I’ve been a late-comer to the joys of fixed riding. While all around me cyclists and bike brands have been adding to the surge in fixed wheel riding, I’ve been sticking with gears. As anyone will have noticed though (and if not where have you been), fixed wheel riding is currently enjoying an unprecedented boost in popularity, with many cyclists seeing it as a simpler means of getting from home to work, making it less the preserve of the cycle messengers than before.
When it comes to fixed wheel bikes, choices have been limited. It once meant converting a worn-out old road bike into a bike fit for fixed wheel duties, or riding a track bike, often modified with a front brake. Neither are ideal though, and there’s now an increasing array of bikes available to choose from. In fact, it’s getting a little tricky to know where to start.
We took a call from Burls recently, a specialist frame builder based in the UK, who was keen we test his titanium fixed. The man behind the frames, Justin Burls, has been building steel frames for years, but more recently has turned his attention to titanium frames.
Titanium, of course, is a notoriously difficult material to work with, which is why, until recently, it held a premium price with limited availability. No longer. With many made in former Eastern Bloc countries, both the supply and the quality of affordable titanium frames are excellent.
Burls frames are built in Russia from 3AL/2.5V plain gauge titanium, and while Burls will design a frame to any spec you like, the bike sent in for test very closely follows the geometry normally found on a track-specific bike.
That means a bottom bracket height measuring 11.25” and 73 and 74 degrees for the head and seat angles respectively – just a sniff more relaxed than a pure track bike to make it a little more road friendly. These are characteristics of track bikes: steep angles, high bottom brackets and stiffness – with no potholes on tracks there’s no concessions for comfort – for resisting flex. Burls’ use of titanium has created a frame which dissipates much of the roughness normally transmitted through the frame and contact points.
Finish? Well, exemplary is the only way to explain the quality on show here. Attention to detail is good too, with large track rear ends, one set of bottle bosses (well you’re not going to need two are you) and classy decals adding to the bike’s overall impressive appeal. You’ll notice from the photos that there isn’t a drilling for a rear brake, but if riding with just one brake scares you then Burls can easily remedy it.
I’m a familiar sight on the concrete surface of the Herne Hill track and the wooden boards of Calshot and Newport, so there were no surprises when rolling out onto the street on the Burls for the first time revealed a bike very similar in proportions to my track bike. The handling is very much on the sharp and quick side, a good fit with the busy London traffic I have to ride through on a daily basis. Feeling shorter than a typical road bike, cutting and darting between queues of taxis, pedestrians and bendy buses is made a pleasure, the bike actively encouraging you to look for the smallest gaps to squeeze the drop bars between. Hand me a messenger bag and a pair of worn and cut jeans and I’ll be set for the day.
If you’re at all familiar with track bikes, then the quickness with which it responds to any input and the high manoeuvrability won’t a problem, but some may find getting used to it takes a little time. Stick with it though, especially if you’re new to the joys of fixed wheel riding, and you’ll be repaid with huge enjoyment.
The more I rode the Burls, the more fun I found myself having, turning my commute from a chore to a delight. The gearing was slightly too high for London (and particularly the gallop up Gypsy Hill at the end of my commute), but that’s easily sorted with a quick cog swap.
Don’t take much notice of the components on this test model – they’re just a selection of bits that were handy to get the frame built up. What they do however, is give an indication of a typical build, and one that needn’t cost too much.
Frames are available for £850, and a call or email to Burls will reveal any custom changes you might want to make to yours. It’s a considerable sum of money for a fixed frame, but add in titanium’s durability and longevity, and if you’re serious about fixed wheel riding, you’re not going to find a finer fixie than the Burls.