The Treasure of Elites is Now as Commonplace as Computers
By Rhiannon Coppin
The popularity of track-style bikes is soaring despite the sluggish economy. Demand is turning it into a hedge investment similar to gold in these troubled times.
Strong buy-in to track culture has meant everything to fixed-gear entrepreneurs like Gina Marie Scardino, the 32-year-old owner of King Kog in Brooklyn (pictured above).
“It’s getting huge,” she said over the phone. “The market is changing and becoming accessible to different kinds of people. It’s no longer just for messengers and people who are specifically into track bikes.”
Fixed-gear bikes have existed since bicycle-time immemorial – which is to say, the late 1800s. Direct-drive penny-farthings existed before the 1873 patent on the bicycle chain. Fixed-gears enjoyed more than twenty glorious years before freewheels were invented and were the only bikes used for the first 30 Tours de France before derailleurs were allowed in 1937.
The authors of a 2009 compendium on the matter, Fixed: Global Fixed-Gear Bike Culture [see review on p.30] credit the winter training habits of UK road clubs for keeping fixed-gears on the road this entire time, and Caribbean immigrants working as couriers in New York in the late 70s for spawning the present revival.
Tyler Lepore, a 29-year-old former pro-snowboarder, felt “so cult” riding a brakeless red De Bernardi track bike around Vancouver when almost no one else in town was building or riding fixed-wheel conversions.
Lepore opened the track-specific bike shop, Super Champion, in mid-2007, and said he rarely lets a brakeless bike leave the store.
The signs that fixed-gear culture has gone mainstream are undeniable: whether it’s Giant, Trek, Schwinn or MEC coming out with their own urban fixed lines; Alley Cat races sponsored by Red Bull; or fixed ride films sponsored by Whole Foods. The sudden fixie surge understandably leaves earlier converts feeling a bit mixed.
“In some regards it’s lost a bit of its soul,” said bike messenger Andy White, on the phone from Melbourne. “But it’s also expanded the audience.”
White, 32, has been riding fixed since 2000. As a side job, he began tailoring fixed builds and advertised his work with salacious photo galleries on fyxomatosis.com. The site, named for what he calls “the infectious track disease,” is part of the swarm of free publicity that pushed track bikes forward. A good measure of fixie growth, FixedGearGallery.com, grew from 53 photos in 2001, to a collection of more than 10,000 fixed builds by the end of 2009.
“Like all pop-culture aspects, the Internet is kind of like throwing petrol on a fire,” White said. “Fixed was a little spark and it’s just blown up.”
Fanned by the online world, courier culture brought two other fixed-gear traditions back from the brink: bike polo is one and the other is roller racing – a.k.a. “goldsprints.”
“Big grown-up people go ride on a track or they have a $10,000 carbon fiber bike that they take out on the weekends,” said Moses Barrett, 25, who runs Gastown Sprints in Vancouver, BC, “but young people, we want to ride our bikes to a bar and we want to drink and we want to sprint against each other.”