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The Fixed-Gear Reevaluation

December 14, 2009

I know it seems like I’ve taken my own advice and rollerbladed off to a new life of cutting-edge irony, abandoning my blog.  But the truth is, dear reader, that I haven’t gone anywhere, except to the bottom of a fathomless pit of remorse because of my inability to bring to light the “next fixed-gear.”

Come to think of it, I did go somewhere!  I decided that if I was going to really get to the bottom of this “what is the next fixed-gear” question, I’d need to travel outside of the insular constructs of my “hey bro, is that a fixie?!” Undisclosed Northern Colorado Front Range College Town.  It was time for a road trip.

So I went on a pilgrimage to pray for wisdom in the Bikefags’ holy Mecca: Portland, Oregon (Bikefag Report coming soon)!

It was clear that the zeitgeist of the Portland alternative cycling community is long “post-freaking-out-about-fixed-gears.”  People are riding a lot of unassuming, practical bicycles.  Everyone is talking about cyclocross (it is cyclocross season, though, and the biggest ‘cross race in America was coming up).

I met a gentleman, for instance,  who I would have labeled a “bike hipster” based on his rat tail had I not talked to him and found out he was a cat. 1 track racer who commuted on a workaday all-black KHS Flite 100 with fenders and brakes front and rear (while wearing a helmet).  Maybe it was just “winter” (50 degrees when I was there..) that kept the more “fair-weather” bikefags inside, but the whole fixed-gear “phenomenon” appeared to have cooled down in Portland.  Well, other than this guy, to whom the “fixies” (and nerd-height bags) are still red hot:

But even with all of the sedate, befendered bicycles, double-strap messenger backpacks, neon-yellow jackets, and other practical cycling accoutrements, there still wasn’t really any “new thing” going on.

I felt as if I was further away from uncovering the mystery of the “next fixed-gear” than I had been when I started the whole thing as a joke to make fun of rollerbladers two months ago.

What was the next fixed-gear going to be?!

Then it struck me: the spartan coulourwauy on the track racer’s fixed-gear!  The brakes!  The fenders!  This guy’s trailer!

The next fixed-gear was there in front of my eyes the whole time!  The next fixed-gear is riding a fixed-gear and pretending like it’s not that big of a deal!”

Sure, people’s enthusiasm for tarting them up like a San Francisco whore may have waned in Portland, (where there’s now a city ordinance against neon sneakers). But it doesn’t seem like anyone can think of anything else.

We’re still stuck with the fixed-gear, bikefags.  Better take some sandpaper to it and leave it out in the rain for a few days.

Reevaluated Fixed-Gear Ratings

Exclusivity: 3

The reevaluated fixed-gear is certainly less exclusive than the original, exciting fixed-gear was “back in the day.”  But it does retain significant exclusivity.  Since the reevaluated fixed-gear is a different class of bicycle from, say, this monstrosity:


And the “is that a fixie bro” who would ride a Langster NYC edition can’t understand why his bike won’t get him in the club.

Irony: 2

There’s nothing surprising or funny about riding a fixed-gear.  Nobody cares that they have no brakes anymore.  Nobody is impressed by the single gear and the constant pedaling.  Now that your parents understand what fixed-gears are and have either bought one or have explained to you why they don’t want one, the crispness is gone.  At this point, the irony comes from continuing to utilize the same conveyance as square latecomers.

“Is that a fixie, bro?” post-reevaluation fixed-wheel riders seem to say with a wink and a nod to one another.  “Sick Deep Vs, bro!” the competent, ironic post-reevaluation rider might respond.

Street Cred: 3

As with irony, any street cred bestowed upon a post-reevaluation-fixed-wheel-bicycle is bequeathed to the user as a function of their apparent disinterest in the “fixie scene.”  The browner, scratcheder, and dirtier the bike, the more street-credulous the rider at this juncture.  So I hope, reader, that you’re getting the point that this does not apply to all fixed-gear riders anymore.

