Fixed Gear Road Bikes: a Bay Area hipster's paradise

June 22, 2008

Whenever you cruise through the streets of downtown San Francisco you can't help but see hipsters huffing up hills on fixed gear roadies. Of all the places where fixed gear bikes wouldn't take off, I would have thought it would be San Francisco because of the hills. But despite all odds, it has. And whether or not you are a hipster in SF trying to look cool, is the place to go drool over the cool bikes others have posted (I've added a couple to this post --- go to for many, many more). A true fixed gear bike has a direct connection between your legs and the speed of the bike -- no coasting. So if you are going faster, you have to keep your legs turning. If you are going slower, you pedal slower. Slowing down means using your legs to resist the inertia of the back tire --- emergency stops are made by locking your legs to make the back tire skid. In fact, the original fixed gear bikes were strictly for riding track -- no brakes, no gears. So to slow down, you just had to slow it down with the speed of your leg movements. But many say that expert roadies started taking track bikes out on the road because it helped them smooth out their pedaling. And from there who knows how it spiked as a trend in SF, but it has definitely been strong for a few years now. It's become so popular in fact, that Kona came out with a fixed gear road bike this year called the Paddy Wagon --- and it is really pretty cool (I added a pic or two of it to this article). Some of the things to love about fixies are: 1) Fewer parts to break, like derailleurs and such. And easier to repair when they do break. 2) Lighter weight. 3) You can turn any old chromoly road bike frame into a fixed gear bike pretty easily --- which I think is awesome, because it's cheaper and you can make it your own. 4) If your fixie is a thrift store revival, you can feel even more Puritan about your environmentalism -- not only are you biking instead of driving a gas-guzzling car, you are riding a bike that isn't brand new so you didn't put demand out for another bike to be produced. Because that would have meant more coal-powered energy to run welders, etc, to produce them. The carbon waste from the creation of your thrift store bike was sent into the atmosphere loooooong ago, so you really are using the first 2 of the 3 R's: Reduce & Reuse. So many people focus on Recycle, but the first two can make a huge impact too. 5) Some love the purism of it all --- just like telemark skiers won't ever say it's easier, but they will say that freeing the heel makes for a much more enjoyable turn than locking your heel down like with traditional alpine skis. But there are a couple of challenges inherent in riding a track bike: 1) If you get cut off when riding downtown, and don't have any brakes, it can turn into a bit of a challenge (to put it mildly). So lots of folks on fixies who ride them in urban situations have slapped at least a front brake on there. 2) If you are a true urban fixie hipster, you don't wear a helmet. You may wear one of those old school cycling caps with the small bill. But no helmet means that this whole fad could be very short-lived for you. 3) While fixies look cool, once you get on one you realize that going uphill is a real son-of-a-gun without any lower gears. 4) You will definitely smell of ripe BO by the time you get to the office (or to the Academy of Art University, which is where you tend to see whole congregations of these things locked to parking meters). Click here for good deals on inexpensive bike gear on

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