In San Francisco, one of the most reliable spots to watch good fixed-gear freestyling is in the Harry Bridges Plaza, the strip of asphalt between the Ferry Building and where Ride + Style was erected in the more ample Justin Herman Plaza. You can go out to Harry Bridges at dusk most days and see people hopping their bikes off the ground, spinning in the air, twerking their handlebars, riding backward in tight figure eights, and stopping on dimes.
But the ramps took it up a notch — so up that spectators began to compare the competition to those of BMX bikes, which can catch a lot more air than fixed gears. It wasn't a coincidental connection: some of the competitors announced on the microphone that they were usually on a BMX, and Jeremy Witek, the lead designer of the ramps, told me during the construction phase that this was the first time he'd been asked to make structures like these for a fixed-gear competition.
There were some hands-down highlights of the freestyle portion — Kohei "Kozo" Fuji flew in from Osaka to bust the first fixed-gear back flip in international competition. But many of the routines seemed strangely suited for their setting. The beauty of the fixed-gear lies in its simplicity — one pump of the legs, one rotation of the wheels, the easy mathematics of human body and machine.
But the novelty of seeing these lifestyle bikes thrust into the bright lights and loud announcers of the X Games variety wasn't lost on those least jaded of San Franciscans — the Embarcadero tourists. Washing my hands in the Embarcadero Center bathroom, I heard a young woman essentially ask her mom what the hell this crazy city of bikes is up to. "Does San Francisco always have this?"
Girl, it does now.