Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fixed Gear Fashion Arrives in Town

For almost 20 years I rode a fixed gear to work on rainy days and tried to get people to try riding them. Only one person ever did, good old Ralphie, who just Saturday rode his in the Newton's Revenge hill climb up Mount Washington.

Last week I answered an average of one inquiry a day from people looking to purchase a fixed-gear bike or convert a road bike to fixed.

I have been seeing a nice De Rosa in front of the coffee shop for years. Interestingly, I haven't seen it this year, when it has become the perfect fashion accessory for the urbanite or pseudo-urbanite. I hope it hasn't been stolen.

Popularity will turn the lowly fixie from theft-resistant to theft bait. Back in the mountain bike boom, even in sleepy Wolfeboro, thieves were breaking into garages in broad daylight to steal entire family fleets of fat-tired bikes. A walk-away thief stole a vacationer's mountain bike from the rack in front of our shop within five minutes after she parked it to come in for a quick errand. Our shop was broken into several times and multiple bikes were taken, along with suspension forks and other accessories. One was even stolen on a test ride. Through it all, I could ride to the grocery store on a road bike or fixed gear, lean it against the building, and find it waiting when I came back out. I would not be so confident now.

The fixed gear craze has not reached the mass epidemic proportions the mountain bike craze did, but the single-speed concept has wide appeal. In hilly New Hampshire, people are buying beach cruisers as a backlash against the complexity forced on them by the technofascists during the mountain bike boom. A sturdy, affordable 18-speed with indexed, top-mounted thumb shifters made a lot of friends. The temperamental mutants that poured out of bike factories after that shrank the market to riders who would put up with the higher price tag and increased maintenance cost.

Our biggest seller is a hybrid, usually with Gripshift. Gripshift looks simpler than a trigger-type shifter. The rider doesn't have to know about the joy of changing cables. They just grab and twist. When something goes sproing they bring it to the shop and let us curse and fiddle. It's still a lot easier and cheaper than fixing cars for a living.

The young and hip, or the recently young and still trying to be hip know about fixed gears and even ask by brand names, the way customers did in the mountain bike boom. On the plus side, they all seem a bit more knowledgeable in general, and there are no complex componentry packages in play, so it's easy to dispense with brand image. Dollar for dollar, single-speed bikes are closely equivalent.

Those of us who have been doing this for decades have a few tricks up our rolled-up pant leg to help the neophyte. Since they mostly involve potentially unsafe and unsanctioned uses of donor parts from different sources, we dole them out exceedingly sparingly, with many disclaimers. And soon the student surpasses the master. Young and durable trackistas are no doubt merging cycling and parkour even now.

Still, it's nice to get even a little respect for a brief time for a ridiculous life-long predilection.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so it's not just me then. I've successfully changed one twistshift cable, after breaking a few to learn how. These days I remove them and fit anything else I can find.