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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Give riders a brake? No thanks

Image of fixed-gear bicycleFrom the Philadelphia Inquirer, 05.28.07:

New, simple bicycles are missing something
If you've walked anywhere in Center City during the last two years, you have without a doubt witnessed a phenomenon that could mark the beginning of major social change. Witnessed it, and - almost as surely - not noticed.

It is called "the fixie." Otherwise known as the fixed gear bicycle, a ride with one speed and no brakes. Mostly college students, couriers and assorted risk-takers ride these things, forsaking the increasingly complex alternatives featuring 27 gears, finely tuned derailleurs, and FAA-worthy brake systems.

(Michael) McGettigan, like other philosophical velo-philes, sees the trend as a positive sign. A kind of evolutionary backpedaling brought about by the realization that low-tech can be high-minded. Comparing the fixie to a violin, he says, "It's trimmed down to its utter essence. Can you take any piece away and still have it be a violin?"

Andy Clarke, executive director of the national League of American Bicyclists, agrees that there's reason to believe gadget fatigue is, in part, driving the bike's popularity. "People are intimidated by bikes with 27 gears," he said. "They're worried about things breaking and fixing flats. Just as most people don't know what goes on inside a car, or want to, they don't want to have to know how to fix a bike." (Read more.)
I wondered what the next "new" trend in bicycles would be after Shimano and Campagnolo introduced 10-gear cassettes a few years ago. How many more gears could they realistically squeeze into a bicycling drivetrain? How much thinner would they make a chain? How much weaker could rear wheels get?

It seems the response to increased complexity has been a return to basics. "Fixies" are hot! Simplicity rules! A single-speed (with breaks and allowing coasting) or a fixed-gear (no coasting, brakes optional) may be a perfect bike for some commuters. They are certainly easier to maintain, and lighter in weight. (I'm a former Bianchi Pista rider, now fixie-deprived.)

There also seems to be an encouraging trend toward more commuting-friendly bicycles--folding bikes, hybrids, internal hubs, fenders--perhaps inspired by the more visionary leaders in the bicycling industry.

Image: San Francisco Chronicle
Visit: Bike commuters having a two-wheeled revolution, Philadelphia Enquirer
Visit: Biking to work without any brakes
Visit: One Gear Will Travel
Visit: Sheldon Brown: "Coasting is Bad for You"
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Tuco said...

I've been riding a former mountain bike which is now a fairly light singlespeed (not fixed though).
It's great. I can't believe I didn't do it years ago.
A few days ago I was following a guy who was on the type of mountain bike that mine used to be - triple chainrings, 8 or 9 cogs, and his gears weren't working, took 15 seconds to shift, the chain grinding, meanwhile I was just pedalling happily along behind him all quiet.

Singlespeeds really really are so much fun.

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