"It’s like the Ferrari of bikes" says photographer Sam Ash. In Friday’s Financial Review Magazine Ash is pictured standing next to his red Tommasini fixie — a bike with one gear and no brakes. Given that the average age of AFR Magazine readers is 46 this doesn’t bode well for the fixie’s future as a sub-cultural status symbol.
The fixed gear craze started among bicycle couriers and quickly became a symbol of urban cool along with paraphernalia like the ‘messenger bags’ they used to carry their deliveries. With no brake levers, gear shifters or cables, a fixed gear bike has an elegant, stripped down look. But with no freewheel, a fixie can be tricky to ride. It’s not like the BMX bike you had as a kid. The rear gear is fixed to the back wheel which means that if the wheel is moving then so are the pedals. You can’t coast.
In the past the bikes were owner built — sometimes using a bike frame designed for velodrome racing and sometimes using and old road bike frame. But now many of the major brands are selling off the shelf single speed and fixed gear models. The craze has attracted mainstream media attention with articles in the Guardian, Christian Science Monitor and Wired Magazine. Even the Wall Street Journal is in on the act. Last year Hannah Karp reported:
Newer devotees represent a milieu far from the bike-world fringes – including doctors, teachers and Wall Street traders. This summer, hundreds of fanatics will descend on Traverse City, Mich., for the second annual Fixed Gear Symposium, organized by a 60-year-old real-estate broker. Bailey Fidler, a sales associate at Boston’s Wheelworks bike store, says it used to be unusual to see anyone over age 40 shopping for a fixed-gear bike; now, he says, about half the bikes go to those in that age range.
In the Weekend Australian Magazine (Oct 13-14) Fiona Harari wrote about the more mainstream craze for lightweight road bikes. She quoted Bicycle Queensland manager Ben Wilson, "People can’t afford a Porsche. Not many can drive them. But many people can afford a $4000 bike. It’s less than a John Howard baby bonus." So for the cashed up 40-something lawyer having a mid-life crisis, the only problem is making the thing go… or stop.