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
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.