Ever since I saw a friend riding a fixie around the time I started cycling in 2008, I was enamored with the idea of riding a fixed gear bike. I finally bought my fixed gear bike, a Redline 925(2008 model), on 1stMay 2010. I christened it ‘The Bulldog’. It became an inseparable part of my cycling life since then. I rode thousands of miles on it including my first Tour of Nilgiris in 2011. Since I got my road bike in 2012, I have ridden less mileage on it but have been riding more often since I commute on it every day.
I just love that bike. The chromoly steel goodness that just eats up all the road buzz and gives a smooth ride. Despite the horrendous traffic that I face every day during the 15km long(each way) commute every day, the bike makes me look forward to the commute.
When I got a call from Gokul of TBA from Hyderabad asking if I am interested in riding the new fixed gear bike that they have launched recently and provide feedback, I readily agreed. Of course, how can I say no to riding a new bike?
A brand new Astr Sidewinder in sparkling chrome color arrived at Crankmiester Bicycle Works. They have set up the bike for me and I rode it home leaving my Bulldog at the shop.
|Picking up the Sidewinder from Crankmeister for test riding!
The First Impressions:
The first impressions of the bike were quite good. The stunning chrome finish was hard not to like. The classic looks made an immediate impression on the sucker for all things classic and steel in me. The nice lean angled chromoly fork is attached to the bike with a classic threaded headset and a shiny alloy quill stem holds the handle bars in place elegantly.
There are no bosses anywhere on the frame except for the brake calipers. To the utter horror of a traditional fixed gear rider, if you decide to install a rear brake and not just the front brake, l like I have done, you will need use zip ties to guide the brake cable as there are no cable guides on the frame. Simple straight lines of the neatly hand welded chromoly 4130 tubes make up the beautiful track frame.
|On one of my commutes crossing railway tracks at KR Puram!
A Rare Combination:
What I noticed immediately was the difference in geometry when compared with my own bike. The Sidewinder has a slightly aggressive track geometry with shorter top tube and straighter seat tube angle. The wheelbase is also slightly shorter(~4cm) than that of my own fixed gear bike. All this makes it a nimble and a very responsive bike.
Steeper aggressive angles would usually mean a harsher ride along with being responsive. But, the Sidewinder frame is surprisingly forgiving and soaks up the road buzz beautifully. It seems to offer that rare combination of a responsive and soft ride which is a major plus for this bike in my opinion.
The bottom bracket is a couple of cm higher than that on the Bulldog. That is also something I really liked about the bike. Over the years, I had quite a few pedal hits on the speed bumps etc., on the Bulldog. That is not a nice feeling. But with a higher bottom bracket, that nagging feeling of expecting a pedal hit any time, is taken out of the equation.
A Nimble And Sweet Ride: Zipping Through The Traffic:
The default setup came with a straight/raiser handle bars. It had a 42 chain ring and an 18 tooth fixed cog to go with. I know that it is way easier than the 15 cog I’m used to along with a 42 chain ring on my Bulldog. However, I decided to give the default setup a try for a few days before experimenting with the setup.
The first ride felt a little weird as I tried to get used to the geometry and the straight handle bars. The commute to office on day two was quite nice. However, it is by the third and fourth ride that I really started to have fun on the bike. The narrow straight handle bars and the geometry makes the bike so easy to handle in the crazy traffic during my commutes. I never felt so at ease while commuting as I was with this bike. Although the 18 cog was forcing me to use the brakes often on down hills as I quickly spin out, I felt that it was perfect for the stop and go traffic as it was so easy to get going again after stopping. On many occasions, I didn’t even need to stop as I could easily balance and ride ever so slowly(almost a track stand but not quite) with the snail paced/stand still traffic and get going when it began to move again. The narrow handle bars literally open new avenues in traffic as you can easily squeeze through narrowest of the gaps(quite safely with proper judgment, of course).
After a week of riding in the default setup, I decided to try a bigger gear with a 16 cog and change the setup to bullhorn bars. The 16 cog made the down hills easy to spin on without having to apply brakes often like it was the case with an 18 cog. It was still an easy enough gear for the uphills. The bike looks much better with a bullhorn setup maybe because I am used to that setup on my Bulldog. However, I liked the handling of the bike with straight handle bars better in traffic. That could be because of the way it was setup taking the center of gravity way forward. Raising the handle bars a little helped balance it and the handling was much better. I like the narrow bars(~40cm) so much that I have decided to move to narrow bars from the 44cm wide bull horn bars on my Bulldog.
|Astr Sidewinder with bullhorn/pursuit bars! A classic beauty!
Can Get Even Better:
If there is one thing that I would like to be improved on the bike, it is the old style brake calipers that were used to go with the classic looks of the bike. I have heard that they were not too easy to set up according to, Riyaz of Crankmeister, who set up the bike for me. Even after struggling with them, the brake pads were not touching the rims symmetrically after applying brakes. I noticed that too. However, I found that the stopping power was quite adequate during my rides. The sudden stops in the traffic was not a problem at all. I know that the Fixed gear purists will scoff at the referral to brake calipers on the bike and their stopping power. But still, they may need to look at including better brake calipers for people like me who never ride a fixed gear bike without brakes.
They can also work on the looks department with the logos and branding to match the great ride quality that the bike offers.
Summary: It Is A Go!
Overall I really liked the bike and it’s handling in the city traffic. The smooth ride it gave on the potholed roads during my commute was amazing. The wheels look solid and bomb proof. I really attacked the potholes and all the bad sections to check for the ride quality etc during the three weeks that I rode the bike and they stayed true despite the abuse. The tires seem to be of good quality and roll well and handled the sandy areas on the shoulders of the road on my commute quite well. The bike weighed in at 10.4 kgs with pedals when I weighed it. Without brakes or with a single front brake installed, it might just manage to go under 10kgs which is quite light for a steel/Chromoly bike.
I rode the Sidewinder for a week and rode the Bulldog for a week in between before going back to the Sidewinder for another couple of weeks. After this, I happened to borrow and ride another fixed gear bike, Pixel from Fixation in the same price range(~35k INR) for a couple of weeks. Riding three different bikes in a short period of time for varying lengths of time gave me a feel for even the minor differences between them. In my experience, the Sidewinder offered as smooth a ride as my Bulldog while being way more responsive. In my opinion, although Pixel is a nice bike in itself, I think the Sidewinder was better both in terms of ride smoothness and responsiveness. I think it has to do with the fact that Pixel’s rear triangle is tensile steel while the Sidewinder’s entire frame is Chromoly and also the geometries of the bikes are slightly different.
|Among all the fancy colors on offer, I think I like the all black Sidewinder the best! 🙂 Pic: From Astr website
Note: The bike was sent to me to be ridden for a few weeks and provide feedback which I am doing through this review. After 3 weeks of almost daily riding, I have returned the bike to Crankmeister from where I picked it up. I think it is available there for test rides if someone wants to try.