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Fixed-gear bicycles take over the streets of New York

Fixed-gear bicycles take over the streets of New York

Renaud Ceccotti-Ricci - 2012-03-28

Fixed-gear bicycles, or ‘fixies’, are vintage bikes with a cog ‘fixed’ to the rear hub. Originally created by and for messengers, fixies are how fashionable New Yorkers get around town.

London, Paris, Tokyo and, of course, New York… The fixed-gear (also called fixed wheel) bike craze has taken over the streets of all of the great avant-garde cities. But what, in fact, is a fixie? Take a colourful, lightweight and preferably vintage frame; pedals that are directly linked to the rear wheel (without a freewheel system); no brakes (you stop via leg power by standing up or pedalling backwards and praying that you won’t fly over the handlebars); and voilà: you’re riding a fixed-gear bike, or fixie. And don’t you look fine!
 
‘The movement started in San Francisco in the 70s. Back then, Jamaican bike messengers decided that their bicycles would require less upkeep and be less costly if they didn’t have speeds, double or triple gear ratios, derailleur gears or even brakes,’ explains Wilis Johnson, a former bike messenger who once tooled around the streets of Seattle, San Francisco and, more recently, New York.
 
Now settled in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg quarter where he runs King Kog, one of America’s very first fixie-specific bike shops, Wilis speaks admiringly of his daredevil predecessors who would race to out-pace and out-slalom one another at risk of ending up in hospital after a braking episode gone wrong.
 
‘Once the fashion took hold, nearly all the bike messengers adopted fixies,’ Wilis continues. ‘Lighter, sexier and reserved for seasoned bikers (the first attempt at riding a fixie can be quite an adventure), they naturally began to catch the eye of bicycle aficionados everywhere. Especially in the past few years, there’s been an extraordinary boom. The biggest manufacturers got wind of the trend and started making fixies with brakes, keeping only the vintage, rather retro aesthetics.’
 
The real change is that today’s fixies are anything but economical. The increasingly sophisticated manufacturing materials, which often have to be imported from Great Britain or Italy, have sent prices skyrocketing. You now have to fork out around € 1,500/£ 1,250 to purchase one of these little fireballs.
 
Francesco Bertelli is Italian but he lives in New York where he’s launched his own fixie assembly site. While he does sell some of his unique bikes, he also gives tips and ideas on-line to help enthusiasts build their own. Mad about design, Bertelli believes that these ‘vehicles with pedals’ should not be considered simple bicycles. ‘They’re a work of art,’ he says. He assembles his little gems by hand using pieces ordered from several different countries. The logo-free style is chic and dignified, with elegant chromed lines. A fan of original handlebars and dignified colours (unlike the apple greens and canary yellows of many a fixie), Francesco’s creations may inspire you to park your mountain bike in the cellar for a while. Warning: if fixed-gear bikes do indeed guarantee thrills and adrenaline, we must insist on the importance of mastering your pedals before you try their charms on the street.
 
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
King Kog
455 Graham Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
 
Francisco Bertelli’s website
 
 

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