Aesthetics: 5

The primary stumbling block hindering the bikefag quest for a “next fixed-gear” is the beauty of the current fixed-gear, the fixed-gear.  The track bike is truly a beautiful conveyance.  It always was and it always will be (even after we’re all too cool to ride one…).  It is with great reluctance that we abandon this for a more exclusive, more ironic quad-ring.

Impracticality: 3.5

Fixed-gears still offer the impracticality that we keep coming back for.  They’re single-speed, they’re fixed-gear, they have no brakes, they’re generally unsuited for inclement weather.  They’re foolhardy. dangerous, and we love them.

Unfortunately, many pre-reexamination-fixed-gears, in addition to having extravagant coulourways, are now equipped with brakes.

Also, much of the fixed-gear’s “impracticality” is an illusion.  It turns out that pretty much any halfway competent cyclist can master fixed-gear riding.  Since that is now clear, the impracticality score must suffer.

Total Score: 16.5

The reevaluated fixed-gear’s “alternative conveyance scorecard” gets lower marks than the cruiser board or the quad-ring.  Yet it’s evident that the fixed-gear is still the current fixed-gear, and I think will remain the fixed-gear for the next couple of years.

Remember that fixed-gears are a trend.  So even if there’s a more perfect alternative conveyance out there (which there is. The quad-ring), fashionable people will not ride it unless it’s popular – but not too popular.  So far the only thing meeting this criteria is the post-fixed-gear wasteland of the reevaluated fixed-gear and the nebulous hipster diaspora into other forms of cycling (e.g. hipster road biking) – which so far doesn’t amount to a “next such-and-such.”  Or maybe it does.  Who knows, I only have my small-town observations (and the entire internet) to guide me.

Is the “reevaluated fixed-gear” a cop-out?

Yes.  I realize that this “conclusion” puts us in a precarious position, bikefags.  To ride on to the bitter end on the sinking fixed-gear ship or to accept the quad-ring are not the most enticing alternatives.

Personally, I’ve just been spending a lot of time “riding” “recreationally” to wait out this storm of uncertainty.

But something will come along.  Something always does.

Until then, I’m happy to bury this quest deep in the ground.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. sgt renfrew permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:48 am

    Bah and fie, Ive been doing that for 10 years now. I even put a back brake on mine, though I don’t think I’ve ever used it.

  2. Pants Yabbies permalink
    December 14, 2009 6:43 pm

    Handlebar angle fail on the Groundup; I’m docking an aesthetics point. Just sayin’…

  3. Tristan permalink
    December 22, 2009 3:45 am

    But but but, you forgot the burgeoning NEW class of hipster, which is the cross bike, so I’ll just rate it here, my apologies for taking your system and running with it…

    Exclusivity: 2.5 You pretty much can find some sort of cross bike at any bike shop that sells Bianchi, Fuji, Trek, or some other big box brand. Granted there’s about 4 of them and they’re all SRAM Rival equipped, but calling a cross bike hard to find on the street isn’t much if you live where it snows in the city due to their burly tire clearance.

    Irony: 2.5 Cross racing is very rarely ironic. It is serious business and you have to have a USA Cycling license and race in cats and wake up early and all that stuff if you are a cat 4 garbage day racer. All of this changes once one goes either to the west coast where they do wacky silly things like have single speed classes, chicken suits, and beer hand-ups, or you just race single speed period. Cross is also the one thing that people enjoy watching versus time trials or road racing. Also just look at Van Dessel’s cross bike names: Country Road Bob, Gin and Trombones. Can you get any dumber?

    Street Cred: 3.5 Depending on the build list setup, how much dirt one has accumulated on their cross bike, Plus dudes from Belgium do it and if you’re good at cross it means you run and ride fast without being a triathlete.

    Aesthetics: 3 Cross bikes look like road bikes, which can look good, but usually they have some high rise stem on them, which is tres uncool and hybrid looking. They do have a wide variety of anodized parts like canti brakes and such for cool points. But over all, a cross bike aesthetically isn’t really much better than say, a normal road bike.

