Friday, June 5, 2009

Talk about those fixie hipsters...

Why is TARCK so "in"?

David, Carlton, Rich Kelly, Byron, Donna and I are recording a new episode of the Spokesmen cycling podcast this weekend and one of the likely topics of discussion is this whole "new bike culture" outside of what has been mainstream bicycling in the United States. Byron and Carlton both plan more in depth posts on this topic (with great insight from Rich Kelly), but I'm interested in your observations and opinions.

Fixed gear fan

Where are these kids coming from? Who are their influences? Are there popular culture influences for teens and young adults that encourage them to take up fixed gear bikes?

A new thing in San Jose, California is the San Jose Bike Party. Every third Friday of the month, people show up with all kinds of bikes -- choppers, BMX, fixies, cruisers, hybrids, even road bikes and mountain bikes. In May, over 1,000 people showed up for this loosely organized ride and stretched out over a mile as they made their way from Campbell to the new Mary Avenue bike bridge connecting Cupertino and Sunnyvale.

Brakeless fixie

What strikes me is the anti-establishment sentiment among many riders. My guess is that a lot of people are taking up bikes partly as a statement against mainstream views on transportation and community. A lot of them come from the BMX and skater community.

This sentiment is still not widespread, however. The 1,000 people who showed up for the May San Jose Bike Party represents 1/10th of 1% of San Jose's population. Most teens in the South Bay still don't seem to know what a fixed gear bike is.

I'm an old guy with a vaguely independent streak who's been riding bikes for a while, but I'd like to know: for the teens and young adults who are into fixies -- what was your influence? How did you first hear about fixed gear bikes?

Why are tarck bikes so "in" now?

Daniel Menlo Park

All photos by Richard Masoner.


  1. I think it was back in '04 or '05. My friend, who was an ex-messenger from Cincinnati, brought a track bike with him to S.F. I had never seen anything like it before. It was so simple and elegant.

    Good link if you're thinking about building your own:

  2. I live in Chicago, which is as flat as flat gets in this country. The simplicity of a fixie just becomes a practicality. If you never need to change gears, why bother spending the extra money to purchase or maintain a road bike?

    They're pretty ubiquitous here, so I can't say when I first heard about or saw one.

  3. At age 41, I guess I also qualify in the oldster category. And like you, I would like to understand better how the "fixie, hipster" scene started.

    Back in the mid-1980s, when I was racing "10 speeds" and trying my best to keep up with the trends, fixed gear track bikes were touted as an effective means of improving pedaling efficiency, as they helped expose stroke problems. At one point I considered converting my old Schwinn Varsity into one, but then abandoned the idea for whatever reason. I was more into training and distance riding, and the idea of riding sixty miles on a track bike, without any way of coasting, didn't do much for me.

    How things have changed! Where once they were a rarity, now I don't think I go a day in L.A. without seeing a fixie. It's a bit of a curiosity, but I'm guessing that the attraction has as much to do with a sense of belonging as it does the machine itself. But since I'm not in the group, I really am hoping your post will bring some engaging responses.

  4. I am pretty far from my teenage years now, but I was a teen in the 80s when I first started riding a track bike on the road. The starting point for me was a 1970's book about bike racing by Jack Simes. That book covered the tactics of track racing and I was hooked when I saw some pictures of some of those beautiful chrome lugged bikes with steel stems and track bend bars. Even though I didn't live near a velodrome, I had to have one. I bought my first track bike used about 20 years ago and I have had at least one fixie in my stable ever since.

  5. Thanks all, good thoughts.

    I think we've all noticed that BMX companies are now making fixed gear bikes, and a few of the more traditional road bike companies have entered the tarck market. There's crossover from the skater crowd too.

    But how did this go viral?

  6. Sorry for the double comment post before.

    I think the whole fixie scene has exploded in recent years simply because pop culture has been glamorizing messenger culture for a long time now. Real messengers probably don't like it, but as far back as the mid nineties we saw glamorized messenger imagery in fashion and design oriented magazines. I guess you could date it all the way back to the mid eighties if you want to count the influence of Quicksilver (the ultimate portrayal of the type of poseur messenger character that real messengers love to hate).

    Most people don’t want to admit that they are into the fixie scene just because it is considered hip, so we hear a lot about the zen of riding a fixie, or about what a “pure” riding experience it is. Yeah, fixed gear bikes are simple and have their advantages, but those characteristics of the bikes themselves are certainly not what has driven the trend. The simplicity factor is one of the reasons that messengers gravitated toward track bikes in the first place, but the current trend is definitely one that is primarily image driven. I just hope that many of the young people who gravitate toward fixies today choose to stick with cycling in the long term. I suspect that some of them will, but many will not.

