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In Defense of Fixed Gears




The gradient drops abruptly. Ash Street leans itself through curves downhill into the valley. The cars that passed me with incessant rush begin to slow and stand still as I match their speed, and like a pendulum begin to move backward as I pass. 25mph. 30mph. 35mph. Wind brings tears to the corners of my eyes, and the crank whips as fast as my legs can possibly match. I lean into the turns, body as streamlined as I can make it. I touch the cusp, the climax, the exact moment that speed matches ability and disaster breathes its presence. But the hill begins to taper off into a straight, flat line and I slow down into the comfort of ability, wondering yet again why I don’t have brakes.

I savor the mastery; that is why I ride a fixed-gear bike.

Fixie: a bicycle with one speed, one gear, in which crank and chain are directly connected to the rear wheel.

Braking is achieved by applying backpressure to the pedals, acceleration is immediate, and control is direct. These streamlined machines have received a lot of flack, probably because they’ve been hijacked by Hipster culture. The simplicity of their mechanics is simplicity of design, so they tend to be the most attractive style of bike, and therefore preferred by those who place a high value on aesthetics. Unfortunately, that value has also been associated with pretension. Another Fixie rider, another member of the herd. But with our dismissal of the fixed-gear bike comes the loss of their true value: adventure.

Because of the fixed drive chain, the point of contact and control is the bike’s pedals. A normal free wheel, multi-geared bike gives no pushback on the pedal, and therefore the point of contact is the seat. The difference is height. The higher the contact point, the more top-heavy and off-balance. With a lower contact point, a fixed-gear possesses more balance. With that balance I can turn more sharply, stop more abruptly, and explode in acceleration.

Sure, bikes with gears can get you farther with less effort; you can rest on downhills and work less hard on uphills. But the level of control a rider has with a fixed-gear bike is unmatched, and the ability to brake by locking the bike wheel and skidding is pure joy. Sure, they are hip and fashionable, yet more than that, they are extremely fun.

Down the Ash Street hill and across the bridge leaves my fellow rider and me in the heart of downtown. The acceleration and control of our bikes make us a match for any car as we cruise Main Street. More agile than cars we are, dipping and weaving through traffic, up and over bike detours, balancing at stoplights. We allegedly came for our favorite pizza joint’s happy hour—a large pizza and a pitcher of cold beer for $12.99. But really we came for the joy of the ride.