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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “No brakes, no problem”

    Tim Cheney does a wheelie on his fixed gear bicycle Sunday evening outside of Old Main.  Fixed-gear bikes feature fewer metal parts than road or mountain bikes but can be more perilous to ride.
    Tim Cheney does a wheelie on his fixed gear bicycle Sunday evening outside of Old Main. Fixed-gear bikes feature fewer metal parts than road or mountain bikes but can be more perilous to ride.

    Under the orange chemical glow of sodium streetlamps, a dozen cyclists riding fixed-gear bikes assembled for their weekly high-speed burn through Tucson’s city streets.

    A fixed-gear bike looks like a regular road bicycle, but has only one gear ratio to choose from. There are no shifters and no derailleur, the component of the bike that shifts gears on the rear wheel.

    They also lack a free-wheel, the component on most road and mountain bikes that allows the rider to coast. As a result, the pedals automatically move when a fixed-gear bike is in motion.

    Many fixed-gear bikes stand out because of a conspicuous absence of brakes, requiring riders to control their speed by resisting the motion of the pedals. Riders will also stop by locking the rear wheel and skidding.

    Dangerous? Of course. So why are urban centers, bike-messenger meccas and college campuses seeing increasing numbers of fixed-gear bikes?

    “”The idea of a fixed-gear is that it’s simpler and more efficient and easier to maintain,”” said Robert Gibboni, a molecular and cellular biology junior who decided to switch to fixed-gear after his mountain bike was stolen.

    “”I was riding my road bike to school, like my really good road bike, and I didn’t want all the gears,”” said Adam Piatkowski, a civil engineering sophomore who has been riding a fixed-gear for a year and a half. “”(It’s) just simpler.””

    Weight is also a factor for cyclists.

    “”The bikes are really light because they’re stripped,”” said Andrew Bates, a music junior who has been riding his fixed-gear bike for about a month.

    Most of the riders present Monday night in front of Old Main, 1200 E. University Blvd., built their bikes from recycled frames and salvaged bike parts.

    “”It’s really cool to find an old frame and fix it up,”” said Thomas Brown, a mechanical engineering sophomore who has been riding a fixed-gear since May.

    His bike sports very narrow handlebars, which he said are good for weaving through traffic.

    “”It’s a more simple mechanism,””

    You know, working on your bike is like hot-rodding or something; You can always outdo what you’ve got.

    -Ed Foster,
    UA fine arts alum

    said Ed Foster, a 1996 UA fine arts graduate who started riding fixed-gear bikes roughly 10 years ago and now designs and builds bicycle frames under his company name, La Suprema. “”Once I started riding I found there’s increased control and slow-speed handling. I stay riding it because it’s fun as hell and it’s very simple to maintain.””

    Despite having fewer parts, the maintenance of fixed-gear bikes is not necessarily more economical than that of mountain and road bikes, Foster said.

    “”You know, working on your bike is like hot-rodding or something,”” he said. “”You can always outdo what you’ve got.””

    The efficiency of peddling is an advantage and a disadvantage, he added. A fixed-gear rider’s speed is limited to a certain range, especially when descending steep hills.

    “”Your feet can hardly keep up with the pace that you’re going,””
    Foster said.

    Foster and some friends recently participated in the Mount Lemmon time trial.

    “”We were really efficient (quick) on the way up,”” he said. “”We hung with guys on $5,000 racing bicycles. But then on the way down we were hurting.””

    Fixed-gear enthusiasts sometimes pay a price for the simplicity that comes with their bikes.

    One of the regular Monday night fixed-gear riders recently broke his wrist when a car pulled out in front of him and he was unable stop in time to avoid the collision, Foster said.

    “”I highly recommend riding with a brake, especially for a beginner,”” said Foster, whose bike has no brakes. “”I think riding without is nearly suicidal.””

    Fixed-gear bicycles borrow their design from track bikes, or velodrome racing bikes, said Colin Clark, sales manager at Fair Wheel Bicycles, 1100 E. Sixth St.

    In the last decade or so, track bikes have spilled onto the urban grid, and the riders have attained a sort of elite status, Clark said.

    “”The (lack of) practicality has become a badge of courage,”” he said.

    As the ranks of fixed-gear riders assembled, practicing wheelies and 180-degree skids under the nautical clanging of the Old Main flag pole, ideas for routes were tossed around and mulled over before someone called out, “”Time to ride, brothers!””

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