I had an idea a few weeks ago where I would have a conversation about fixies with my good friend Rhys Coren, explaining in depth what we don’t like about them. And so we started working on it with a lot of enthusiasm, but then quickly the time gap between our responses grew larger and our responses became less coherent. Maybe it’s a cultural thing since I’m a New Hampshire born Brooklyn resident and Rhys is an Englishman who could drink me under the table despite weighing half what I do. I don’t necessarily think this piece will win us any literary awards, but I do think it’ll create an interesting response in the comments and perhaps explain exactly what our issues with the fixed gear freestyle scene are. Read on…
Adam: So Rhys, we’ve been brought together here to discuss a topic that I know both of us have very strong feelings towards, and that is fixed gear bicycles. So I suppose I’ll just clarify this off the bat so nobody is confused, I don’t have a problem with the fixie in and of itself. It’s only when tricks come into play that I start to take offense. I’m sure you and I can, and will, come up with a laundry list of reasons why but I figure I’ll just ask you to go first, what is the most basic, singular reasoning you have for your hatred of fixies?
Rhys: Well, I have the utmost respect for all bicycles… except unicycles, but by it’s very definition and nature, it ain’t bi, it’s uni, so I guess I never really had to mention that. Maybe add hoppies, aka trials riders, too.
But my point: I love ragging around on a bike, switching between my BMX for the streets and single speed racer for the longer distance in-and-out traffic city rag. And, if I am honest, I would probably really enjoy mountabike downhilling, but on hills and on an actual mountainbike. Come to think if it, mountainbiking is probably as old as BMX. It must really wind up some of the die hard mountainbikers when they see little twats trying to ride them like BMXes!?. Anyway, back to my point: I was happy to get on with things and let everyone else enjoy their specific niche of bike riding. Problem is, my world was invaded by people riding what I rode, doing the things I did, but on a bike designed for something else. Some say it is all about progression. But how do you explain that, by regressing to a former evolutionary state, forced to desecrate the element of style, twisting around on a vehicle far too big for it’s use and obstacle, is in anyway progressing?
I just feel that it is the purity of each of individual strands of bike evolution that suffers, ultimately. So many fixie riders and mountabikers are drawn into bikes by seeing people do below average bmx tricks on on a large bike. Unable to cut it as skaters or bmxers in early teens, they can obtain some status by simply buying what they need and doing a roll back or wheelie with the right bag across one shoulder.
Adam: Yeah, I mean there’s no doubt that even the top dudes in the fixie ghey scene are really making names for themselves doing what you or I would consider beginner/intermediate level BMX tricks. Which is sort of understandable since all that stuff is fairly new. What really kills me though is the pretense behind it. I’m sure you’re used to seeing Razor scooters at the skatepark just like I am, but as far as I can tell, scooterers don’t seem to have the same dilusion that they’re better than BMXers, while a lot of fixie gheys seem to think that they’re somehow above us. And even then, I’d say that while scooters are a worse form of transportation, they’re dramatically more suited for doing tricks than fixies are. Would you rather share a flat ledge with a fixie or a scooter and why?
Rhys: In all honesty, a lot of my friends have fixies. None of my friends have scooters. I wouldn’t ride a ledge with either, but I’d be least embarrassed by a mate on a fixed gear. Thing is, I wouldn’t really want to ride that with that many people anyway, that shit gets chipped up before you get a chance to do anything. Most BMXers would fuck me off, relentlessly landing heavy and taking lads of turns, and you are asking me choose between the twin spawns of satan? Motherfucker.
But, you asked me, so my answer is: If it was a coped ledge, one that couldn’t get broke, I’d ride it with a handful of BMXers, maybe a skater or two at best, but I would move away from it if a fixed gear, scooter or mountainbike started riding it. If it was a breakable ledge I’d ride it with a few other BMXers but tell the scooter, fixie and mountainbike to fuck off, I guess the same way a skater would tell a naive BMXer smashing their shit to fuck off.
Something that has felt weird throughout all of this is this sense of guilt I feel. So many of friends have beautiful single speed and fixed gear bikes that they ride and have done for many, many years. 98% of them don’t try and ride it like a BMX or hang in packs of gheys, defined in dress sense and even dedicating whole club nights to the fact their bike doesn’t free wheel. But, do you remember the Bicycle Film Festival after party we went to in London? How the courtyard of that party was split in half, BMX on one side, fixed on the other? It was the fixie lot who were the ones propping up wood and jumping around the carpark off walls and giving us shit. We are so used to being in these situations, these mass cockfest BMX parties, that we just slip into chill mood and soak up the testosterone and lean on the peak of 30years of evolved BMX culture. The fixie kids at that party felt so threatened they had to ride, at a party, and say things like: ‘grow up, get a proper bike.’ I have a proper bike, twat. I have the proper bike for riding as transport, and I have the proper bike for stunts. If, by ‘get a proper’ bike you mean, ‘get a bike that can be worn as part of your look’ then why?
It is funny, and often winds me up. The other end of the scale of fixie gheys that night was the ‘we should all just ride together’ kind of ghey. Why? I won’t even ride through town on a street ride with a weiner with an illuminus BMX, squeaky brake, tight all-over-print hoodie and a straightened fringe poking out of their ghastly New Era.
