April 30, 2018 1 Comment

“Fixed-gear bikes make a specific sound when they crash,” says Robin Gemperle, a Swiss pro rider on the Red Hook Crit circuit who rides a custom No. 22 Little Wing. They don’t sound like road bikes, which Gemperle describes as more of a scratching, with the various parts sliding out and grinding against the tarmac. “With a fixie, the pedals just keep spinning,” Gemperle says, describing it as a launch, and a quiet moment before the thunderous thud of the human body and the 17 parts that make up the bike landing on unforgiving asphalt. “Every fixed gear rider knows that sound.”

A year ago, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gemperle watched a horrific collision play out in slow motion just feet front of him. With five laps to go, the leader of the chase pack clipped a barrier, causing a chain reaction of others going down with him. Gemperle sped helplessly at 35 mph into the suspension of bodies and bikes. Time sped up, engulfing him in the chaos. But he is strangely at peace with every aspect of fixie crit riding, including slamming into other riders, with no ability to stop. “The feeling of knowing I was just about to crash was somehow addictive,” he reflects on last year. “It was pure adrenaline. The Red Hook is pure adrenaline.”

Gemperle is excited about racing today, and even crashing, because he found peace on a fixed gear bike, and competes on his own terms. It wasn’t long ago that Gemperle was a teen mountain biking prodigy, bombing through technical runs effortlessly, and feeling nothing.

Photo: @terrybarentsenLost in the Woods

Gemperle’s father first brought him to mountain bike events in the forest around Aarau, a Swiss town nestled beneath the Jura Mountains near Zurich. He was 10. It was quickly discovered that Gemperle was a fearless rider, and extremely talented. As a teenager, he was funnelled into a special sports high school so he could focus on mountain bike racing. At 16, Gemperle was recruited by the pro team Scott-SRAM. He was supposed to feel like he’d made it; instead, he started to dread getting on a bike. “You’re rather young when you find out you have talent,” Gemperle said via Skype from his university in nearby Zurich, where he studies architecture. “People tell you that you should do it because you're good, not because you love it,” he says. “The trigger for me was when I felt like it wasn’t about cycling; it was about racing. I had no passion for cycling anymore.”

The breaking point for Gemperle came a year after joining Scott-SRAM as he worked a shift at a local cafe. He dreaded leaving to race. “I didn’t care if I won, got 10th or 20th,” Gemperle says. “It’s supposed to be the opposite. I was a kid, and I had made it as a pro. That’s supposed to be the peak. Instead, I wanted to stay working in the cafe all day.” After a brief stint with a Giant development team, Gemperle walked away from a pro mountain biking career at 17.

"Racing is something that should be fun."

He continued to ride everyday–a cheap fixie put together by his friend Julian Meier, who owns a local bike shop and shares Gemperle’s preference for simple, clean designs. “It was just a road bike conversion. I had no money and needed to get to town,” Gemperle recalls. But after some time away from mountain bike racing, he started to have fun on it. He found the machine’s simplicity freeing.

Photo: @terrybarentsenBarcelona and Red Hook

In 2016, Meier convinced Gemperle to try racing again so he entered a fixed-gear criterium race. He travelled to Barcelona for the Red Hook Crit event there. It was an epiphany. “I found out that racing is something that should be fun, and not just a job you have to complete,” he says. “I was totally amazed. I was so scared I wouldn’t make the qualification for the finals, but I also didn’t expect to achieve anything there.” For the first time in years, Gemperle cared about the outcome of his race, but more than that, he was enjoying riding for the sake of it again. He placed 16th in the main race as an unattached rider, just five seconds back from the series leaders.

"It’s about the passion for cycling, not just being part of a package."

Gemperle joined a team for the 2017 Red Hook Crit series. He headed to New York to race. His friend Meier tagged along, in search of the perfect frameset. “He had been talking non-stop for the past two years about the American No. 22 frames,” said Gemperle. “Julian had to have one.”

After landing, Gemperle and Meier headed directly to Deluxe Cycles near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Meier dragged a suitcase with him. When they got there, Meier unzipped it. It was packed with parts. He looked at the owner and said, “build me a Little Wing.”

