SCOTT COWAN can express the rising hipness of the fixie in sales figures. He says Century Cycles didn't sell a single fixed-gear track bicycle for its first seven years in business. Then, five years ago somebody bought one. In the last year they've sold 20.
That's a tiny number, even if it represents just one of the region's bicycle retailers. But it's not so tiny if you consider that these bikes weren't conceived for use on the road, but on banked tracks. And the nearest velodrome is north of Detroit.
It's a fashion thing, says Aaron Maughan, who works at Century Cycles' Rocky River store. The messengers ride them. The hipsters want them.
But it's more than that. He says people who look to bicycles for simplicity find the ultimate expression of that idea in the fixie. “They come looking for a fashion accessory, a bike everyone will think is cool, but they fall in love with them until they don't even care if it's cool.”
Here's why: The fixie is clean: no cables or clips to clutter up the frame, no shifting mechanism, no brake levers, indeed, no brakes. The name refers to the single-speed rear hub, with the gear locked in place so that if the wheel is turning, so are the chain and pedals.
Let's just say that gives you a more thorough understanding of your momentum: The bike communicates through your legs exactly how much force is necessary to stop it. Turns out that's quite a bit.
If you decide to mount one of these naked hard bodies, beware that if the wheels are turning, your legs are, too. You can't stop your inside pedal high to lean through a turn. You can't stop your feet at three and six o'clock to hop a curb. It's not quite like you have to learn to ride a bicycle all over again. But there's a little of that.
Jim Sheehan, who runs the Ohio City Bike Co-op (1823 Columbus Rd., 216.830.2667), says many of the people who get memberships there use the tools and loaned expertise to build fixed-gear bikes out of recycled parts. He says some of them build bikes that have the fixie look but are actually single-speed freewheelers. Thankfully, builders of the single-speed freewheeler do typically add a front brake.
If you've got someone on your list who might be susceptible to the fixie's charms, there's good news: fewer parts cost fewer dollars. We found an Italian job at Century Cycles — a 2004 version of the classic machine from richly pedigreed Bianchi — for just $499. So if your special someone would fit on a 49-centimeter frame, you ought to march right down there and snatch up this last of the 2004 models.
The bike we saw compromised slightly on snob appeal but not much on performance. It comes with steel bars, which you can pull hard with confidence in a sprint. Its Reynolds 520 tubes make for nice chrome-moly ride, not quite as light as the company's 531 tubes. The tires are clinchers instead of sew-ups, which makes it much easier to fix a flat. Components from Wilderness Trail Bikes and Bianchi itself cut the cost quite a bit, but you won't notice any difference in the way they work.
Any shortcomings on this machine are aesthetic and in the eye of the beholder. If you're unquenchably hot for the classics, you might notice that the TIG welded frame doesn't need lugs, and therefore doesn't have their linear grace. The all-over chrome is almost as cool as Bianchi's legendary green. But let's get real: if a TIG welded chrome Bianchi sounds like a compromise to you, then you truly are a snob.
And what do you want for under $500?
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