RIP Fixed gear bikes (1887 – 2009ish) maybe

by Tony Farrelly   April 24, 2009  


Not much remarked on, but this week the imminent death of the fixed gear bike as the ultimate badge of style was announced in the Times. It's obituary penned by fixed gear rider Richard Caseby, who briefly mourned its passing before moving on to big up Fifties-style French courier bikes as the next big thing… he's just bought one.

The fixed gear bike was the cycling equivalent of those old guys in the Buena Vista Social Club: fashionable in the early part of its career then settling in to a long period of neglect admired only by those with more specialist tastes, before bursting back into unexpected popularity right at the end, er and and then dropping dead.

It was in the Times so it's got to be true and not just another London hipster trying to be first in the queue to pronounce a fashion dead and probably failing no no no. Confirmation came when a poster on the London Fixed Gear forum asked for advice on gearing up a fixed. So it's over then… (Note to self: must fire TR, and send back those yellow Halo Aerotrack wheels which are giving me a migraine just looking at them).

I've never owned a fixed, but I've ridden a few (and it is a few) and I really like singlespeeds so I was saddened to hear of their imminent death, especially as I'm not keen on the whole delivery bike thing… not with the hills around here. So what's the problem, why the gloomy prognosis for the health of fixiedom?

It's because they are too popular apparently. Now that AA Gill, Will Self, and every graphic designer inside the North Circular has one mainstream fashion death must inevitably follow, the high water mark has been reached it's all down hill from here (not so easy on a fixed) the hip will move on… possibly to 1950s French delivery bikes. Or who knows, they might discover the benefits of the freewheel, so enthusiastically embraced by their great grandfathers when it was invented back in 1898 – hell, they might even try gears. The thing about riding a bike is it's addictive all those endorphins kicking the habit is not so easy even for the fashionable. So cheer up.

Fixed gears may become less fashionable but they aren't going away too many people love them too much just to ditch them because they're might not be as trendy as they once were. Plus there are great swathes of the planet that haven't seen a fixed gear bike since 1898, they may be becoming mainstream in London but outside of the capital they are still fairly thin on the ground.

Here in hilly Bath I only saw my first fixed bike being ridden on a hill at the weekend – a Chrage Plug Freestyler piloted by a fit looking bloke who looked like he'd been air-dropped in from Camden Town – he didn't seem to be enjoying himself. I had to stop and watch his progress up the hill – it felt like rubber-knecking a car crash – mercifully he turned off just before things got really steep. I don't blame him I didn't enjoy riding up their on a fixed gear either though not as much as I didn't enjoy riding back down it … and I was getting paid for the privilege. If he'd flipped his hub over to the freewheel side it would have been so much more enjoyable.

Mind you, if people are up for riding fixed in places as challenging as Bath there's plenty of life left in the phenomenon yet. Especially if your fixed has a flip flop hubs allowing you to switch it over to the less pure, but far more enjoyable (on hills anyway) singlespeed freewheel side. Singlespeed's now they are the future as are new evolutions of the fixed format like Fixie Inc's experiments with belt drive and different chain pitches and KuK's new Convert2 with its Swopout dropouts (pictured below) that let you run it with gears or as a fixed/singlespeed. Fixed or free it depends on the terrain and your preference, but either way around town one gear makes a fair bit of sense.

So that's all right then, well no it isn't says Ben Auparker blogging on bike fashion – the spread of fixed gear fashion is a bad news beccause in his opinion the bikes and the scene they have spawned are nothing but fashion : “ If you took a swaying, brainless, gazelle-like catwalk model and turned her into a bike, a fixie is what you’d get”. A good looking bike then? No says Ben who goes on to list five fashion faux pas commited by fixed riders. No 2 is Spoke Card which Ben derides as “This is the bike equivalent of wearing a top-hat with the ace of spades tucked into the band - foolish teen-minded posturing which serves as nothing more than an in joke between equally feeble-brained “insiders.”

Maybe Ben's problem isn't with the bikes it's with the people who ride them… chill out fella.

Here's some vid of fixed fun from back in the day…  

27 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Country folk shouldn't meddle with fashion like city folk should steer clear of farming.

BananaDrama's picture

posted by BananaDrama [42 posts]
24th April 2009 - 10:32

1 Like

ah, that'll be why London is full of 4x4s

Darned if I do…

Mr Sock's picture

posted by Mr Sock [153 posts]
24th April 2009 - 10:35

1 Like

The trick the bike fashion blokey misses is that track geometry belongs on the track, road geometry works best on the road, as does plenty of standover height on a commuting bike.

