General Question

Harp's avatar

Why have "fixies" suddenly become so popular?

Asked by Harp (19179points) June 9th, 2009

Back in my biking days, fixed-speed bikes were only for track use, where speeds are constant and the banking allows you to turn without catching a pedal. It seems to me that cities would be a terrible environment for fixies: constant stops and starts and lots of sharp cornering. And then there’s the lack of brakes around pedestrians.

Is this just some hard-core-purist-urban-chic image thing, or am I overlooking some real practical advantage?

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17 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

@Harp…..Greetings I can not answer your questions but I wish to share one of the most incredible videos I have ever seen. Please check out and marvel. at Inspired Bicycles

Harp's avatar

OMG! That is amazing!

whatthefluther's avatar

I see six observing members for many minutes now (not surprising). Dare I say even @gailcalled might call that video “awesome”!

Dog's avatar

@Harp typed: “It seems to me that cities would be a terrible environment for fixies”

I think @whatthefluther answered the question. Rad video!

andrew's avatar

@Harp I’ll answer two parts to your question: cultural and practical reasons why fixies are popular.

Fixies have been quite popular amongst the courier community for a while (I’ll talk about that in a second). When I lived in SF from 2003–2006, fixies had started to become adopted by the hipster community—possibly for the same reason that I personally got a fixie: I dated a former courier. By 2006, though, they were firmly entrenched in hipster culture, and you started to see pre-made fixies being sold (instead of building them from old track bikes or converting old road bikes). Part of the cultural adoption also lead to hipsters getting fixies purely for aesthetic reasons (which had always been a part of the courier culture, but not nearly to extent that you see now). All of this also coincided, in San Francisco, with the adoption and proliferation of messenger bags and the rise of popularity of chrome as a bag (when I bought mine in early ‘03, no one outsid eof the courier community had really even heard of chrome bags, now they’re nearly ubiquitous in SF).

Now, practically, they’re actually only suited for urban riding, for precisely the reasons you pointed out (since coasting and going down hills are the worst parts of having a fixed gear). The lighter weight helps, but mostly the fact that you have very little chain slack means that it takes very little time to adjust your speed—meaning that your reaction time is much faster on a fixed gear bike. It makes timing traffic in an urban environment much easier since you have much more nuance in slowing down and speeding up—which is very useful for a courier. It’s not so much the fact that there is one gear, but the fact that you can intuitively and quickly match speed to the traffic moving around you that makes them appealing. Also, the way they’re geared means you have great power starting from a stop, it means you can trackstand much easier, etc.

Personally, I’ve always had brakes on mine, but there is a macho urban-chic aesthetic reason for having a stripped-down bike. So, yes, they’re popular for precisely the reasons you mentioned—all of them.

Harp's avatar

Thanks, @andrew. I guess I’d have to try it to understand. It doesn’t seem like eliminating that tiny little bit of freewheel backlash would make that much difference. When you say that the gearing gives great power from a stop, would this be different from a road bike shifted to the same ratio?

San Francisco?! Seriously? How could you not want a choice of ratios on those hills?

andrew's avatar

@Harp It’s the fact that you can slow down and speed up in one motion since your legs are directly connected to the back wheel, as opposed to brake pedal brake pedal brake. I liken it a bit to the difference between driving a manual transmission—but it’s more than that—it’s a touch thing.

It’s very similar to riding a road bike in low gear, in fact, now, when I do ride a road bike, I rarely gear shift. When you’re riding in stop and go traffic anyway, I find shifting to be much more of a nuisance.

You learn to avoid the hills, but even when I used to ride my bike up and down the hill to Ben’s place in the early days of Fluther, I’d always stand up on the pedals anyway. Steep hills in a low gear where I’m pedaling like a maniac seems silly to me.

wundayatta's avatar

Here, I think fixies are part urban chic, part courier machismo, and part I don’t know what. It’s not just couriers who ride them. One of my assistants rode one, and he just liked it, or so he said. It was stripping down to the least possible weight.

The other day, raining, I was driving my car next to a guy on a fixie. He speeds up, and then stops for the red light. The way he stops, since he doesn’t have brakes, is by losing traction on his rear wheel, and swinging it back and forth, as if he were trying to slow down his snowboard. Kind of like this guy, except swerving the back wheel from side to side as he does it. I couldn’t find a youtube video of anyone actually doing what I saw.

zarnold's avatar

I think part of their appeal is how simple they are (at least that’s why I find them cool). They dispense with all of the fancy gears and shifters and all that stuff in favor of a pretty uncomplicated mechanism. The whole no-brakes thing takes that sentiment a bit too far though.

Dr_C's avatar

I find that some of the more popular bike clubs in my area have a few members using fixes… which by all accounts tend to be the more gregarious and aggressive riders in the group (not in a bad way.. just more gun-ho).

I personally will stick to my roadie… while shifting in traffic may be a pain (which is why i rarely shift in traffic) hitting mountain roads and some of my favorite routes is pure bliss when you can drop gears at will

bonus's avatar

Because hipsters are totally unoriginal and must, therefore, must mimic eachother exactly. When I moved to Echo Park nearly ten years ago, I was one of the very few who rode a bicycle around Downtown LA and that area, period. In fact, as I was also one of the growing number but few non-Latinos in the area, I was periodically harassed by old school gangster cholos driving by. They would honk and shout encouragement, “guero” and “maricon”!

Now, the area is more evenly gentrified, I can’t drive down the street any where near hipsterville without having to wait for some group of neophyte douchbagss on fixies swerving all over the road begging attention and attempting to provoke fights over unnecessary road rage. They give a bad name to those who have been riding for decades with intelligence and integrity. Most of those kids are trustarfarians who don’t mind tricking out a crappy 80s Univega with Campignolo components and a bright pink paint job for a mere five thousand dollars. Ugh, sorry, I guess I just don’t care for them. Suckers.

Dr_C's avatar

@bonus i think you and i should go riding together when i’ close to LA… we have many things to discuss

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Because you can show off by doing track stands at the corner. The whole fixie mystique is about showing off.

In the real world, i.e., outside of Cali, guys ride fixies in the winter to even out their spin. If you really want to do it right, ride a fixie on a set of rollers without the chairs.

bonus's avatar

@Dr_C Yeah, maybe. Gimme a holler after you check out the neighborhood for about 5 minutes and tell me you don’t agree…

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

@bonus: beautifully snide, GA

Sophile's avatar

I’m sorry, people, but maybe because I’ve never been “in” on these cyclo-developments, or maybe we’re just hardcore in the IE. But, either way, I ride a true ‘urban assault vehicle’! Riding a bike for social or popular reasons is lame. I roll a 1997, fully suspended, FSR comp. My tread ‘goes slick’, it’s 33lbs., and I’ve avoided countless “incidents” by simply hopping out of the way, as well as completely clearing downed road signs, cones, and the like. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve slid across a couple of hoods…then rode off, still clicked in, mind you.
Oh, another thing: I sometimes go years without a flat! Name one road bike (fixie or otherwise) that can make that claim. There are some advantages to fixies, I don’t deny that. I just don’t understand this preference for riding ‘twigs’. Besides, my only urban accident (Hit-n-run, LA, Sepulveda Blvd., flew over 100 ft., 3-day coma, TBI) was on my triathlon ride, NOT on my UAV [the Tank]!

yungbeefy's avatar

@wundayatta its called skidding. U can look it up on utube as fixie skidding.

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