12:1:11 The Fixie

The fixed-gear bicycle, aka the "fixie," has gone from track racer to hipster icon (along with skinny jeans and shoulder bags) seemingly overnight with a co-opting of something urban bike messengers figured out years ago: The fixie, an ultra-minimalist urban bike, is utterly cheap, reliable, and fast.

So definitive is the fixie as an urban hipster must-have, it's world-wide. Fixies are a common sight in places as far afield of Brooklyn as, say, Bangkok, Thailand.

[Trek Soho]I've commuted to work on a fixie for two years now (not quite soon enough to be a true early adopter), but nothing like hipster entered my mind when I bought one.

For a number of years, I was happy with a Raleigh 3-speed--a design from the 1930s--but for its care I foolishly followed the advice of a misguided bicycle mechanic. Tires on any bike stored in a garage with a car, he claimed, would rot from car fumes. I know better now, but not before my Raleigh, exposed to the elements, wasn't worth fixing.

In a act of righteous frugality I replaced it with a 15-speed mountain bike. The Roadmaster cost me $47.88 at WalMart.

How could I lose? A complete bicycle for less than $50, but then I chalked that up to the amazing Chinese manufacturing colossus which can crank out bicycles (and a lot more) almost as cheaply as water.

My guess is the Roadmaster was good for six years before the shifting mechanism quit. (My commute is flat so one gear was okay). And my $50 investment was certainly amortized.

So two years ago, in Helsinki, I admired the staggering variety of bicycles urban commuters there had to choose from. Knowing well my Roadmaster was coming apart, part by part, I thought a less clunky bike might be considered.

There on the Web with my netbook in Helsinki, I decided a Redline single-speed was my choice.

Back in Portland, I went into a bike shop that sold Redlines and asked to see one. The salesman said for the same amount of money Trek had a better offering in the Soho S.

I took a test ride and came back and said, "I'll take it."

No, not a hipster choice, just exhilaration of riding a fast, responsive racing bike. An aluminum frame, less than 20 lbs, this was the first bike I ever could actually break a speed limit (at least 25-mph zones!).

So love at first sight and I soon got a cog to make it a fixie.

No more leisurely commutes like my beloved three-speed Raleigh (or the stout, clunky Roadmaster), but instead an "always-on," razor-responsive ride that is the fixie experience.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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