You can't walk from one building to the next on a college campus without seeing one: a bicycle, which seems to be missing a few parts, kept cleaner than a bald man's Porsche. They're the “fixies,” purpose-built bikes meant for indoor racing, modified (or in some cases, untouched) for city use. The criticism's harsh and stale, but most of it's true. From those of us who are just annoyed at another hipster accessory, to those of us who don't understand the draw of a mode of transportation which is purposely less convenient, to legitimate claims that riding one of these bikes is down-right bad for your body, these fashionable machines have plenty of opponents.
But many people are beginning to turn the trendy curiosity into love and obsession and have developed a lifestyle. People like Tom Mosher, of Toronto, Canada, who is the founder of the website tricktrack.org, internet headquarters of a group of riders from all over the world who follow a niche scene of freestyle fixed-gear riding. Much like freestyle events of other sports, the purpose lies in performing feats of balance and dangerous stunts in smooth succession. The website currently boasts nearly 5,000 members, and has had a major influence on the bicycle industry.
At first, riders interested in the sport had to make due with borrowed technology, leading to DIY and jury-rigged parts from BMX, mixed with fragile racing frames. Manufacturers began to take notice: Leader Bikes, made famous by early riders seeking cheap parts, began producing reinforced frames to withstand the increasing guts of riders. Companies began advertising their frames as “bar-spinnable,” referring to the size and shape a bike frame needed to perform a staple stunt. SE Bikes, already established in the BMX world, released a complete bicycle in collaboration with DC Shoes, the power-house skate brand which has had its feet in every sport from BMX to rally car racing. Volume Bikes, another BMX superstar company, unveiled a fixed-gear frame made for abuse a few years back, and most recently, began production of a bike designed by the members of tricktrack.org themselves.
Companies even began establishing “riding teams” to represent them, keeping riders like Tom Mosher and friends in close communication for feedback on their products and the market, in exchange for incentives like free parts and publicity. The community-oriented advertising has paid off, leaving Volume frames at the forefront of the burgeoning scene. While snapped steel and broken bones become increasingly common as riders try to both one-up each other and catch up to BMX, this progression of technology has become crucial.
As a sport which gets most of its spark from BMX, freestyle fixed gear riding is mimicking a condensed time-line of BMX history as well. Within a few years, trends have moved from DIY, danger, and experimentation to mass-production. With most major BMX brands trying to come up with a complete bicycle to offer, even Mongoose has jumped aboard with a freestyle-oriented model. This follows their controversial production of a budget fixed gear available through Wal-mart, marking for many the undeniable “mainstream” fame these bikes have attracted. Now, with so many options available to a curious extreme-sports veteran or cyclist looking for a more exciting experience than riding from A to B, the sport is armed to explode into mainstream popularity like its BMX cousin, or fall into obscurity like the now bed-ridden aggressive inline skating scene. Either way, expect to see a lot more dented and scraped stunt bikes taking the place of mint-condition coffee-getters.
Photo: Christian of Boston, MA performing a tail-whip at an inaugural meeting of freestyle riders in the city. Credit to photographer Jesse Weiner.