GEARS? THIS IS a blog about fixies. So what kind of fixie has gears? That’s a great question. I’m pretty much stumped for the answer beyond saying that I tried my best.
When we flew back into Thailand for a three month stay (that’s subsequently been extended to five), I really wanted to get back onto a fixed gear bike. After falling in love with the purity and sheer fun of a fixie in mid-2014 (as recounted here), I couldn’t quite see myself doing the geared thing again unless the terrain absolutely demanded it. Big hills were out!
We’d spent three weeks in Phuket in November last year, so I knew the area around Bang Tao Beach was as flat as a slice of tofu… unless I wanted to head over the hill to Surin Beach that is. Resolving to do Surin by bus, I went shopping for a fixie. Unfortunately finding any bike built for a 6’2-inch bloke isn’t all that easy in Thailand, let alone a fixie. Bang Tao has a few bike shops but whether they’re catering to the low end, or the top tier, they don’t generally stock bikes big enough for me. I found a pair of fixies at a local bike shop that were way too small but I still insisted on trying one out to see if a longer seatpost and stem might make things work.
The shop owner just looked at me crammed into the small frame orange fixie, rolled his eyes, and barked, “Bike too small!”
Then he looked off into the distance (in the precise direction of Surin hill) and said, “Fixie not good in Phuket!” That was the end of the discussion.
I asked around, looked high and low for secondhand bikes, did a heap of searching on Google and called a few places in the more-or-less local area to see if they had a fixie for me. The language barrier was a problem, just as it is when ordering vegan food, but the scarcity of fixed gear bikes was a much bigger issue.
Eventually a bike shop in Thalang (about 10km away) showed promise. The lady on the phone spoke reasonably good English – much better than my three words of Thai. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Sawasdee karp (trying out my Thai), I’m looking for a fixed gear bike”
Lady: “No problem. We have.”
Me: “It needs to be a big frame. I’m 6’2”.
Lady: “No problem. We have many.”
Me: “Really? Many big enough for a tall farang (foreigner)?”
Lady: “Of course. Many.”
Needless to say, I was sold. So I put on the sun-blocking, olive green long sleeve shirt that Sarah hates, hopped on the “Turbo” single speed beach cruiser type girl’s bike I’d bought her at the supermarket in Thalang a few days back, and sped off (slowly) up the main road.
Half an hour later, a very hot and sweaty me strolled in the door of the bike shop, not at all perturbed about the girly bike I’d rolled up on. Eventually, I found the lady I’d previously spoken to. She showed me to a single solitary fixie, which was tiny. Heck, it would have been too small for Sarah. Far from “many”, this was the only one in the shop.
Humbug, I thought. I looked around and ended up having a chat with the shop owner who seemed to think that getting a fixie for me was not only silly but also in the too hard basket. He recommended a Trek mountain bike with a 19 or 21″ frame at somewhere north of 20,000 baht. This wasn’t totally outrageous given that was around NZ$800 but I was only planning a three month stay at that point. I already had a good MTB in NZ, along with the Reid Harrier fixie, and another one that I might just have ordered before I left in July 2014.
So I really didn’t want to drop $800 on a bike for a few months, nor did I want to entertain the idea of hanging onto it and flying around the world with a bike I didn’t need for the long term. Renting didn’t work either if I wanted a fast bike and not a beach cruiser.
But nothing else in the MTB category came close to fitting me, and any road bike big enough to fit was even more expensive. Such are the perils of being somewhat out in the boondocks, on an island in Thailand. Actually, that’s about the only hassle of being in Phuket.
I decided to ride back to a shop in Bang Tao that stocked cheap(ish) MTBs of unknown origin from a local brand. They’d only had a comparatively tiny 16-inch frame in stock when I’d visited a few weeks before. However, they’d mentioned that they were getting a “much bigger’ model soon.
As it turns out, “much bigger” around there seems to be exactly one inch. So the shop had a 17-inch Coyote Beretta MTB, instead of a 16-inch. Wow! So much enormous.
Desperate to find a bike of some kind so we could seriously start exploring our new home, and dubiously buying into the assurances of the shop owner that we could just raise the seatpost “a little” above its maximum height, I tried the Coyote out. Funnily enough, it wasn’t a bad fit at all front to back, presuming I was okay with idea of lifting a cheap, steel seatpost about 35mm past the safety line.
The Coyote had Shimano gears (21 speeds – why does anyone need more than one?) but all the rest of the components were no name brand from Anonymous Chinese Manufacturing Concern #11.
Reasoning that it only had to last a few months without disintegrating, and that I could always buy a longer seatpost if I needed to, but only once I had a bike, I decided to go for it.
The marked price was 8,900 baht ($350) but I haggled as one does in Thailand, and got them to drop down to 8,200 baht, thus saving myself around 25 bucks, which wasn’t much but at least it’d pay for a pump or most of a seatpost if required.
Now the only problem was getting home with two bikes. I could ride one home, walk 20 minutes back and collect the other one but after being out in the sun and 36 degree heat for ages, I wasn’t keen on spending any more time baking my brain. So much to the amusement of the shop owner and his wife, I told them I’d take both bikes right now.
I rode Sarah’s cruiser down the main road from Chern Thaley while steering the Coyote by holding it on the stem with one hand and braking it with brute force and stubbornness. In a country where entire families crowd onto a scooter, and a dozen workers pack onto the back of a small ute, this provoked barely a glance, and when it did, it was only to see what the latest crazy farang to hit town was up to.
Not long thereafter, having not crashed or died along the way, I arrived home to a disbelieving look from Sarah. She should be getting used to this kind of silliness by now…
At any rate, Wile E (as he was now known) was now mine. I hadn’t actually ridden this bike for more than a few meters. What would our future hold? Hopefully I wouldn’t end up crushed under a rock or falling off a cliff like the bike’s namesake…
(To be continued soon)