For many riders, speeding around tarmac on a fixie seems insane. For Robin Gemperle of Switzerland, the laid-back fixie culture and desire to ride for fun, instead of to score the best results possible, is a refreshing take on cycling. It’s a perspective that took him many years to discover.
Gemperle’s first foray into racing led him to a pro contract with the same mountain bike team as Nino Schurter. He no longer races mountain bikes professionally. Instead, Gemperle is focused on his studies in architecture, as well as fixie racing on his custom titanium No. 22 Little Wing. The 2018 season gets underway at the Red Hook Crit Brooklyn on Saturday. It will be Gemperle’s seventh outing in a Red Hook event.
“I had never learned that cycling could just be about having fun,” Gemperle said about his competitive background in cycling. “Fixie racing is a sport filled with people who do cycling because they love it, not because they have to do well. That’s crucial for me.”
Gemperle was introduced to fixie riding by a friend. Gemperle was on a break from racing, having quit mountain biking where he scored notable results as a junior. The fixie riding suited Gemperle. He was strong technically, while the races fulfilled that competitive drive he still had. “I was pretty fast,” he said of his performances in 2016 at two of the four Red Hook events. “Like in mountain biking, they again say I am one of the technically skilled riders, but here they say I struggle with tactics.”
Gemperle added a new bike to his arsenal in the off-season that he will ride at the Red Hook Crits this season. It was the same friend who introduced him to fixie riding who also introduced him to No. 22’s titanium Little Wing. “Every ride he was talking about it.”
When the pair travelled to Brooklyn last year, Gemperle’s friend came back with a Little Wing, a purchase that was carefully considered. Ahead of the 2018 season, Gemperle reached out to No. 22 through social media. “I think it’s funny the same person who introduced me to fixed gear made me connect with No. 22,” he said.
Canadians Bryce Gracey and Mike Smith own No. 22 with their workshop located in Johnstown, N.Y. “I told them my story and just really what I thought about their bikes. They just seemed to like my idea of racing,” he said. Gemperle is now sponsored by No. 22 and, like his, friend has a Little Wing.
Gemperle’s bike isn’t a stock frame. Instead, slight custom refinements have been made to minimize toe overlap, and it has longer top and down tubes. It’s all finished off with a stunning purple fade to a blue anodized finish, which is one of the new finishes No. 22 offers. “It’s not a bike you ride one season and drop it. I just love that it’s a handmade product no one else has,” he said.
Aboard his Canadian-designed, U.S.-made bike, the Swiss rider will look to better than his 13th overall finish from the Red Hook Criterium Series 2017.
Gemperle credits his mountain bike background for helping him to navigate the sometimes-hectic fixie crit races. His experience feeling the traction in his tires helped, and then it was just a matter of adjusting to the speed on the tarmac. “If I think about it with some distance, I don’t really know how to do it,” he explained. “If I watch some GoPro footage, it looks so rowdy.”
Last year, his top result was an eighth-place finish at Red Hook Crit London, a result he hopes to better on his titanium dream machine in 2018. He’s now training as hard as he was when he was a mountain biker, but as long as fixed gear crits remains fun, he’ll keep on racing.