Urban Velo

ESPN Takes Notice of Urban Fixed Gear Bicycles

espnESPN.com recently took notice of urban fixed gear bicycles with a well researched article that avoided harping on the cliches so often associated with the mainstream coverage of cycling in general. Covering fixed gear bicycles from Henri Desgrange through messengering and MASH SF, the article is worth reading for a brief look at where the fixed gear bicycle has been throughout history. For the hyper critical there are certainly some quibble to be raised on certain terms and the accuracy of a statement here and there, but otherwise this is one of the most thorough, least hype driven mainstream pieces on fixed gears yet.


  1. BriaOctober 4, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    How about the fact that most staes require
    bikes to have brakes and that this movement of fixed does not believe in it and that people continue to support a illegal activity. In my eyes fixed gear bikes on the street is not cycling. As ther are ment to be track bikes made for a track.

  2. CarterOctober 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I must have missed out on the rules and regulations for the fixed gear “movement”. I have brakes on my bike. And id like to consider it a pretty nice ride.

    As for the comment of they arent cycling…did you read the article? Did you skip over this part: “Henri Desgrange, the originator of the Tour de France, and tyrannical cycling purist, is known to have denounced multispeed bikes, saying, “I still feel that the variable gears are only for people over 45. Isn’t it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur? We are getting soft. As for me, give me a fixed-gear!”

    Velodrome racing started when people simply couldnt keep up with the geared road bikes. I think you need to read the article. It doesnt glorify breaking states laws or any other “illegal activity” simply the fact that riding a bike as pure as a single speed is addictive.

    Plus, I hope our justice system has better “illegal activities” to worry about than a bunch of friends riding their bikes.

  3. bikerooOctober 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    “As ther are ment to be track bikes made for a track.”
    Spelling aside, I’d hate to follow that logic. If that were really the case then mountain bikes should be left for the mountains, road bikes left for Lance and the other spandexees, and beach cruisers for the beach.

    Besides, not all fixed-gear bikes are track bikes and there are people (myself included) who ride fixed-gear bikes with brakes slapped on them.

  4. bradOctober 4, 2009 at 11:41 pmAuthor

    For the sake of argument, but not to add to the flame, the laws in the majority of states about braking devices states that the rider must be able to demonstrate the ability to skid the rear wheel on level dry pavement and come to a stop within a given amount of space. The braking force of a track bike is exactly the same as the ultimate braking force of a coaster brake beach cruiser, with each bike carrying with it the same consequences of a chain throw.

  5. L'AutonomistOctober 5, 2009 at 9:50 am

    My legs are my co-pilot

  6. MattOctober 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I’m in complete agreement with Brad concerning the efficacy of fixed gear skid braking, but the sad fact is that many people ride brakeless without the ability to employ said efficacy.
    I’d actually like to see police give a pulled-over rider a braking test to see if they can stop regardless of their braking method. If they can stop, no fine, but if their brakelessness is due more to their sense of fashion than their skill level, they get a ticket — just like a motorist who can’t drive effectively gets a ticket.
    There really should be no shame in having brakes anyway, as there’s actually plenty of historical precedent, as well as common sense, in their use with fixed gears on the road. Fixed gear enthusiasts have been using brakes since the early 20th century, especially in England where people would ride them as “winter trainers” or as time trial bikes, always with brakes fore and aft. Unfortunately, the current trend stems from people thinking that fixed gears come only from the velodrome and so need to be brakeless.

    I just have to nitpick a previous comment: “Velodrome racing started when people simply couldn’t keep up with the geared road bikes”
    Velodrome racing was extremely popular in the late 19th century before real road racing was even possible due to road conditions. Remember, Major Taylor was a world champion, riding a fixed gear on a track, way back in 1899. It can even be argued that track cycling was in its heyday before the advent of the road racing classics.