Retro courier style bikes, yeah maybe, if you live in the centre of a big, flat city, anywhere else or for anyone who wants to get anywhere in a hurry they are a waste of time.

If people want to ride fixed more power to 'em I just don't want to be told that it's a 'purer' experience etc etc, it ain't, it's a different experience just like driving my car and using the reverse gear to stop it would be different too Wink.

hammergonewest's picture

posted by hammergonewest [105 posts]
24th April 2009 - 10:47

1 Like

I think that overly blue Cannondale is but one proof that "fixies" have finally and thankfully jumped the shark

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
24th April 2009 - 11:21

2 Likes

conversely the first of the local Summer Wednesday Evening Track League races was full to bursting last week, whether this was down to the general upsurge in cycling, the Olympic effect, overflow from the fixie phenomenon or the local racing scene getting bigger and stronger i don't know.

but i do know none of the bikes there had cut-down riser-bars, and no-one was racing in jeans a size too small.
Wink

posted by VecchioJo [769 posts]
24th April 2009 - 11:33

1 Like

It's not pure, it is raw and simple. I couldn't think of anything worse when I lived in the country amongst hills! I love riding fixed in London but I can't think of many other places that I could live with such a bike. It goes by the old adage 'horses for courses'.

It's not just about the size of your cog.

TRs Blurb n Blog's picture

posted by TRs Blurb n Blog [270 posts]
24th April 2009 - 11:52

1 Like

Heh heh, I have seen that spoof video before and thought it was quite funny - on youtube the thread goes on forever with people believing it to be real whilst getting all hot and bothered about the fact that Edison wasn't the first to invent the light bulb but the first to register it. What I found amusing about the comments is that it highlighted that people are missing the point about it all. Yes fixed gear bikes are 'trendy' but what's wrong with being trendy? I don't want to look uncool or unfashionable, it is actually quite a lot of fun changing stuff on your bike like it is nice to have a good hair cut or a new pair of trainers. If it makes you feel better about yourself do it. If you aren't bothered in following the latest fashion then people probably aren't bothered about what you do either. A fixed gear bike has an architectural elegance with uncluttered clean lines, this simplicity although very beautiful doesn't mean that you can live with it.

bicycle bob's picture

posted by bicycle bob [19 posts]
24th April 2009 - 12:08

2 Likes

I think there will always be people riding fixed in the capital because it works well.
I'm not really surprised that there were no people in skinny jeans racing on the velodrome. Like I don't expect to see people dressed in lycra at the pub.

bicycle bob's picture

posted by bicycle bob [19 posts]
24th April 2009 - 12:22

2 Likes

Not wanting to look uncool or unfashionable clearly shows that you can be bothered, which means other people probably will be bothered, mostly by the fact that you might be "trying too hard", the same goes for any trendy fashion.

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
24th April 2009 - 12:41

1 Like

These are my cut down riser bars. I had to cut them down so I could get through traffic. How wide do you reckon they are?

cut down bars 002.jpg

It's not just about the size of your cog.

TRs Blurb n Blog's picture

posted by TRs Blurb n Blog [270 posts]
24th April 2009 - 13:05

2 Likes

just to add my piece...not all fixie riders are like this I agree but there are a few in bristol who look like they have fallen through topshop and grabbed everything on the way before hitting a freak gust of wind that has blown half of thair hair over one eye. Then they proceed to ride brightly coloured fixed gear bikes up and down park street (which I imagine cant be too easy) Then one of them on a cinelli with 5 spoke white front wheel celebrates by accelerating and tail whipping his back wheel into parked car doors.
I couldnt believe I was seeing it.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
24th April 2009 - 13:25

1 Like

"How wide do you reckon they are?"

whatever the fashionable width is this week?

Thinking

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
24th April 2009 - 13:31

1 Like

LesBianchi wrote:
"How wide do you reckon they are?"

whatever the fashionable width is this week?

Thinking


Meeeeeow!
And I don't say that very often. 32cm btw

Spinning on a wheel

Hammy's picture

posted by Hammy [97 posts]
24th April 2009 - 13:59

2 Likes

Long live fixed as a popular and enjoyable niche. Good riddance to the hipster, messenger wannabes and anyone else for whom fashion is their only culture.

Shaun Audane's picture

posted by Shaun Audane [758 posts]
24th April 2009 - 15:18

2 Likes

Fashion is their only culture… your practically quoting the Specials at us now. Not that I'm complaining

hammergonewest's picture

posted by hammergonewest [105 posts]
24th April 2009 - 15:30

1 Like

Less hating please: Smile Smile Smile

hate less.jpg
PeteScotch's picture

posted by PeteScotch [4 posts]
27th April 2009 - 9:34

4 Likes

It's not hate, it's pity.

