Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fixed Gear Culture

Dunc Gray Velodrome

(Bike) Messengers (and their impact on the bike scene)

When beginning this project of bike culture, the people I had in mind when photographing was the group who tending to be part of a culture that seemed to embrace a certain aesthetic of style and performance that touched on the ideas of vintage and street culture. The biggest trend in bikes today and beginning in the late 90s and early 2000s was this push towards a fixed gear bikes, my curiosity was touched and I began exploring why people were choosing this way of transport. It seems that fixed gear fascination began with bike messengers in New York City who made personal modifications to their bikes and stripped them of gears and brakes. The reason why, is still up to debate, but the notion still seems that the ideas originated with bike messengers who wanted to find more thrills (and in a sense more street credit) that went along with the cutthroat style of biking through the streets of NYC. Weaving through taxis, buses, cars, and almost anything the busy streets of NYC threw at them a select group of bike messengers removed brakes and left their modified bikes with only one gear to weave through the streets and simulate the hard-nosed and dangerous riding. Though people have been killed by biking without brakes in NYC (and I for one would probably end up as one of those demographics if i did the same) the trend didn't die down and in fact caught fire. Once people from other parts of the country caught news of the passionate bike culture of NYC, they brought that very passion to the streets that they ride on (San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.)
These bikes are generally DIY bikes where people make them themselves from old bikes that are generally heavy and vintage 1970s and 80s street bikes. This was about originality and the use of all the sense and responses in the body. People in NYC had to be on top of their game with little to no distractions to be able to pull of one gear and no brakes, thus adding to the attraction and badassness that people seem to embrace in our culture.

"In a millisecond, you panic and stiffen. The pedals then become a launch platform. Your confused brain finds itself flying over the handlebars while schoolchildren at the curb scream. You are now a fixed-gear bicyclist stripped of some portion of your skin and the entirety of your pride.

That's only starters. The real artists of the game—the strongest and most demented among them—jabber away merrily about "simplicity" and "getting down to the basics" and "connecting directly to the ride." Before long, they start stripping the brakes off their bikes, too."

""It's a way to bring yourself into tune with the pace of the urban setting. Bold notions and bold maneuvers define the excitement of living in a city," says Somerset Waters, an enthusiast and board member of the Los Angeles Bicycle Kitchen. "These are stripped-down, simpler machines. But they have the edge that goes with living in the city. They are Zen and 'The Art of War' at the same time."

One Gear, No Brakes
Published October 2nd, 2005 :: The LA Times Magaine
By John Balzar

This article provided a great backdrop to the whole fixed gear culture that has emerged in America. It tries to trace its origins and answers the question of why people have an urge to bike that way. It also highlights how it began to spread from the origins of bike messengers to the general public, and by that i mean the fair weather biker to simplify my description.

Global Biking Design

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