  7. ElvisJanuary 19, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    As to the claim that most states require brakes and a fixedwheel bike is an “illegal activity”, that makes it sound like biiking to work puts you in the same company as a racketeer or a mobster. First, the law requires a brakign mechanism or some sort of means of stopping the bike, but does not say whether one brake or two or whether they should be disc brakes, hybraulic, cable-actuated, sidepull calipers, centerpulls, cantilever brakes, coaster brakes, trakc hubs… I use a front brake on my fixed wheel bike, but I also know some riders who can ride without a handbrake fine. And it is not “illegal” to ride a fixed wheel bike without a handbrake per se, only if you cannot stop it. I choose not to because of the hills around here, and in my experience at some speeds riding brakeless (i.e. no HANDbrake) is hard and not worth the hassle inasmuch as I will be riding more or less on the fixed gear as the same terrain as on a geared roadbike, meanign climbs and downhills… Also because reckless drivers are so much more common than reckless cyclists I like having the extra stopping power of the handbrake because you never know when someone will cut you off or run you over. However, I have seen people take brakeless track bikes on group road rides. The common conception of cycling law is often constructed by the ignorant. What is a brake? A rim caliper brake, a disc brake, a drum brake, a coaste brake? I fixed wheel hub? Most noncyclists (regular joes) looking at a coaster brake would be hard pressed to tell it from a bike with a trakc hub, and even if they see the brake arm of the coaster hub the main thing they notice is both lack handbrakes! Do you want to encourage people to see cyclists as reckless? While I shudder at the idea of a newbie riding a brakeless 53×11 gear in traffic the fact is that the misconception that “fixed gears are illegal cause they don’t have brakes” is absurd. The hub can act as a brake. And as far as handbrakes go, fixed wheel drivetrains and handbrakes are not mutually exclusive. Even a dedicated track frame where the fork is not drilled for a handbrake, you can often replace the fork if you can find one that fits. And to those who say, who would replace a fork? Well, a person riding a fixed wheel on the street is probably going to be more into bikes than the regular joe who maybe bikes once a year at the boardwalk. Assuming bikes will remain in out-of-box condition is ridiculous and basically assumes the riders are either not riding enough or are mechanically incompetant; a frequent rider wears out brake padsm, tires, tubes, even chains and chainrings. Moreover frequent riding often leads to repairs or altering a bike — better cranks, different fork, etc. Bottom line, part of being an avid cyclists is maintaining and/or working on your bike. Plenty of car enthusiasts repair vintage autos, why not bikes? Especially since you can even do this easier than on cars since it is less mechanically complex and doesn’t weigh 2 tons. So even if a dedicated track bike frameset has a non-drilled fork that does not mean the bike “can’t” be fit with a brake, simply that the fork that came with it can’t… To argue otherwise is to oversimplify the bicycle and the aspects of life involved in riding one. Sure plenty of “i just bought a 5k$ racing bike– help me with these limit screws” people can’t do squat but they usually learn, sooner or late. And the garage mechanic usualyl doesn’t start with Lance’s bike so there’s a progression, building up better parts etc. as he learns and rides more… If a person can replace a bottom bracket I’m sure they can install a handbrake.

    Ultimately a simple-minded view of this endangers and marginalizes cyclists. While no one wants to encourage unsafe cycling, the fact is a lot of what the ignorant regard as unsafe is perfectly safe. A cyclist, who never rides fixed gear, thinks “fixie” riders are daredevils who “continue to support an illegal activity”. Well, that selfsame cyclist is considered just as daft as the “fixie” riders he disdains (and would presumably want to prohibit) by people in SUVs who do not bike at all. This is the danger, this distinction is lost on the general nonriding public who only hear “cyclist” and “illegal”, not what sort of bike, hub, drivetrain, gear ratio, or rational is used to claim said illegality. By painting fixed wheeled riders with a broad brush of denouncement such self-proclaimed concerned cyclists are making all cyclists look reckless in the eyes of the ignorant nonriders…. to say nothing of needlessly denouncing plenty of safe competant cyclists who ride fixed wheeled bikes daily (I’m one, been riding to work for years).

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