But, anyway, it is a bit different here. In NYC, everyone’s fixie bikes were more street looking and less like mantle piece bikes. I guess because New York’s tougher than the middle class suburbs in the UK.
Adam: So it’s been 10 days since I last replied in this conversation just due to being really busy, but a thought has occurred to me. Who are we writing this article for? It’s not so much for the BMXers since we are just writing out thoughts that they already know, whether they have verbalized them or not. It’s not for the bulk of the fixie riding population, since I think it goes without saying that the majority of fixie riders are decent human beings who, while they might occasionally throw up a wheelie, don’t give their barspinning bredren any kind of serious respect. Really publicizing our exchange here is being done for the purpose of those who ride fixies and do tricks on them. To sort of explain to them what is wrong with what they’ve chosen to do, and to help them understand why the majority of BMXers consider them so undesirable. And I feel like all others, the non-barspinning fixie riders and the BMXers, will read along and nod their head in agreement.
So I guess what I’d like to approach next is what exactly is so wrong about fixie gheys doing tricks on their bikes. What irks me for the most part is simply the grotesque nature of having to pedal before and after every trick. The beauty of the most basic of BMX movement is that you start and end with a good amount of speed. Now Josh Stricker blasting a table over a hip obviously starts with a ton of speed, and ends with a similar amount of speed. There are exceptions that deviate from this, like if a rider grinds up a large handrail, he will most likely land without much speed to speak of at the top. But that’s a rare exception. If the rider were to grind down the same handrail, he would land with more speed than he started with. The sub-box experience is one in which you ride up the banks with quite a bit of speed, you stall on your peg or your wheels and you land into the bank or tranny still maintaining your speed. This is why we ride bank to ledges and you won’t see a BMXer icepick stalling a tall ledge from flat and landing back on flat. As BMXers, it is an unwritten law that you begin and end most tricks with a good amount of speed. Now the critical BMX rider might read this and say, what about the Animal videos? There, you’ll find riders doing complicated ledge tricks without much speed. But they are still going fast if you consider the technical nature of what they’re doing, and you’ll rarely find a clip in a legitimate video that ends with no momentum.
What irks me the second most is that in BMX, we look down upon pedaling in many ways. Now of course we don’t look down on pedaling down the street, or pedaling when approaching a trick. But even a slight tap of the pedal renders any manual not pulled in the minds of most riders. A lot of emphasis in skatepark riding and trails is put on not pedaling in between obstacles. Remember how much shit Nyquist used to get for throwing in a pedal in between jumps at dirt contests? As riders, we all embrace the fact that in order to be done properly, a trick must be done with no pedal pressure, or in some cases very little pedal pressure (example: a brakeless tiretap on a quarter uses pedal pressure but your cranks rarely actually move forward, they stay centered), and that’s a good thing. Pedaling is inherently uglier than not pedaling when you include it in a trick.
Now, you can probably guess what I’m getting at here. EVERY trick in the fixie world involves both a lack of speed, and a shitload of pedaling. If you go watch a video of a fixie rider hitting a hip, you’ll see that they have to pedal every last bit of the way up the hip, and then the second they hit the ground there’s often a split second where they don’t have any momentum before they begin pedaling again. That, to me, is just inexcusable. It’s so horrible looking that it renders the entire activity not worth doing.
And then of course the pedaling is a constant thing throughout any fixie trick and that’s just disgusting as well. I can sort of see how someone without any BMX background might not see what’s wrong with that. But as a rider who finds the style of BMX riding so appealing, I can’t ignore that. Fixie tricks certainly have their own style but it’s not the kind of style that I have any interest in.
Rhys: Holy shit, Adam, that’s a well constructed point that needs very little added to it. Now, I am a man who likes to chip in my 2 cents worth, so well done. It is like watching the worst pedal pecker on a bike that’s too big, ever.
That reminds me, did you see the fix-push video on youtube? Oh man, the best quote in that is this:
“If I’m going to ride 20 miles, I’m going to push 20 miles.”
But, again, who are we writing this for? Who exactly IS our audience? And, do you know what? I honestly think, for a second there, I thought fixy gheys were our audience and that we could put such a strong point across that they’d all see the light and quit. They aren’t the audience, though. Which sucks. Are we write-fighting a loosing battle? I’m not sure we are. Like most fads it’ll come and go. Let’s just hope it doesn’t ruin the good bits of riding road bikes for the people who originated that shit. Maybe it is them we are writing too? The irked old school fixie rider, irked about as much as we are at the mindless bastardisation of a thing they held so dear themselves. Just imagine if it was fashionable to ride brakeless street BMXes at the Tour de France, Adam, just imagine it! We’d be mortified; embarrassed; angry. Maybe it is ourselves in the future we are writing to. Maybe, if we are fighting a loosing battle, we’d have this piece of cross-Atlantic prose to prove we tried something GOD DAMN IT!!!
Adam: I hear you loud and clear my friend. Now in the interest of keeping this relatively short I’ll end our conversation here and let the comments do the talking. Thanks for your thoughts, let’s see what the people have to say!