    Impracticality: 1 This is where it all falls apart. Cross bikes are usually the most practical of all bicycles, which also hurts their street cred when less scummy bike salesmen try to push them onto rather than a hybrid or another fixed gear. Huge tire clearances, low gearing, 700C wheel sizing allowing you to run skinny road tires in the summer and swap over to the carbon Edge wheels for the fall when racing occurs. Some lower end single speed models have fender mounts and rack mounts? Too lame! Still, riding on cross tires on the street is pretty dumb so that bumps it up to 1.

    Added up you get: 12.5. Bummer dude. 😦

    I guess cross bikes aren’t the new fixed gear, but I do have one more entry:

    80’s time trial 24″-650 front wheeled time trial bikes, my personal favorite!

    Exclusivity: 5. No longer made, and welded by funny Italian dudes (and some cases Japanese) for guys who actually raced bikes instead of chasing their personal best, given their relatively low use status, the bumped up even more unobtainable than a San Rensho (I’m going to assume that either a Moser TT frame, or an actual 3Rensho with Sugino Disc is considered the holy grail of TT bikes). Schwinn Prologues are sitting in many a garage waiting around to be used once more, making them the Pista of Vintage Time Trial bikes.

    Irony: 4 Using a bike with twin tubular discs, or possibly old Mavic 3G trispokes is the piece de resistance on the street when you’re commuting for coffee on 54-14. The only thing that would make it harder is if the bike kicked you in the balls while you rode it.

    Street Cred: 3.5 Older roadies will pay respects, but most people will think you’re either a triathlete or yet another fixie bro, despite the deraileurs, brakes, and ultimate aero positioning thanks to the proliferation of faux pursuit frames and bullhorn bars. Still, a period correct Campy Record Tomminasi (with matching Campy Delta brakes) will get much more cred than the same period fixed gear bretheren.

    Aesthetics: 5. Old TT bikes before they started slamming aerobars on them (but once they went into bullhorns) are gracefully curved steel frames with gratuitous touches such as internal routed cabling, wild paint jobs, and lots of polish. Go look at Affinity trying to make the sloping down top tube a la old TT.

    Impracticality: 4. I was going to mark this down, but assuming one was going to actually ride the TT bike properly and not put risers on it, TT bikes are very very impractical. The whole time one is riding it, they should always, always be hunched over with a flat back. There is no use in the tops. The gearing is ridiculously difficult for the most part, and they handle like crap. You can’t ride it in the rain, you can’t ride it in the snow, you can’t ride it when it’s windy, and riding up hill is a pain in the ass. Still, there are gears, and there are brakes.

    Total: 21.5! This may be personally biased, but clearly riding a Moser is much more hipster cred than a cruiser skateboard. Plus you have disc wheels in the back to make for big flat surfaces for your crafty art projects.

    Sorry I wrote all that, sheesh… What one does when it’s snowed in and sick.

  4. Nick permalink
    December 23, 2009 1:53 am

    I love my fixed gear and no matter what happens I will not abandon it for anything other than a nicer fixed gear. Coolness may have played a small role in my adoption of this type of bicycle but definitely not as much as curiosity did.
    This being said, I find that there is too much “hype” or talk or whatever you want to call it (blogging?) around fixies, It’s driving me fucking nuts. It is kind of funny that people keep talking about a “fixed gear apocalypse” when there will be so many of them and so much talk about them that it will no longer be possible to consider them cool. But YOU ARE NOT HELPING!!!!! The best way to stop this fixed gear apocalypse is to get out there and slaughter as many poser cyclists as you can. LETS DO IT!!! (just kidding… kind of)

    • bikefag permalink*
      December 23, 2009 2:29 am

      The only problem with that, Nick, is that then I’d have to kill myself. And then I’d NEVER find out what the next fixed-gear will be.

      • Nick permalink
        December 23, 2009 2:36 pm

        From the sounds of it (ie, your blog) you are not the type of poseur cyclist I am talking about (since you actually ride your bike for more than just fashion and “street cred”), but I guess only you would know.

      • Nick permalink
        December 23, 2009 2:39 pm

        and regardless, your blog still makes me laugh, otherwise I wouldnt be reading it.


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