The two friends spent the days leading up to the crit riding around the city, most of it with other crit racers in Prospect Park. “I was on a team bike, but Julian’s Little Wing got all the attention,” Gemperle laughs. He finally took it for a test ride, down a quiet street. “The most central aspect of the Little Wing is that it is beautiful,” he says. “I felt immediately attached to it. If you look at it, you can tell that it is definitely addictive.”

Photo: @terrybarentsen"The most beautiful bike I've ever seen"

Gemperle finished 13th in both the Brooklyn crit and the overall 2017 championship standings. And although being on a team was enjoyable, he couldn’t help but think about that No. 22 Little Wing. “I didn’t just want to sign a contract, and expect to ride a new bike each year,” Gemperle says of the team-rider dynamic. “It’s about the passion for cycling, not just being part of a package. There are too few spots in teams, and you have to take what is offered.”

"The No. 22 Little Wing is compact; it accelerates so quickly, yet it’s very predictable."

So Gemperle did what few do in a discipline where being on a team helps with travel, entry and protects your position in a race. “I really wanted to do my own thing,” he says. But No. 22 didn’t have a fixed-gear crit team. So he decided to be bold, asking if he could start a Red Hook team of one.

Gemperle sent a direct message to No. 22 via Instagram. “I said something like, ‘I feel that this is the most beautiful bike I’ve ever seen,’” he says. He explained that it was central to him to love what he’s doing. “I also said: ‘I don’t want to do this for just a season and ask for another bike. This is the bike I want to ride until I’m done racing crits.’”

A Rainy Night in Brooklyn

This year, Gemperle is No. 22’s team, and came to the Brooklyn crit with his custom Little Wing. Before the main races of the night, it started to rain. There was a dearth of rollers to warm up on near the course, so Gemperle decided to take his Little Wing for a ride in the neighbourhood. Gemperle ripped up and down an empty street lined with old factories as the light faded and the drizzle turned to rain. “It felt like the calm before the storm,” he says.

"The Red Hook is pure adrenaline.”

“The first half of a race feels very long to me,” he says of crit finals. “I’m a bit scared about the second half; you know that there’s so much work to do to get to the end. It’s over almost before it starts.” It started to rain heavily with 10 laps to go, then Gemperle heard that familiar violent thwack just behind him–a crash. This year, Gemperle evaded danger, Then he went to work, catching about 10 people in the final laps. He finished 15th, and was one of the few non-team protected riders to finish at the front of the race.

Photo: @terrybarentsenIt was Gemperle’s third race on his Little Wing. “I know the bike now,” he says. “It’s compact; it accelerates so quickly, yet it’s very predictable. I understand the bike.” He feels titanium is unique because it is incredibly responsive, yet ages into a powerful yet familiar tool. The more it’s used, the better it feels. “It’s a very beautiful thing. It’s not just another carbon frame that has no character at all; you don’t just beat it up.” Gemperle says he was actually excited about the foul weather. He knew that the silt on the tarmac would kick up onto his legs, rub against the frame and “scratch the top tube a little bit,” he says with satisfaction in his voice. “It starts to get a bit of patina [thin layering]. I like that aspect of titanium–it has to live a little bit. You have to see that this stuff is used. You use it forever. There’s no real reason to ever change.”

Gemperle is focused this season on proving he can get on the podium by riding a bicycle he loves, and doing it in a way that brings him joy every day, especially in the quiet moments between races–training on a country road, commuting to school or warming up on an unfamiliar street while the race echoes in the distance. “I always have to keep in mind that I’m having fun,” he says. "I take a step back, I have to remind myself, I had a great time here, with my friends, on a bike that I love, in New York.”


1 Response

Marco Angrisani
Marco Angrisani

May 29, 2018

Very inspiring story, I really enjoyed reading and watching every photo and video!
Robin is very lucky, and I share all his opinions on the look of the Little Wing, I wish him a good time on the bike.
I really hope to get my no22 soon ahah

Cheers from Italy

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2018 Geometry Charts

Great Divide Rim Brake

Size 48cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 495 510 525 545 560 580 600
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 445 462 490 518 540 565 590
Head tube length (mm) 90 100 120 140 160 180 200
Seat tube angle (deg) 75 74.5 74 73.5 73 73 72.5
Head tube angle (deg) 70.5 71.0 71.2 72.2 72.5 73 73
Front center (mm) 567 574 584 584 589 607 621
Chain stay length (mm) 412 412 412 412 415 415 418
BB drop (mm) 78 78 75 75 75 73 73
Reach (mm) 357 364 370 379 383 397 406
Stack (mm) 506 517 534 559 580 597 617

