Fixed Gear Bicycles

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A fixed gear, or fixed wheel bicycle is one on which the pedal mechanism is connected to the rear wheel with a direct drive transmission that does not allow the rider to coast.

The brakeless, chain-driven, fixed gear bicycle is arguably the simplest type of Safety Bicycle, and is standard equipment for bicycle track racing events.

Fixed gear bicycles intended for use off the track are sometimes referred to as fixies.

Fixed Gear Bike: What is it?

Many young people, often tattooed, have chosen to forgo technological advances made in the past 120 years in the field of human-powered vehicles. Eschewing such mechanisms as derailleurs, freewheel hubs, and brakes, they choose to ride fixed gear bikes. On a fixed gear bike, the drive wheel and the rear sprocket are fixed together and always rotate at the same rate. Consequently, the front sprocket and pedals rotate whenever the bicycle's rear wheel is rolling. The effect is that the rider may never "coast" with feet on pedals. (In olden times, before the invention of the freewheel hub, footrests were often attached to the fork. The rider could rest his or her feet on these and allow the pedals to spin wildly as he or she descended a hill.) This also means that the fixed gear rider can stop his or her bicycle by applying reverse pressure to the pedals to slow the rate of rotation. Elite riders can skid their rear wheels by hopping them off of the ground and stopping the spin entirely. Really cool kids can "track stand," or remain balanced with no net forward velocity, by pedaling forward and backward and turning the handlebars. (Track standing takes its name from a tactic used to take advantage of a flaw in the rules of velodrome racing. This flaw almost ensures that the winner of the race will be the one who can remain still the longest at the beginning of the race.)

One of the allures of fixed gear bicycles is the simplicity and clean look that the bike gains. No longer is the rider plagued by a myriad of cables running every which way, nor derailleurs to service. Its probably fair to say that the current popularity of fixed gear bicycles at least partially stems from messenger culture, and partially from the fact that many people are too dumb to figure out how to fix a derailleur or even to change gears.

A claim often heard is, "Fixed gear bikes pedal themselves! They make it so much easier to climb hills and cruise!" This virtue of fixed gear bikes is extolled by fixed gear riders who failed high school physics. It is true that the pedals do continue to turn when the rider is no longer putting energy into the system by converting the body's stored chemical energy into kinetic energy applied to the pedals. However, the kinetic energy of forward motion is turned into potential energy and entropy at the same rate as a freewheeling bike of the same mass coasting up the same hill. Fixed gear bicycles are, however, use in training to build cadence and improve the smoothness of the pedal stroke. The lack of coasting keeps leg muscles supple and promotes good circulation.

History of the fixed gear

The predecessor to the modern bicycle, the velocipede was propelled by cranks attached directly to the wheel axle, allowing no coasting. This setup is still found on childrens bicycles and unicycles. With the inception of the safety bicycle came the widespread use of chain and gears for forward propulsion. Fixed gear bicycles were predominate until the mid-teens when coaster and caliper brakes started to take their place. Even though the coaster brake and freewheel had been established years before they also added to manufacturing costs. Often cycles were offered with the option to upgrade to a coaster brake for a few extra dollars. Eventually coaster or freewheel drives were standard on almost every bicycle except for track and club racers which continued to retain their fixed gear drive.

Fixed gears and brakes

Historically many bicycles weren't equipped with brakes and weren't really needed except in hilly areas. Many people objected them presumably because they added a few dollars to the cost of the bike. This changed however when the car began to replace the horse and found its place on the crowded streets and brakes became a necessity. In modern times people may chose to forgo brakes because they don't like the way they look, or because they feel that they can stop just fine by skidding. True track bicycles aren't drilled for brakes as they are unneeded and the bikes are not designed for road use. Most localitys have required some form of brake on a bicycle for decades and don't see skidding as a legitimate brake. Often fixed gear road bicycles are equipped with a front caliper brake. This is handy in the event the chain becomes detached or breaks.

The Relation to Late Capitalism

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Life is reduced to survival: a life reduced to economic imperatives. All real, lived experience is replaced with the consumption of commodities, and the whole of life is replaced by the assumption of roles. Fixed gear riders are particular about their consumption of commodities produced by the Spectacle and their part in the spectacle of production. Their role, like all roles, is based upon the consumption of commodities. However, this role restricts and prescribes its members' consumption in much greater detail than roles such as Soccer Mom or Mainstream Hip Hop Dude. This may because some aspects of the culture are linked to the DIY music and fanzine community of the 1990's. In fact, many participants from that community--at least, many of those who remained slim and attractive--have picked up on fixed gear bikes as a way to "stay young 'til [they] die."

Examples

  • Only the right kind of cheap beer. To be caught with a brand consumed by those who are actually poor is in bad form.
  • Old, heavy bike frames fitted with the newest, lightest components.
  • Downwardly mobile employment that allows late-night recreation, such as cycle messenger, bartender, or working for a non-profit.