Fixie: The Black Sheep of Bikes

After I started riding my bike more often, I got interested in bike culture. I’ve talked to seasoned UT cyclists learning best routes, safety tips, how to maintain a bike, how to stay warm/cool, etc. One of my favorite topics has been the fixie. The fixie, or fixed-gear bicycle is something of an anomaly. Fixies do not have “speeds” like the ubiquitous childhood 10-speed; instead, fixies are single-speed bikes that directly tie pedal rotations to tire rotations. If your tires are moving, so are your pedals. So much for coasting!  Most fixies do not have brakes—not even coaster brakes like your old BMX bike! A fixie rider has to stop the bike by resisting the pedals. By avoiding modern technology, fixies are the black sheep of bikes.

Below is a picture of a typical fixie. There are a few things to notice

  • the lack of gears and a tight chain
  • the colored wheels
  • the thin, custom handlebars
  • somewhat flashy, although aesthetically pleasing

A typical fixie

Please see Wired’s article on five inexplicable fixie trends for more ways to identify a fixie.

Fixies seems to have risen to prominence in New York City where crazy bicycle messengers would deftly maneuver through traffic en route to deliveries. Other big cities followed suit and a cult of cool was spawned: if you didn’t ride a fixie, you weren’t hardcore.

Fixed-gear cycling is said to be the most intense experience one can have with the road, and the bicycle is incredibly easy to maintain because it is so simple. Opponents point out that this style of riding is hard on the body, particularly the knees, and generally dumb because 1) brakes are incredibly useful, especially in the city, and 2) gears are incredibly useful, especially in a hilly city where speed and effort need to be modulated quickly.

You see quite a few fixies in Austin, generally ridden by hipsters. I’ll unscientifically say they’re ¼ bikes I see ridden (while the absolute number of fixed-gear bicycles is small, fixie riders use their bikes a lot so you see more of them as a percentage). Originally, I thought the fixed-gear bicycle was just a fad, but the ridership is still strong.

In case you’re wondering why anyone would ever ride a fixie, here are a few videos that demonstrate the true power of fixies (hint: none of these videos take place on the drag):

Or the more graceful, feminine bicycle ballerinas: and the bicycle ballerina:

What do you think? Would you ride a fixie? Do you already? Are they a good-for-nothing trend or the ultimate bike experience? Perhaps both?