 

Great Divide Disc

Size 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 510 525 545 560 580 600
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 462 490 518 540 565 590
Head tube length (mm) 95 115 135 155 175 195
Seat tube angle (deg) 74.5 74 73.5 73 73 72.5
Head tube angle (deg) 71.0 71.2 72.2 72.5 73 73
Front center (mm) 574 584 586 594 609 623
Chain stay length (mm) 412 412 412 415 415 418
BB drop (mm) 78 75 75 75 73 73
Reach (mm) 364 369 378 382 397 405
Stack (mm) 520 536 560 580 599 618

 

Drifter

Size 48cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 502 510 525 545 560 575 595
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 464 478 503 525 535 549 577
Head tube length (mm) 90 100 120 140 150 170 190
Seat tube angle (deg) 74.5 74 74 73.5 73 73 72.5
Head tube angle (deg) 70.5 70.5 70.8 71 71.2 71.2 71.5
Front center (mm) 571 575 589 603 611 627 639
Chain stay length (mm) 430 430 430 430 432 435 435
BB drop (mm) 78 77 75 75 75 73 73
Reach (mm) 352 353 364 373 379 389 398
Stack (mm) 530 538 556 576 586 603 623

 

Reactor

Size 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 515 530 548 565 580 595
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 456 475 496 514 542 568
Head tube length (mm) 100 120 140 160 185 205
Seat tube angle (deg) 74.5 74 74 73.2 73 73
Head tube angle (deg) 72 72 73 73.5 73.5 73.5
Front center (mm) 571 582 585 590 603 618
Chain stay length (mm) 405 408 408 410 410 410
BB drop (mm) 72 72 72 70 68 68
Reach (mm) 374 379 391 395 401 410
Stack (mm) 503 522 546 565 587 606

 

Aurora

Size 48cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 495 510 525 545 560 580 600
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 445 462 490 518 540 565 590
Head tube length (mm) 100 110 130 150 170 190 205
Seat tube angle (deg) 75 74.5 74 73.5 73 73 72.5
Head tube angle (deg) 70.5 71 71.2 72.2 72.5 73 73
Front center (mm) 567 574 584 586 594 609 624
Chain stay length (mm) 412 412 412 412 415 415 418
BB drop (mm) 78 78 75 75 75 73 73
Reach (mm) 355 363 369 378 382 396 406
Stack (mm) 510 521 538 562 582 601 615

 

Broken Arrow

Size 48cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 505 510 525 545 560 575 590
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 467 490 510 532 548 567 590
Head tube length (mm) 90 100 120 140 150 160 180
Seat tube angle (deg) 74 74 73.5 73.3 73 72.5 72.5
Head tube angle (deg) 70.8 70.8 71 71 71.3 71.5 72
Front center (mm) 565 571 580 599 609 622 627
Chain stay length (mm) 425 425 425 425 425 425 425
BB drop (mm) 68 68 68 68 66 66 64
Reach (mm) 352 355 359 372 382 393 397
Stack (mm) 524 533 553 572 580 591 610

 

Little Wing

Size 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm
Effective top tube length (mm) 515 525 540 555 575 585
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 477 499 524 552 575 595
Head tube length (mm) 100 120 140 160 180 200
Seat tube angle (deg) 75.5 75 74.5 74.5 74 74
Head tube angle (deg) 72.5 73 73 73.5 74 74
Front center (mm) 566 569 579 590 601 611
Chain stay length (mm) 393 393 393 396 396 396
BB drop (mm) 58 58 58 58 58 58
Reach (mm) 382 383 387 397 407 411
Stack (mm) 506 527 546 567 588 607

 

Old King

Size Small Medium Large Extra Large
Effective top tube length (mm) 580 605 622 642
Seat tube, center-center (mm) 380 410 445 481
Head tube length (mm) 100 110 120 140
Seat tube angle (deg) 73.5 73.5 73.5 73.3
Head tube angle (deg) 70 70 70 70
Front center (mm) 655 680 698 719
Chain stay length (mm) 435 435 435 435
BB drop (mm) 58 58 58 58
Reach (mm) 401 423 437 451
Stack (mm) 599 609 619 637