Fixie backlash revisited?
26.11.08 by Buffalo Bill
An extraordinary, and ill-informed, rant by a correspondent in the Vanguard, Portland, about ‘fixed-speed’ bicycles, which includes some other grotesque errors and misrepresentations.
Fixed-speed bikes were designed to be used on a velodrome.
No, that’s a ‘track’ bike (velodromes are also called ‘tracks’). Track bikes have fixed-wheels, or fixed-gears, if you prefer, but not all fixies are track bikes. Before the invention of the free-wheel, all bikes had fixed-wheels. (Is it time for another debate over whether the correct term is ‘fixed-wheel’ or ‘fixed-gear’?) The first 20 or so winners of the world’s greatest bicycle race, the Tour de France, rode fixies. The Tour de France, in case you didn’t know, only used velodromes for the final kilometre of the last stage, if at all, and hasn’t been anywhere near a velodrome for the last 30 years. So that’s over 4000 km on a fixie on the open road. Confusingly for our correspondent, a race which still finishes on a velodrome, the Paris-Roubaix, is contested by riders on free-wheels. It’s not as easy as it seems, this cycling journalism, is it?
According to The Washington Post, most people who started the fixed-speed trend [sic] were bike messengers that got tired of their bikes breaking all the time, so they removed all the unnecessary parts. In other words, they did it for a practical purpose. That purpose is not applicable to the average rider; they use their bikes as a part of their job. Their bike is to them what a taxi is to cab driver. The average person riding a fixed speed is like driving a taxicab when you are not a cab driver.
Ah, it’s the old ‘only bicycle messengers (or cycle couriers, if you prefer) should ride fixies’ proposition, only with a taxi driver reference thrown in. When I was first on the road, most London cycle couriers (or bicycle messengers, if you prefer) rode mountain bikes, because mountain bikes were trendy then, not because they were inherently more suitable than any other kind of bike. Likewise, a lot of couriers ride track bikes now because they are trendy (by trendy, we mean that a lot of other people also ride track bikes), not because they are inherently more suitable.
Taxi drivers drive taxi-cabs because they are obliged to by law, which is in part to ensure the safety of their passengers. Perhaps Boris Johnson and his advisers are considering an ordinance that will oblige all bicycle messengers to ride a standard ‘courier-cycle’, and carry a ‘hackney cycle’ licence card in their spokes, but I somehow doubt it. Bicycle messengers don’t carry passengers, after all.
And the article finally over-steers into incoherence, whilst simultaneously misrepresenting Sheldon Brown as an anti-fixie crusader on grounds of safety.
Sheldon Brown, bike expert and author of Adventure Cyclist, lists several hazards of riding a fixed-speed bike, include hitting your pedal on a turn an issue [sic] because you have to pedal through a turn, catching a finger or shoelace in the sprocket or chain, and catching a finger in the sprocket when trying to fix the bike [sic].
I have several pairs of trousers that have holes in them, caused by the chain and chain-ring of a free-wheel equipped bike. I have also had some nasty experiences as the result of catching my trousers on bottle-cages. I don’t infer that bottle cages are dangerous from those experiences, merely that I need to be to careful to roll my trousers up, and take off the cages when I am riding in long trousers.
This article is rather silly, and it’s hard to see why anyone would waste their time writing it, but perhaps there is a clue as to the motivation of the writer in this line:
I can admit with my one experience in riding a fixed speed, I had a very difficult time stopping.
Ahh, diddums, did we get a nasty fright, and then feel foolish, did we?