Fixed-gear bicycles gain popularity among students

Among many cyclists at Palo Alto High School, "fixies" are becoming more and more popular.

Published January 28, 2008 by The Paly Voice 
By DJ Hsueh

Among many cyclists at Palo Alto High School, "fixies" are becoming more and more popular.

Fixed-gear bicycles, or fixies, are bikes without a free wheel and with only one gear.

These bikes don't allow for coasting as the bike moves when one pedals, and stops when one stops.

Although these bikes do not seem very special to most people, fixie riders enjoy many benefits.

"What attracted me to the fixie was the feeling of being able to control my speed as organically as possible instead of just coasting and then using a hand brake," junior John Mitchell said. "It's awesome not to have to rely on handbrakes ­because you can control how much you want to slow down."

Fixies are also less complicated and weigh less than normal coasting bikes because they don't have the same intricate derailleurs and gears as other bikes.

"I got a fixie because I was looking into something more efficient for riding to school and around town," sophomore Julian Pitt said. "My dad has a real track bike from 1978 and I love riding it, but it's in such good shape that I'm scared to scratch it or ruin his tires by skidding around all the time, so I built my own. I love the simplicity and the bikes' overall feeling."

Fixies are also popular because of the many tricks that can be performed on them.

Track stands, skids and backwards riding are some of the most popular tricks.

Track stands are when the rider comes to a balance on a fixie, and is able to stop and stand in the same place. Experienced riders can "track stand" for hours at a time.

Skids are performed when the rider locks his pedals and shifts his weight towards the front tire.

The back tire then stops rotating and skids on the ground as the bike slows to a stop.

"I really like skidding to a stop and then track standing at a red light," sophomore Eoin Whitney said. "It's really convenient and it's fun." 

Skidding is easier when riding on slippery or wet surfaces.

"Even though skidding wears out the back tire, I can't help myself when I see a wet patch," Mitchell said. "When you skid across a wet surface on a fixie it feels like you're flying."

Although riders can stop their fixies by backpedaling or skidding to a stop, some still have brakes on their bikes.

"I have a brake, but I never use it," Pitt said. "I ride as if it's not there. My opinion is that whether or not you use the brake, it needs to be there as a safety measure. I keep my brake lever away from where my hands are when I ride, but I can use it if I ever need to save my life. I know two fixie riders at Paly who have been hit by cars while riding and to be honest, I'm just not into that."

However, some riders still maintain that brakes are not necessary.

"My bike does not have any brakes because I can stop just by skidding," Whitney said. "As long as you're paying attention when you're riding, you shouldn't have any trouble stopping."

Because stopping takes longer on a fixie, most riders are more alert when they ride, especially when riding without brakes.

"I'm definitely more focused when I'm riding my fixie than when I'm riding one of my other bikes," Pitt said.

Riders have to be much more aware of their surroundings when riding a fixie.

"I'm usually looking a block or two ahead of me to see if there is anything I need to worry about," Whitney said.

One of the many misconceptions people have of fixies are that they are track bikes.

Although some people do ride track bikes on regular streets, most fixies are known as conversions.

"My bike is a conversion," Pitt said. "I got the frame for free from Mike's Bikes, and then I bought the rest of the parts off Craigslist and other sites on the Internet."

Because fixies are not as popular as regular geared bikes, many bike shops do not stock them.

Although, some bike shops in the Bay Area carry some models of track bikes, many riders prefer to buy their bikes on the web.

"I got my fixie from a Stanford student on Craigslist who thought it was a commuter bike, but he quickly sold it after he realized that he couldn't coast," Mitchell said.

 Other riders prefer to build their bikes from separate parts.

 "I started with a spray-painted gold frame, and my friend and I painted it orange and black, because those were the paint colors we had," Pitt said. "I continued the black and orange theme by building my wheelset with orange Deep V rims, black bar tape, black seat, black brake lever and black tires, not to mention the black and orange top-tube pad, which helps protect the paint job."

The first time most people ride a fixie, they are surprised by the constant movement of the pedals and the inability to stop.

"The first time I rode a fixie, I was completely caught off guard by the fact that I couldn't stop pedaling," Mitchell said. "I nearly crashed while learning how to ride it, however, once I got used to it I couldn't ride it enough."

Once the riders get used to their fixies, they feel more connected with their bikes.

Although fixies are gaining popularity, people may still feel uncomfortable riding them because of the unchangeable gearshift.

"If someone is interested in getting a fixie, they should test ride one of their friend's first," Whitney said.