  7. I always though Tarck Bike was just a dyslectic spelling of Track Bike. Please enlighten me, WTF is a Tarck Bike

  8. It certainly is a strange phenomenon. I see them in mid-town Sacramento all the time. But now I'm even seeing the kids out in the suburbs starting to ride them. Where I live it's not exactly flat either, so I don't see the draw. A single speed with a freewheel seems more realistic around here. But what do I know. I just have to say that those tight jeans do not look comfortable to be riding a bike in. Unless they are some sort of hybrid spanex-jean material. ;-)

  9. As a 31yr old Austinite I am probably just this side of old and out of the hipster world (those jeans look painful anyway). Here in the liberal heart of Texas there is a strong counter culture and I see 80's steel frequently. 1 out of every 5 or so is fixed despite rolling hills around town. I ride a single speed as my transport bike and like the leg building but couldn't live without the freewheel. I like the post because it is thought provoking...things that go together "Che Guevara" Tee's, euro-bike hats, fixies, converse chuck taylor high tops, studded leather belts, random tattoos, anything else?

  10. Two "J"s in a row! (I think)

    I tried skinny pants once - something from Swrve. Great fabric, but very constricting. I gave them away.

    As far as things that go together with the fixie hipsters: PBR, shibboleth such as "tarck" :-) ... what else?

  11. ...i just turned 60 last month so i don't know if my perspective counts but..."hey, you kids get offa my lawn"...sorry...i was about to say that you've already got a ton of good feedback here...

    ...cycling, whether it's fixed gear or not, has always been a "road less traveled", if you will, despite the vast numbers of enthusiasts...fixed gear riding is more so that way 'cuz not everyone can do it...

    ...& i love to hear that younger folks appreciate the elegance & simplicity of "singles"...a case of "some things never change" in a good way...

    ...whether the 'scene is seen' as rebellious, counter-culture, "us against them" or inclusive & participatory, it's people out on bikes & ultimately, i believe that to be a good thing... a world seemly dedicated to distancing you from your senses, cycling helps bring us back...(don't get me wrong, i love electronic gadgetry & modern me more time to ride)...but cycling helps to strip away the insulation, so perhaps the reality of a fixed gear bike just goes a little deeper...

  12. It still screams "fad" to me at least

    I take the perhaps jaded view that it's just a bunch of kids looking for any bandwagon to hop on. I ran a bicycle shop 07-08 and have worked in non profit shops for years and you really get an inside look into what's going on.
    The people coming in claiming to want a "fixie" (a term that bugs me, kind of like "vaycay" when someone is referring to vacation), usually know little to nothing about bikes and often mistake a freewheeling single speed for a fixed gear. Most just want a simple bike to use as transportation. For functionality. I'd urge them to consider a freewheel, which nearly all preferred in the end. The most important quality for them, I think, was just not having to shift; something that remains intimidating for most. Just get on and ride, have fun.

    Like was said before me, I sincerely hope that people become genuinely interested in cycling even as the fad fades. It does seem like it has really opened the doors up to so many more people and shown the joys of 2 wheeled human propulsion

  13. For me fixed gears represented an easy, cheap, fun, and admittedly cool (trendy) way to reconnect with cycling. I, like many people who now ride fixed gears, used to ride BMX. For me and many others, fixed gears seem appealing for their simplicity. I also learned to work on bikes bu building my first fixed gear, and I think that fixed gears are an excellent entry point for any amateur who wants to learn to wrench. That said, I sold my fixed gear, I ride a three speed, and I am building a folding bike, so a fixed gear for me was just a gateway and a way for me to reconnect with the joys of cycling.

  14. The Bike Messenger influence cannot be understated. Messenger bags, fixed gears, fixed gears without brakes, knickers, cycling caps, riding without helmets, etc.

    See Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point for more insight. It's a book on how things - like this - go viral.

  15. I live in Germany in a town with about 300000 inhabitants. I have seen a student ride a fixed gear bike in 2007 , back then he was probably the only one in the whole town.
    Here, there are tons of traffic lights, and that is the actual reason why I ride fixed. I just hated getting of at the traffic lights and having to search for the clip to get my shoes in every time it turns green. Now, as I am able to trackstand I dont have to do this anymore...

  16. My infinitely hip former roommate was riding fixed back in about 2006 in Sacramento and that year and a half of my life will always leave me with fond feelings of PBR.

