If you’ve ever seen a bicycle as flashy as a scraper bike but too agile and swift to be one, you’re probably perplexed. You may wonder why the bike has no brakes or be reminded of an incident in the Quad during finals week involving a cop car, a student on a bike and some handcuffs.
Well, I will not be talking about that.
I will, however, give you the inside scoop on fixed gears – a flowering hobby set on wheels, mashing through traffic and holding onto the side of your car to stay balanced at a stoplight. It’s the fixie frenzy, and it has spread here to the platinum-rated bicycle city of the nation.
Originally used to race on a velodrome track, this mode of transportation has evolved into an urban species. It is commonly used by messengers racing to deliver portfolios and charts to suited up businessmen in downtown districts of big cities.
But in the lesser metropolitan and leisurely fashions, fixed gear bikes are used to strut around on flat pavement and bust out skid stops, bar spins and wheelies. They are often custom built with color coordination as the priority. Brightly colored handlebar grips match brightly colored wheels, offset by a complimentary color powder coated on the bike’s frame. A lot of time and effort goes into the construction of a fixed gear bike – the parts must all fit, and match, and of course function.
So here’s my version of the story, since I guess you could say I’ve been abducted into this cult-like mob of kids who eat, sleep and dream fixies. It all began on a gloomy afternoon winter quarter, a few weeks after I had finished constructing the expensive beauty that is my golden bicycle, which at the time was locked outside the MU corridor. Much to my surprise, I found a swarm of similarly colorful and expensive bikes was circling around my ride like vultures.
The mob soon befriended me; it had come into existence due to a student-made online forum called davisfixed.com. On the message board, riders introduce themselves and their bikes, discuss anything and everything related and non-related to fixed gear bikes, and plan various communal activities such as group rides and bike polo games.
It was rather easy for this group of people to grow fond of one another, though it was a lucky draw that they had all met so easily. I myself differ from many of my fellow riders – a female, a non-engineering or science major, and minority when it comes to the racial makeup of the posse.
But fixed gear riding is a subculture like any other subculture – a group linked by a shared passion and underground taste. Just remove the current item you identify as a subculture, such as shoe collecting, graffiti or slam poetry, and insert the lightweight bicycle you can’t coast on. The mechanics are relatively simple: We all like fixed gear bicycles and will nerd out about it for hours on end, but we also share many other interests, some rooted within other subcultures such as those already mentioned.
A post on an online forum for Los Angeles riders had an interesting and humorous take on the commonalties of fixed gear riders. Here is a suggested icebreaker monologue to use when finding a stranger on a whip as snazzy as your own:
Good [morning/afternoon/evening]. I notice that you are riding a fixed gear bicycle. I, too, ride a fixed gear bicycle, which means not only that we share a hobby, but that we also likely share certain viewpoints and preferences as to bicycle aesthetics, music, film, manners of dress and groomingand recreational drugs.
Well, the last part may not necessarily be true. However, I can assert that I’ve connected with my fixie friends on levels of art, big city culture, denim, political apathy and gear ratios over some brewskies. Subculture is an infinitely fascinating realm of research, and I’d like to see more done on this recreational, urbanized trend of trickster cyclists.
So next time you see a group of vibrant and clean bikes zip past you, don’t yell, Get some gears, jackass! Rather, consider that the fools may be racing for pink slips.
NICOLE L. BROWNER rides brakeless on a whim, and knows she will soon regret being that hardcore. Send bike compliments and complaints to email@example.com after visiting davisfixed.com.