Big Grin

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
27th April 2009 - 9:48

3 Likes

My handle bars are a modest 44cm wide

It's not just about the size of your cog.

TRs Blurb n Blog's picture

posted by TRs Blurb n Blog [270 posts]
27th April 2009 - 9:51

4 Likes

It's not much of a problem, is it? suddenly it's achingly fashionable to ride fixed, and every Silas-jeans-wearing, asymetric-hairstyle-sporting graphic designer inside the M25 is off to the Plug store. So what? it's more people on bikes. They might be a bit annoying, but let's face it: these people were annoying anyway, and next year you'll be able to take your pic from 2,374 barely used Charge Plugs on ebay for peanuts. and the fact that the beautiful people are riding bikes will surely inspire some of the wannabes to get on bikes too, and they might even keep them if they go out of fashion.

Barry Fry-up's picture

posted by Barry Fry-up [186 posts]
27th April 2009 - 9:58

2 Likes

Hey Pete, totally agree. Shame there isn't an actual bike ride of the same name… or is there?

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4160 posts]
27th April 2009 - 10:46

3 Likes

LesBianchi wrote:
It's not hate, it's pity.

Big Grin

any negativity towards a cycling culture or group from within another cycling group in my opinion is 'hating'. This word does not necessarily mean a literal hate of things...just a cynical, lazy and negative attitude towards things.

PeteScotch's picture

posted by PeteScotch [4 posts]
27th April 2009 - 10:52

3 Likes

But it's not "negativity towards a cycling culture or group from within another cycling group", it's "negativity" and pity towards a fashion culture.

Cycling is a wonderful thing, there's no need to Try So Hard or become your own self-parody to enjoy it.

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
27th April 2009 - 11:11

1 Like

Theres no rules I'm afraid. My definition of cycling is an ability to turn pedals and stay up-right for a duration determined by your starting point and your point of arrival...what kind of bike you choose to ride, clothes you wear, culture you align yourself with is irrelevant in my opinion. If people are having fun, obeying some kind of road law and actually enjoying bikes instead of moaning about other people then its all good in my opinion.

PeteScotch's picture

posted by PeteScotch [4 posts]
27th April 2009 - 12:13

2 Likes

I agree with Pete, who cares what people look like or what type of bike they are riding just so long as they are riding a bike and not doing any harm.

I might think some people look stupid with the things they wear, but so what? I'm sure there are mis-guided souls out there who think I look dumb fully Lycra'd up - I on the other hand am secure in the knowledge that I look like Arnold Donis esq's better looking brother when sporting full Pearl Izumi bibs and jersey.

Were anyone to question my mental picture of myself I would nod tolerantly at the poor deluded fool and move on… by bike, and I'm sure the same applies for floppy fringed fixed riders too.

On a bike somewhere…

thebikeboy's picture

posted by thebikeboy [138 posts]
27th April 2009 - 12:30

1 Like

"Theres no rules I'm afraid."

I shall concede that you are right in this instance, this is an ethos many of these riders have whole-heartedly taken on board for both style, and road, sense

Sad

posted by LesBianchi [16 posts]
27th April 2009 - 13:13

2 Likes

What is the problem with fashion?

I like fashion, I like that people attempt to present an image of their inner self to the outside world via clothing, music etc.

To feel pity toward a fashion culture is a pretty arrogant standpoint.

I love track bikes, I ride my track bike at the track, and my winter bike is fixed and has been my choice for years. I don't feel betrayed or pitious because now they are popular, I continue to ride them for the reasons I always have, and will carry on long after the messenger culture has vanished I expect.

It's good to see nice old track iron on the streets, and good that it is avoiding the skip for just a bit longer.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
27th April 2009 - 13:37

2 Likes

Too much snobbery in sport in the UK strangles nascent talent by alienating newcomers. I wonder how many potential riders are put off going out with a club because they'll come across the attitude displayed by some of the posters above.

I rode fixed in the 80's and still do today, although not exclusively. (check out the 'fixie rides' posted to the what's on pages) I find it a great way to build strength due to the relentless imperative to keep turning the legs whether uphill or down dale - and there are plenty of both in Yorkshire! If you get the gear roughly right, you'll manage to balance the effort of going up against the pain of going down - around 73 inches (42x15) is about right for me.

As the Bikeboy points out one man's fashion is another man's faux pas. Personally, I can't see the attraction of over-priced carbon fibre but plenty of others do and good luck to 'em.

Ticktock

posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
7th December 2011 - 19:24

2 Likes