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Guardian style journalist 'discovers' fixies
9.03.08 by Buffalo Bill

Lazy piece of journalism from Alice Fisher in the Guardian.

She repeats the claim that fixies were introduced to NYC by Caribbeans. I have always found this hard to believe. As far as I can tell, there is not a velodrome in Jamaica. So it’s hard to imagine why a Jamaican would have a track bike. (see comment 1! thanks Winston) It might be that they were riding fixed wheels in the British style, ie road frames with a fixed-wheel.

On the other hand, there is a velodrome in NYC, Kissena, so there would have been track bikes in NYC anyway.

She also calls the bikes ‘fixed-gears’. It’s not a bleeding fixed-gear, it’s a bleeding fixed-wheel. This is the UK, not the US. Fixed-bloody-wheel, ok? (See Dave Moulton’s bike blog for more on the gear/wheel controversy).

She claims that ‘[fixies] popularity spread throughout the courier community, finally crossing to the UK and other countries’. No, it did not. I and others were riding track bikes here in London in the late 80s, well before there was regular contact between ourselves and NYC messengers.

And she helpfully points out that ‘as the fixie craze has taken off so has the number of new riders who enter ‘alleycats’ – unofficial road races consisting of a series of checkpoints on a set route’.

At least Roxy managed to saythat ‘Media reports don’t show the community spirit, or the eco-friendly side of cycling. A working messenger [courier] who got hit by a doubledecker bus wouldn’t get as much news space.’

Roxy was sufficiently concerned by the possibility that the piece would turn out to be quite poor that she wrote this letter to the Guardian/Observer

Hi Lucy,

I’ve been talking to Alice about your fixed gear piece. Firstly let me say that I’m happy that it sounds like someone is writing a positive piece about the culture and also I’m happy to be a part of that.

But, I’ve been supplying photos to the photo desk and it’s gotten me a bit worried. As you know the media seems to give lots of inches to lollipop ladies complaining about cyclists while giving less inches to the fact that two messengers were just hit last week by HGV’s (one may never walk again) and another commuter cyclist was just killed. So it worries me when someone gets excited about “brakeless fixies”.

Fixed Gear doesn’t equal riding brakeless, it’s a misnomer. The drive shaft on a fixed gear bike counts for a brake. This is why while it is the law to ride with two working mechanical brakes fixed gear’s can be ridden with only one hand brake. Working the drive shaft by providing resistance with your legs is a brake.
Also it is not the majority of fixed riders that “ride brakeless” (meaning a hand brake).

So looking for photos that are showing only brakeless bikes may give a wrong and prejudicial viewpoint to the average reader.

Feel free to call and discuss this, I know you’re on deadline. And like I said, I’m looking forward to some great Sunday reading tomorrow!


Someone over on LFGSS says that it reads like a secondary school student’s project cobbled together using only Wikipedia. If they had read the Wiki entry on fixies, they would have seen that the UK usage is ‘fixed-wheel’, and they might have at least got that right. It is a very poor article, prejudicial, inaccurate and far below the standard I would expect, even from a blogger.

The lesson of this, is that yet again it has been shown that it is difficult to engage with the mainstream media without getting one’s fingers burnt.

Don’t you just love the Guardian? Right, who’s for a game of polo?

The guys over at London FGSS are pretty upset by this piece. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but having read some truly rubbish, inaccurate and slanderous stuff down the years, I reckon this is not even in the top 20 worst ever articles about couriers.

All the outrage aside, this spoof, created by one of the LFGSS guys, is one of the funniest things I have read since Xander took the piss out my Marco eulogy a couple of months ago.

  1. There is a velodrome in Kingston it in the National stadium in Kingston…it runs around the outside of the football pitch.

    A lot of bikes in Jamaica were fixed-wheel bikes…not track bikes…my ex-girlfirands granny road a fixed in Jamaica….just a standard bike… don’t know the historical reason for this….being a few years behind in the latest bike technology, cheapness, easy to maintain…or maybe like the situation with old cars in Cuba constantly being recycled and refurbished…who knows?

    Winston    9 March 2008, 11:15    #
  2. I is goin deeper underground innit!

    — overdrive    9 March 2008, 11:46    #
  3. I agonized over this all day yesterday, told her who to contact last week, gave numbers. UGH! While I’m happy she included the quote she did, she didn’t even get it right. I was discussing the two injured couriers , the dead commuter, and lollipop ladies getting more space, seems my sentences got combined. Guess we have to settle for close enough.

    — roxy    9 March 2008, 11:53    #
  4. Nice reaction Bill. It is just a pity that you do not have the same number of readers as the Grauniad.

    (Clicking the link under mcbstrd below will bring readers to my – if I dare say it myself – seminal piece on the beauties of fixie riding.)

    mcbstrd    9 March 2008, 12:00    #
  5. jamaica track links if you’re interested…track can be seen, but apparently it’s currently unrideable.



    winston    9 March 2008, 13:42    #
  6. well at least got everybody elses name right… fraser?
    I told her the first “fixie” film was quicksilver. point ignored.

    — Laura    9 March 2008, 14:42    #
  7. Erm just as it’s not ‘fixed gear’ it’s not ‘the Guardian’, it’s ‘the Obsever’. Hair splitters beware.

    — will    9 March 2008, 15:49    #
  8. Errr, yeah, it’s on the Grauniad web-site, but in the Obsrever paper.

    — Bill    9 March 2008, 19:26    #
  9. i like bourbon

    tofu    10 March 2008, 04:28    #
  10. I have written my response in the form of my today’s blog.

    Dave Moulton    10 March 2008, 10:27    #
  11. I don’t know Bill; seems to me it is on the Observer website which, though a ‘sister’ website to the Guardian website, in the same way the Observer is a ‘sister’ paper to The Guardian, can, nonetheless, be said to exist separately as it can be reached thru a discreet Google search rather than as a link. Though admittedly this issue has divided controllers for many years and no doubt will continue so to do.

    — will    10 March 2008, 21:32    #
  12. In any case, can they now be said to be seperate papers? This Fisher person writes for both, and they operate out of the same building, share the same ownership…

    And I remember when the Ob used to be at St Andrews Hill, when Fitzrovia was all fields, Ricardo still had brown hair…

    — Bill    10 March 2008, 21:52    #
  13. They DO NOT operate out of the same building.FACTS!!Get em right buddy!!!

    — overdrive    11 March 2008, 14:33    #
  14. You think Fisher has a desk in both buildings?

    — Bill    11 March 2008, 16:34    #
  15. It looks like she has taken BikeSnobNYC’s advice and cut and pasted his template


    — David    11 March 2008, 21:44    #
  16. We got a call at CTC yesterday by BBC Breakfast. Apparently there’s this thingie called ‘fixed gears’ which bicyclists like to use without brakes. BBC Breakfast would like very much to cover it in their usual in depth and accurate manner – oh, and could we fish out a couple to ride about so they could be filmed?

    Expect more shark-jumping stories to come…

    — Rich    12 March 2008, 15:50    #
  17. Are you talking about Alice ‘Two Desks’ Fisher?

    — will    19 March 2008, 20:07    #
  18. something about a Jamaican bobsled team???

    yogi    27 November 2008, 00:12    #
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