Where else would a guy named "Fixie" get his fix, if not on Route 66?
That's a reference to an old song, by the way. And it is exactly where Colorado Springs cyclist Fixie Dave Nice found himself on Oct. 1 when he pedaled out of Chicago and into the country's heartland.
Nice had joined a loose group of cyclists for an endurance race that would follow Route 66, one of the U.S. highway system's original routes. Once known as America's Main Street, Route 66 is a strip of blacktop where the V-8 engine once reigned as king. It was the gateway to the West.
Fixie Dave, 36, is known for taking on big challenges, but this one had a special purpose. He rode to raise funds for Kids on Bikes, a local nonprofit that encourages kids to "lead healthful, active and happy lives through bicycling." Fixie learned about Kids on Bikes when he volunteered to help at the organization's popular Popsicle Bridge rides.
"It seemed like the proper thing to raise money for ... to try to get more people, young people, out riding their bikes," he says.
Fixie Dave knows what the freedom of two wheels can mean. He has lived most of his life with an undiagnosed seizure disorder that prevents him from driving. Speech can sometimes be difficult. He says he has endured a half dozen seizures this year. He can sense when the seizures are coming, but rarely remembers much about them. He had one during his Route 66 ride, but found a quiet place and lost consciousness.
"Fortunately nobody saw me and I didn't get an expensive ambulance ride to the hospital," he says. "At this point I've seen 30 or 40 neurologists and they can't make heads or tails about what is going on with me."
He lives near downtown Colorado Springs. His bike is his transportation and he rides to Café Velo, on the city's north side, where he works as a bike mechanic.
Nice earned his nickname for his insistence on riding a fixed-gear bike, meaning the pedals must be rotating in order for the bike to move. He was the first — and thinks he is the only — cyclist to complete the grueling Great Divide mountain bike route, 2,750 miles from Mexico to Alberta, and the Leadville 100, on a fixed-gear bike.
Route 66 provided a different kind of challenge. Rolling through small towns and across farm country, much of the old highway still remains. But he also pedaled along frontage roads and on four-lane highways. He said he could sense the history of the country's old automobile culture, but in some places the spirit of 66 had faded away.
"Certain towns have embraced the golden era of Route 66," he says. "Other cities, and some places that are virtual ghost towns, have chosen to ignore it, or bypass that history. There is an interesting mix of those that are proud of it, and those that ... it's like a discarded part of our history. It was a weird mix of stuff and feelings and I'm still trying to get my head around it."
People along the route were happy to talk. In some communities, a cyclist riding through creates a big commotion.
"It's always nice to meet the people along the way, some of them might not have ever left the town you ride through," he says. "So it's nice to engage them and hear different perspectives and points of view."
He won't forget the waitress at a Pizza Hut in Oklahoma who caught his attention with a sweet smile and sincere conversation as he consumed a full-sized pizza and Coors Light. "She was going to college and seemed to be really genuine," he says. "It was a nice break from the road."
Route 66 pierces eight states, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It is 2,448 miles long and ends in Santa Monica, California. Fixie Dave did not complete the ride. He pedaled for 19 days and covered about 1,900 miles. His longest day in the saddle included 178 miles of pedaling.
Some bad luck and strange experiences knocked him off his game in New Mexico and Arizona. An irate trucker stopped his 18-wheeler to confront him on I-40.
"He was angry that I was there," Fixie says. "I just smiled and tried to be nice and explain that it was legal for me to ride there, that I was on the shoulder and he had plenty of room. But it was obvious he was packing [a gun] and he was not a happy camper."
The seizure forced Fixie Dave to take a rest day. He struggled to keep food down for 20 hours, and a western head-wind sapped his energy. "I was having a hard time getting a groove going," he says. "It was hard to find anything positive at the time. I think my body was just ... you're done."
While he came up short on miles, he did great for Kids on Bikes, raising about $3,000. And he is still taking donations at bit.ly/FixieDave. And Kids on Bikes plans to recognize his effort at the "Celebration of Fixie Dave," 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Pedal Station, 527 S. Tejon St. There will be a silent auction for his Route 66 bike, plus some of the gear he used. For information about Kids on Bikes, visit kidsonbikes.net.