Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Daily Reading

While I have been preoccupied the past month with various duties, visitors and trips, I have begun reading a couple of fun blogs pretty regularly. I really like the locally-done Pinch Flat News, which comments on bike industry trends and seems unduly hostile to folding bikes (I don't have one, but like the idea).

Separately, the New York-based Bike Snob NYC has a hilarious take on bicycle fashions, especially the Fixie Phenomenon. I can laugh at this with a clear conscience, never having had a fixie and having dispensed with singlespeed bicycles when I got my Columbia Tourist 3-speed for my tenth birthday. However, I can also recognize the passing fads of cycling when I see them and know that I haven't always been immune. When I was that age, it was lugged steel ten-speeds with too-high gearing and sew-ups. It's funny, and a bit rueful now, to look back and think that I couldn't possibly live without the superior handling of the silk tubulars whilst riding my bike to work at Sears.

Rational Observer: "But your bicycle has no gears or brakes."
Earnest Enthusiast: "Yeah man it's pure cycling and I have mad skillz and don't need gears or brakes."

Rational Observer: "But your tires are skinny, hard, fragile and expensive."
Earnest Enthusiast: "Yeah man but when you have exquisite cycling sensitivities such as myself you demand only the finest-handling gear to ride to work."

A rational look would have had me riding to work on a three-speed, probably, with the gear ratios knocked down a bit, but the early 20s are not a rational age and are informed by fashion, style and a painful earnestness. The crowning mercy for those of my vintage (nearing 50) is that we pretty much embarrassed ourselves among a limited circle of friends whereas now any clownish hipster can proclaim their painful earnestness and infatuated enthusiasms to The World on the web. This scrap of self-knowledge doesn't keep me from enjoying Bike Snob; take a look, you might like it too.


Unknown said...

I have been reading your blog for a while and I like it very much. However, I would like to interject a comment about this "Fixies are fads" cliche that is making the rounds now. I ride a fixed gear bike and I have for about 3 years now (I commute all year, every day). I got interested in fixed gears when I saw a biker in downtown doing a track stand and found it to be really neat. Then I started reading about fixed gear bike and I could not help but accept that they made sense in a lot of ways.
Fixed gears are great for commuting and general riding, espcially in Minneapolis. The reason they are perfect for Minneapolis is because there are few radical changes in elevation and we get a wide variety of nasty wheather. Furthermore, there are about half as many parts, this makes them cheap. The parts are easy to adjust and clean, this makes them simple to maintain. The bikes will ride smoothly when it is in its worst condition(there are no derailers and cassettes to get clogged with gunk), this means they do not cripple themselves when riden. They have half as many parts ,so they are light weight even for a cheap frame (not that this makes a big difference for speed or whatever but because when I carry my bike it is nice that I don't have to strain myself). Finally, because I have to always pedal I go fast. I like going fast.

This is a long explanatation to say that just because something is popular does not mean it is mindless or pointless or without value. To say "fixies are a fad" or "hipsters ride them to look cool" without considering their merits is to mindlessly subscribe to the current cliche or fad of the cynics.

Matt said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't dispute that fixed gear bikes have a place and for some limited number of people that is on public streets. I buy that the simplicity of the drivetrain and fixed gearing probably has some utility in really poor cold weather (my drivetrain has never clogged up in the winter, but I haven't been an everyday rider through the salty slop, either. In regular riding, my drivetrain doesn't clog up with gunk or cripple itself). However, just because the bikes have some real purpose for some limited number of people doesn't mean that there aren't a large number of poseurs out there, too, many of whom have marginal skills on a bike with fixed gears and no brakes. I personally think that riding in traffic without brakes is foolhardy. Also, part of the appeal of bicycles to me is their supreme efficiency, a good deal of which comes from using gearing to make best use of a low-output power source across a variety of speeds and terrains. People give up gearing and brakes for fashion's sake, and the fashion will move away from fixies as well, leaving behind the devotees and sophisticated users. It doesn't take mindless subscription to a current cliche to realize this.