The fixie myth – why not every fixed gear purist is a hipster
It’s cool to ride a fixie. Having only one gear is trendy. Anyone wanting to draw attention to themselves and their bike on the roads and in front of cafés will be riding a fixed-gear bike. That’s one aspect of it. However, there is more to it than just accessories for hipsters and urban subcultures when it comes to drastically downscaled bikes. A correction.
Hip in the city with a fixie
What’s the best way to stand out in urban areas and differentiate yourself from the mainstream? People dress up in clothes that break every fashion trend, such as chequered shirts. People wear glasses large enough to outdo their grandparents’ ones. People grow beards of which ancient poets would be envious. People ride bikes which are appealing in their simplicity and which are loved by bike messengers around the world.
What was once subculture several years ago has now turned mainstream. Nobody wants to be labelled as a hipster anymore. Alongside horn-rimmed glasses and long beards, fixies have also found their place in the everyday marketing of large companies. Nevertheless, they have become a fixed component of a young, hip urban culture. But why exactly fixed-gear bikes?
Less is often more – the design
First of all, the drastically simplified bike looks incredibly stylish and appealing with its clearly defined lines. This is partly down to the simplicity of the bike. Having only one gear omits the need for many components and allows the real aesthetics and clever functionality of the most efficient means of transport to emerge.
On the other hand, the minimalist design calls out for the owner to customise it. People often delve deep into their paint pots, colour-coordinating the wheels, frame, handlebar tape, saddle and even the chain. Narrow, flat handlebars are an option in addition to racing handlebars, bullhorn handlebars and even old french styles. A wide variety of brake levers (should obscure the brakes), wheel rims, frames and hubs transform a fairly normal bike into a personalised status symbol.
Real riding fun and low-maintenance
A truly decisive factor comes into play along with the aesthetic aspect: riding fun! Just to clarify, we are talking about fixies – bikes with a fixed gear. Not to be confused with single speed bikes which also feature one gear but have a freewheel mechanism to allow coasting. This means that when the fixie is in motion, it must always be pedalled. Indeed, this is where the first riding pleasure is hidden; in the link between the cyclist and the bike. “There is an overwhelming feeling that you are not just riding with the bike – it is also riding with you”, says a long-time Berlin bike messenger.
The fact that it only has one gear means no having to change gears; simply ride the bike in its original form. Enthusiastic fixie cyclists often speak of a “flow” when cycling. This feeling, together with the fact that the cycling speed is determined by the leg movement, is addictive. It can only be slowed down by using the legs and, of course, the brakes as usual.
Fixie purists insist they are incredibly low-maintenance and simple. Another reason to travel with a fixed gear – not just for bike messengers. No gears need to be changed, no rear derailleur, front derailleur, shifter cable or gear lever that may break.
Critical responses speak of an idiotic trend. I warmly invite these people to trial a fixie and experience this fantastic bike for themselves. I would also like to remind them that in its early years, the Tour de France only ever featured bikes with a fixed gear. Once coasting and gears were developed, the Tour founder, Henri Desgrange, is quoted to have said: “Come on, fellows! Let’s say that the test was a fine demonstration – for our grandparents! As for me: Give me a fixed gear.”