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Demons on fixed gear bikes

By Adam Marsal

Fixed gear bicycles have become the ultimate statement in ‘urban hip’ during the past few years. For a long time only messengers glided effortlessly in and out of traffic on a ‘fixie’.

‘Naked’ bicycles

Fixie bikes are simple and elegant. With clean lines they present a genuine beauty. They’re stripped to the bare requirements of peddling, steering and movement. This means no brakes. Only using the fixed wheel as a means of stopping. Fixies are becoming more popular, as more people discover the joy of riding single-speed-fixed-gear. Usually ‘without brakes’.

Bike Commuter
Photo: Profimedia.cz

From professional to fashion statement

Where does such a passion for fixies come from? Bike messengers started riding fixed-gear bikes in the early ‘90s. First in New York and then in other cities in the U.S. and Europe. One of the reasons is that it needs significantly less maintenance in bad weather. As we found out in our previous article about messengers in Canada.

A fixed gear rider in a yellow striped tank top and sunglasses poses.
Photo: Profimedia.cz

In the last several years the ‘urban hipster’ set has followed. Some have stripped down old free-wheel bikes, like 10-speeds, and converted them into fixed gear. A huge trend had begun.

No coasting for the lazy

Single speed riding requires a different kind of approach. The fixed gear does not allow you to coast. In fact, going downhill can be hard work. The cog on the rear wheel is bolted directly the hub so that your pedals must go at the same speed as your rear wheel. This is similar to the system used on the old Penny Farthing bikes from the end of the 19th century. Pedal cranks are connected directly to the hub of the front wheel.

Hipster on fixed-gear bicycle, Brooklyn, New York
Photo: Profimedia.cz

Most of the modern fixie bikes don’t even have brakes. As the cyclists glide into the streets on their fixed-gear bikes, the only way for them to slow down is to force the rear wheels into a skid which takes a lot of skill to control.

On the edge of the law

Fixie riders without proper braking systems represent a hazard to others, according to critics and the police. In many countries it is illegal to cycle without a rear brake. Fixie riders oppose this. Their fixed-gear bicycles are easy to maintain and make for a ‘Zen like riding experience’ because all the control comes from the legs and pure mental focus.

Fixed wheel bicycles aka fixies are a common site especially in East London, where they have become
Photo: Profimedia.cz

You can love them or hate them, but you can’t stop them. The most probable scenario for upcoming years is more and more fixie demons hitting the streets, regardless if its in New York, London, Berlin or Moscow.