If it isn’t fixed, it’s broken.

A fixed-gear (also called a “fixie” or “fix”) is the purest expression of a bicycle. It has no brakes, no shifters, no derailleurs. No fat. One speed. When the bike moves, so do the pedals – you cannot coast. You use your legs to slow down.

This is how bicycles used to be. The first bicycles – the “high-wheelers” (also called “penny farthings”, because of the tiny rear wheel) – were fixed-gears. They are essentially big tricycles, but with only one rear wheel, so balancing is a bit more challenging. Like all fixed-gears, when the wheel is motion, so are the pedals.

What we consider a “normal” bicycle today used to be called a “safety bicycle”, to distinguish it from a high-wheeler. (Which I suppose means that high-wheelers were not safe. Hmm.)

The original safety bicycles were fixed-gears too. Once the freewheel (a ratcheting mechanism in the rear hub that allows coasting) was invented, a new era of cycling was ushered in.

So why would someone want to turn back the clock? Why ride a bicycle with only one gear that won’t let you coast?

If I had my own opinions on the subject, I would share them here. I don’t ... yet. I have been reading Sheldon Brown, a noted cycling enthusiast, curmudgeon, and crank. He has got me interested – nay, obsessed – with the idea of building and riding a fixed-gear. Here are several useful links to his site:

Here is Paul Makepeace’s piece about riding fixed. It’s funnier than Sheldon’s, and shorter.

These should get you started down the road of obsession.

I have my own fixed gear bicycle saga – still an unfinished story.

See also the following for inspiration:

... and thousands more bikes at the Fixed Gear Gallery.

If “hipster fixie riders” irritate you, or if you simply want to read some very snarky commentary on the cycling world, check out Bike Snob NYC – but be prepared to launch whatever you are drinking through your nose.