JR: Exactly. We wouldn't have been able to handle it. All it is, is I come up with an idea, we decide to put it on, and by 'we' I mean me and whoever I can get to volunteer for it, and then just take it from there.
HD: So part of that volunteer equation is having a home base, which in this case was the Bluish Barn. But you don't actually live at the Bluish Barn, is that correct?
HD: So how do you convince that group of people that opening their house to, I don't know, thirty people or however many, that they don't even know, that that's a good idea?
JR: Well, they come to me. They came to me on that one. Because they live right there on Fifth and they saw the first one taking place. And Eric, who lives in the Bluish Barn, and participated in the first one and the second one, and his roommate, Tim--I believe was the first one to contact me about it--but I talked to both of them about it. And they offered up their house to host the next race. I didn't have one planned at that time. But I said, Alright, December 3rd, let's do another one.
HD: I noticed that over the summer on the Bluish Barn--there was a listing of some of the films that they've screened there over the last while--they showed Breaking Away. You're familiar with this film, right?
HD: I consider that to be the best movie of all time, not just the best bicycling movie, but the best movie. Part of that has to do with the fact that, you know the opening sequence where Dave is riding back from some race and he has his trophy ...
JR: ... uh huh? ...
HD: ... and he rides down this street. Just in the background you can see a house that I used to live in.
JR: Oh wow!
HD: Lincoln Street.
JR: Where was that filmed?
HD: Bloomington, Indiana. Yeah, so that film has a special place in my heart for multiple reasons. I mean, the guy's name is Dave, also.
JR: So were you a Cutter? Were you considered a Cutter? [Ed. note: Briefly, a 'Cutter' is a Bloomington, Indiana, townie.]
HD: No, I actually grew up in Columbus, Indiana, which is down the road from Bloomington. I spend a few years in Bloomington for grad school. One of my regrets is that I didn't go there as an undergrad, not that I would have necessarily had the strength to participate in the [Little 500] race, but it would have been fun to be around. Have you ever seen that race live?
JR: I haven't. I've seen the movie, that's it. That's the only version I've seen.
HD: Well, you said once you've ridden fixed, you never go back. Would you say the same thing is true of recumbents? Because the bicycle shop where you work [Ann Arbor Cyclery], I mean it has a niche in the market ...
JR: ... yeah, that's our thing.
HD: Yeah, it's the place you go if you want a recumbent bicycle.
JR: Yeah. I mean the guys who get into recumbents have the same sort of enthusiasm as people who get behind fixed. People who get into fixed-gear bikes tend to go all out and devote themselves to that type of riding. It's the same type of enthusiasm for recumbents, absolutely.
HD: So this time of year in the bike shop, I'd guess you get a lot of people looking for their kid's first bike? Or not so much?
JR: Yeah, we do. Not so much this year, it doesn't seem like last year, when we had a lot more people looking at younger kids bikes. Because that's what I usually associate with 'first bike' is like a 12- or 16-inch, something with training wheels on it. And we haven't had so many of those this year. But this last week is usually when they tend to fly out the door. But yeah, we get a lot of people looking for kid's bikes. So we try to help them find something that the kid will be happy with.
HD: So you have a kid, right?
JR: I do!
HD: Old enough to ride a bike yet?
JR: I wish. No, not yet. He's getting there, though.
HD: So is there anything bike-related on your personal Christmas wish list?
JR: Yeah, new cycling shoes. Winter riding pants.
HD: Wait up, you've got nice cycling shoes!
JR: Yeah, but if you look at them, they're more like sandals as opposed to shoes. The toes come through. So I need some new shoes. And I want some booties to throw over them. And some winter pants to stay dry. So that's my Christmas cycling wish list.
HD: Anything else on your mind this morning?
JR: Ah, no, I guess that's it.
HD: Well, you've got to go to work here soon.
JR: What time is it?
HD: It's five after nine.
JR: Okay, yeah, that'll give me time to go and get coffee.