I ride a fixie out of (design) principle
I live in inner Melbourne (Australia) and I ride to work. I happen to ride a ‘fixie’ — a bicycle with a single, fixed gear. I also happen to cop a lot of flack from friends and colleagues, mainly focusing on the hipster culture associated with fixies, and my apparent conformance to this culture — just because of the type of bike I ride.
Rewind a few years back, and I was one of the people picking on the bearded hipsters for riding their ‘stupid no gears bikes’. I think I even referred to it as ‘reverse evolution of cycling technology’, comparing it to humans abandoning our bipedal ways and jumping back into the nearest pond to join our amphibian relatives. At the time, I was doing a lot of mountain bike riding, so having gears was kind of important.
So, what changed?
A few things. Firstly, I stopped riding off-road mountain bike trails, mainly due to lack of time. Secondly, I started riding on the roads more. As I started riding my geared bikes on the road, I began to think about what I actually need from a bike.
Why do geared bikes exist?
Let’s consider why geared bikes exist in the first place.
Riding up hills
Regularly riding up 10+% gradient hills?
Sure, you’ll need gears, unless you are superhuman or a masochist. I live in Melbourne, one of the flattest cities I’ve ever lived in or visited. On my ride to work, the toughest section of the ride has an average gradient of 4% over the distance of 100m, for a mere 4m vertical rise — I feel silly even writing this down.
Getting faster from A to B
I’m not racing anyone, so going faster for this reason is not a motivation for me.
However, I do use my bike to commute and we all want to reduce our commute time and spend more quality time at work and with our families. This is one of the reasons I choose to ride a bike over catching public transport — it is actually significantly quicker.
Do I need gears to make it even quicker? No. And here is why; on my eight kilometre ride to work, I go through 28 traffic lights and tram stops. I never stop at all of them, but even on a good day, by far the biggest factor in determining whether I get to work in 25 or 30 minutes is the number of traffic lights I stop at. I’ve had days when I’ve really pushed myself, but took three minutes longer compared to a day when I took it easy, just because of the bad run of lights. Having gears to help me get between the traffic lights quicker is not going to make that much of a difference.
Why consider a fixie instead?
Those were the two reasons I believe you don’t need gears if commuting around a flat city like Melbourne. There are other benefits of riding a fixie — other than the supposed hipster street-cred.
This may be just personal preference, but I genuinely believe in the old adage that ‘simple is beautiful’. Taking the gears and all other unnecessary components away from a bike, strips it back to its most basic, beautiful form — the form that made us fall in love with the original freedom machine. For me, comparing fixies and low to mid range geared bikes is like comparing the beautifully simple form of the iPhone and the cluttered face of a Blackberry, or writing on Medium and writing inside Microsoft Word.
I love bikes, but there are some things I’ve always hated about them:
- adjusting derailleurs
- adjusting gear cables
- adjusting brakes
- changing tyres
With a fixie, most of these pain-points are gone. No more derailleurs or gears. Riding a fixie allows you to drop the rear brake (some drop both). That leaves changing tyres, which I can live with.
Less moving parts = less $$$. Simple.
You can get a basic fixie for $200 and something quite nice for $600. Spend that much on a geared bike and what you get after three months is a lot of squeaking, and grease on your hands as you adjust and tweak that derailleur.
That ‘connected’ feeling
This one is hard to explain if you haven’t ridden a fixie. Having the gear fixed, gives you a completely different feeling when riding —you feel more connected to the bike and more connected to the road below you. The bike feels more responsive to the slightest movement of your feet, backwards as well as forwards.
A good product
A good product is not just functional, as any bike with gears is. It is also beautiful, reliable and easy to maintain. We can argue about whether fixies are more beautiful, but their simpler nature makes them undeniably more reliable and easier to maintain.
A good product is simple — it does what it needs to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.
So, if you are part of the masses commuting around a flat city, jump on a fixie and give it a go.