By: Mark Dwyer
Fixed gear bicycles have become a growing part of urban culture. They are not just a mode of transportation, for some, they are a way of life. As more and more people are riding fixed gear bikes, it has become a staple in city life.
A fixed gear bike, or fixie as they are often called, is a bicycle with only one gear and no free wheel. This means you cannot coast on a fixed gear; as long as the wheels are moving, your feet are moving. This also eliminates the necessity of break leavers (which brings up a debate that I will come back to later). They are great for riding through inner city traffic. Fixies are usually the bike of choice for bike messenger in the city.
The desire to ride a fixed gear is hard to explain, until you actually spend some time riding one. Some people say you just feel more in-tune with the bike than you do with a free wheel. Like the difference between driving a manual as opposed to an automatic. Fixed gears also have a very slick, clean look to them. There are no levers, or cables running down the frame. They are simple, as is their maintenance, due to minimal parts.
Although the bikes functions are simple, the fixed gear fashion is anything but. The fixed gear culture is a lot about an image. The bikes are flashy. Brightly colored frames, shiny wheels, colored tires. The look of the bike is very important. Fashion, for most of the fixie culture, is inspired by bike messengers and there need to get on an off their bike quickly. Skinny jeans or cutoffs are worn to prevent pant legs from getting stuck in the chain and constantly rolling them up takes time. Shoulder bags are worn because they are easier to access than a back pack.
Bike messengers are the origin and the heartbeat of the fixed gear culture. In most cities, bike messengers are known to look out for their fellow bikers. They usually try to prevent bike theft, and will help to find any bikes that have been stolen. The fixed gear community may not exist were it not for bike messengers.
Fixies were made popular by bike messengers, but have spread to a much larger group. However, there is some controversy about fixed gears. As I said before, fixed gears do not need breaks because the feet can be used to stop the bike. Many law-enforcement officials do not like this. In most states, including Oregon, the law states that bikes must have breaks. Tickets are often given to fixed gear rider for not having breaks. Although, many riders have been able to fight in court that a break is something that stops the bike, which can be done by stopping the pedals. This has left the break law in a weird gray area for years.
It seems it would be easiest for fixie riders to simply attach breaks to their bikes, but that is actually imposing on a large part of the fixed gear culture. No hand breaks is part of the image, the experience, and the excitement of riding a fixed gear.
Portland is one of the biggest biking cities in America, and is a huge hub for fixed gear riders. Fixie riding is a culture that is all around us, even in our school. It is an important part of the popular culture in Portland and the world. It is also a strange and interesting community.