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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Being a history buff and a bike nerd I've been contemplating what it must have been like to race the Tour De France (TDF) in the early years of the Twentieth Century. The first bikes raced would have been fixed gear, followed by singlespeeds. Anyone have an idea as to what ratio's (or gear inches) would have been run back then? Those guys must have been hard-core, I mean look at these guys riding a stage today and struggling on fully geared uber bikes: http://vimeo.com/13386163 Actually I think someone in this vimeo clip mentions 44x22...
 

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Some general remarks.

No idea what ratios the fixed-gear riders used, but I believe the fixed rule was in effect only from the beginning of the Tour in 1903 until 1907. Some riders carried extra cogs and tools with which to change them. On many extremely steep stretches of nasty dirt-road climbs, riders walked their bikes, which was not considered a fate worse than death (as even recreational riders do now). Agreed-to stops for cog-changes, food or other reasons were common.

In general, the Tour had much more of an "expedition" character than it does now. Riders were responsible for finding their way, supplying themselves with food, and had to repair their bicycle defects on their own. The early Tours were around 5,000 km (3,100 miles) long, with some stages 400 km (250 miles) long. Early average speeds were around 25 km/h (15 mph).
 

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You should read Tour de France by Graeme Fife for all the history. At some point they started using a cog on each side of the wheel, one side for going up hills, one side for flats and down hills. Competitors were known to attack other riders by throwing glass and nails in their paths. Doping started soon after the tour did.
 

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Oh, I just read what the ratios were in a book called "Fixed" at Borders. (Good book.) I just can't remeber. Sorry.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
robm90 said:
You should read Tour de France by Graeme Fife for all the history. At some point they started using a cog on each side of the wheel, one side for going up hills, one side for flats and down hills. Competitors were known to attack other riders by throwing glass and nails in their paths. Doping started soon after the tour did.
Cheers, I'll look this book up. I watched a TDF doco recently which told the story of early riders in the Alps being afraid of bear attack and one guy fixing his bike in a local blacksmiths shop. I'm really awe struck by the idea of these guys riding single geared bikes up these unsealed mountain passes whilst being self supported racers. Awesome stuff.

Pablo said:
Oh, I just read what the ratios were in a book called "Fixed" at Borders. (Good book.) I just can't remeber. Sorry.
I will definately look this book up. Imagine riding down those mountains fixed! Crazy!! I have built a singlespeed road bike up and would like to gear it as these guys did and head up hill just to see how freakin' hard it was. Having raced the King of the Mountain event in Hobart, Tasmania on a bike with a fixed gear using 64inches, I can safely say that 64inches is too high for sustained climbing. I'd imaging something around 52-54inches would be more appropriate.. but again, pointing downhill on this gear??

My bike is currently geared at (freewheel) 44x17 (69.3inches) with an option of 44x19 (62.0inches). Looking at trying a 21 tooth freewheel to drop the gear inches to 56.1 or even a 22 tooth to go down to 53.5.
 

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like this. ~1922, changing gears near the summit on the tour. not sure of the gearing.

if anyone has info on this pic, please share.
 

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There was an event just a few years ago, maybe a dozen riders picking their way down from Canada to the Gulf coast. The write-up I found on the web was the account of a guy who did it fixed-gear. It was nearly all off-road or dirt road. Hard-core stuff, self-supported.

I ride the annual Tour de Canal, 184 miles down the C&O Canal towpath in two days. It has great support and is very flat, so it is no problem to ride on my singlespeed cruiser. Nominally it is 84 miles the first day, 100 the second, but I double back the first day so I get 100 each day. I was attracted to the ride because I wanted to try an off-road century like they did in the old days. But stories like the above show me up for the wimp I am.

Pic and writeup available here:

http://www.tomligon.com/TDC.html
 

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In the last few years I've been seeing more and more SS and FG riders taking part in organized century and double century rides.
 

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watching the video again, there was a mention of 44x24 but he didn't sound too sure of it.

i did a fairly long race last year (150 mi) on my SS at 44x16. there were some long sustained climbs but nothing like these mt stages on the tour. seems like they must have had some method for going with 2 gears, like a flip flop rear wheel.
 
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