    As for why it happened, it definitely filtered down from messenger culture. I would guess it's less a case of the media's portrayal of messengers and more the fact that there was a lot of cross pollination between the hipsters and messengers. Messengers were brand evangelists for the fixie.

    As for the fixie as part of the collective consciousness, Fritz, I'm going to have to disagree with you that most South Bay teens don't know what a Fixie is. I guarantee you if you asked most high school students if they knew what a "fixie" was a vast majority would be able to give you a rudimentary definition. They'd at least say something about "no brakes."

  17. That is, of course, isolated to the bay area. I'm guessing kids in rural Arkansas would have no clue.

  18. "They'd at least say something about "no brakes.""


    Yeah, they've heard of them, but even most of the ones RIDING one don't know what a fixie is.

    The whole fixie/hipster thing doesn't annoy me as much as it does some (I ride fixed so obviously don't agree at all with the ANTI-fixie crowd). Fixed gear bikes (or at least fixed/free bikes) are what most of them SHOULD be riding for transportation purposes, but as a subculture that is essentially apart from bike culture they are clueless; but arrogantly so.

    Such is youth and this too shall pass.

  19. William of OrangeJune 7, 2009 at 8:54 PM

    Where have you been?

    Bicycle snob NHYC (aka "Snobbie") has been piling ridicule on the fixgear/freestyle fad for several years
    with hillarious results.

  20. ...the real question is "where have you been, orange willy ???"...fritz is a reader of & has been a contributor to bsnyc/rtms for years...

    ...besides, bsnyc lampoons the fix scene whereas fritz is proposing a more serious look into the "culture"...

  21. William, thanks for the pointer to BSNYC. I've never heard of her before.

    Seriously. :-)

  22. You know, I totally forgot about The Autosnob from two years back....

    Looking at it now it's ridiculously lame.

  23. @Kit: It's the whole "Arkansas" thing that fascinates me. I see websites like BFEFixed promoting Bike Polo in flyover country and suburban American.

  24. My buddy mike was living in san francisco a couple years ago and got his first fixie. The first I rode was in Chico CA and belonged to my friend Rob. I loved riding it. It was fun. Most bikes that i've been on cannot approach the level of fun that fixies deliver everytime I go out. Plus something i didn't see discussed was how since the whole drivetrain is always in motion, one cannot rest on ones laurels, you find yourself really going for it. Fun to ride, above average exercise.

  25. O.K Ive got to draw the line with fixies.Ive never seen such a bunch of lemmings in my life.It blows my mind to see such uniform "individualistic" poseurs as the fixie scene.Not since the preppie handbook have i seen such a trend jumping copycat lamos as fixies.Reocuring "individualistic" consistencies such as:skinny jeans just above the knees shorts, retro cycling caps,beards,emo hitler haircuts, bedhead conveniently sculpted disheveled hair, pictures stuck in the spokes,Aerospoke wheels(front wheel only),Messenger bags,bikes Mostly u-locked more than being ridden at the coffee shop.Vegan(organic),etc.. Not only are these unwritten fashion rules but also very fashion over function like tight jeans shorts( very uncomfortable I imagine).Messenger bags(totally useless since they always ride over your hip over to the side causing constant resituating with theback of your arm shoving it on to your back while trying to negotiate cars.never mind how the fact urban cycling demands brakes and gears to effectively out manouver cars and pedestrians. Hard as a rock yet highly coveted Brooks saddles.Do you idiots know how long it takes to break those in?!They're still uncomfortable when broken in, never mind weighing a ton.Its funny how none of them well the lemming purists dont even use clipless pedals! They talk about a simpleminimalist asthetic but I dont know more of a more synergistic ride than with clipless pedals and shoes.Most diehard lemming fixies use very innefective toeclips. Yet they'll never deny anyone how long they can do a trackstand at the traffic light...LAME. I was a bike messenger in Boston in the mid 80's and they were a bunch of elitist crusty losers and now we have the fixie movement. A new generation of kids loose on the street that neither know how to handle such a machine nor know how to ride in coexistence with motorists.This is the fragile truce roadies/ commuters have developed over decades of city riding.Fixie poseurs are pissing off motorists left and right with their cooler than though slalom of idling cars, brakestanding, zig zag braking, trackstand posing, in front of moving cars.Someone has said more than once "hey if it means one less car" or "strength in numbers" yet alienating and promoting road rage with motorists then I say I can do without these pretentious pansy poseurs.

  26. @Anon 3:56 - a comment about your perception on individualism. I think it's more about belonging to a group or a tribe (if you will) rather than asserting individualism. Everybody feels a need to belong to something, and a uniform, style or fashion is part of that statement of belonging.