A fixed gear bike is a bicycle with only one gear that doesn’t allow the rider to coast. Simply put, as long as the bike is in motion, both the wheels and the pedals are moving. Fixed gear bikes, or “fixies,” have become incredibly popular in recent years among hip, young urbanites, better known and reviled as “hipsters.” A large part of the appeal of fixed gear bikes is their aesthetic appearance, but many hipsters like to ride them to make a statement, as if the mere act of riding these simple machines is an act of rebellion against the more “acceptable” ways of traveling through city streets.
Celebrity endorsement, whether intentional or unintentional, may have something to do with their popularity as well, with famous folks such as Kanye West and Jason Lee having been seen riding them. Fixed gear bikes were first adopted by bike messengers in New York and San Francisco in the 1970s. Since riders can’t coast on these bikes and have to keep pedaling, messengers found that they could ride a lot faster than those on ten-speeds. That could be a big reason why so many young people have taken to these bikes in the 21st century.
Benefits of the Fixed Gear
So, are fixed gear bikes all that the hipsters make them out to be? As with all trends, most of it comes down to personal taste. A lot of people like the look of a fixed gear bike, and they like how fast they can move. Many others see them as great exercise machines since they require riders to constantly pedal and use more effort when starting and stopping. Because they are a lot simpler than conventional bicycles, fixed gear bikes are a lot easier to maintain and repair.
They also allow experienced riders a greater degree of control over their speed. If you want to slow down on a fixed gear bike, all you have to do is pedal slower or stop pedaling altogether. Fixed gear bikes can even go backward, making backing out of a closed lane or a tight space much easier.
Fans of fixed gear bicycles really love their bikes and enjoy riding them, but there are some drawbacks, especially for beginners. As fun as fixed gear bikes are to ride and as popular as they are, many claim that they really aren’t for beginners. First, many of them have no brakes. Since they stop shortly after the rider stops pedaling, many riders find that there is no need for brakes. Unfortunately, that gives novice riders a false sense of security, and many who aren’t familiar with fixed gear bikes quickly go out of control and run red lights or go into traffic.
Another more obvious drawback to fixed gear bikes is that they can be difficult for some riders to start and stop. Bikers who are pedaling a conventional bike uphill can switch to a lower gear and make the ride easier. Unfortunately, fixed gear bikers don’t have that luxury, which means that they have to work harder than conventional bike riders.
So, are fixed gear bikes really all they’re cracked up to be? Like all fads, that is open to interpretation. Some would argue that these simple, old-fashioned bikes are inefficient and inferior to conventional bikes, while others like their retro appeal. In the end, it’s up to the individual to decide if a fixed gear bike is worthwhile.
This article was written by Mike Gordon, recent college grad and health-conscious bike fanatic. If you or someone you know has fallen victim to bicycle accidents, Mike recommends California bicycling and cycling injury attorney, Gary Brustin.