RANT/FILM I'm all for the current bicycle renaissance in San Francisco. As the Indian summer heats up, you'll notice the bike lanes will be nose to tail with bikers — like a line of baby elephants. This is a good thing. Maybe the notoriously free-form, Tijuana driving style of SF residents will ease up a notch and they'll return to mowing down pedestrians exclusively. There's safety in numbers.
Of course, every revolution has its drawbacks. There's always going to be that crew that wants to convince the world they're that much more revolutionary, devoted, and pure than everyone else. And as the rubber hits the roads in San Francisco, a clan of tight-trousered, mullet-headed, vintage-T-shirt-clad Robespierres has coalesced around the fixed-gear bicycle, or as it's called in its proponents' cutesy parlance, the "fixie."
What's a fixed-gear? Imagine yourself cruising down the street on your bike. You get tired and so you stop pedaling and coast. The freewheel mechanism in your hub disengages the drive train and lets the back wheel continue to spin while the cranks and pedals are still. On a fixed-gear the rear cog is bolted directly to the hub. There is no freewheel or cassette mechanism, so if the hub is moving, the cog is moving. Which means if the chain is moving, the pedals are moving, and if the bike is moving, you're pedaling. There is no coasting.
Sounds like a pain in the ass. If you're like me, the first question that comes to mind is "why?" Well, the modern SF two-wheeled steel, aluminum, and rubber hipster fashion accessory has its roots in racing, like other wheeled vehicles that don't really translate to street usage. They were — and still are — used on banked, velodrome-style tracks during races that employ all manner of strategies, including slowing down to a stop or near stop and doing a "track stand" — balancing at a standstill without putting your feet down — so your opponent can pass you and you can ride in the draft.
Since you're not likely to be drafting anyone on city streets, a track bike is a highly impractical choice of wheels. What’s more impractical is that fixed-gears often appear to lack brakes. The bike's speed is controlled by the rider's pedaling cadence — slow the pedaling, you slow the bike. Stop pedaling, stop the bike. This effect can be augmented by adding a front caliper brake, but that's frowned upon by fixie fashionistas who do things like cut their handlebars down to a foot and don't run bar tape or grips. The problem with using pedal cadence as a braking mechanism is that stopping is dependent on rider skill.
Now there's the rub. Like trucker hats and PBR, what started as a bike messenger thing has become a fashion statement and status symbol. You've got kids in the Mission with the left leg of their jeans rolled up, a little biker hat on crooked, slip-on Vans, and a brand-new fixed-gear Bianchi; and they don't know their ass from a light socket. Cadence? You may as well be talking astrophysics. They just know that it looks cool. It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero. A friend was riding down Stanyan with a box in his hand when some goon on a fixed-gear, unable to slow down, ran into his back wheel and crashed him in the middle of the street. He didn't even stop to see if my friend was OK.
So what was the original draw that caused the person I'll call "Biker Zero" — to crib epidemiological lingo — to ride a track bike on the street? The people I know who ride them talk about being at one with the bike, feeling part of it, in the bike instead of on the bike. I'll go with that. But this human-bike-cyborg crap has reached the level of "I like the East Coast because I like to see the seasons change" tripe.