[Trendzilla] Look, Ma! No Brakes!

Taking to the streets with the fixies

As much as we—I—make fun, hipsters really mean well.

At least they idolize such things as intellectualism, Godard and vegan cuisine. It could be worse. They could like Glocks and UFC matches.

One of the newest blips on the hipster do-good-feel-good radar? Bicycles. Environmentalism is cool, too. Nobody's sure when it got big, but most attribute it to groups of kids who decided to get together and take to the streets en masse—on bikes, on roller skates and blades, on skateboards—with no particular goal in mind other than getting from point A to point B and having fun while doing it.

Critical Mass is a monthly bike-ride group that originated in San Francisco in 1992. The first ride down Market Street consisted of something like 48 riders, but the number and tradition has grown quickly—thousands now hit the streets all over the world in their own Critical Mass divisions. The groups are seen as somewhat dangerous by police and city officials, since they use a few bicyclists to block off traffic in order for the entire horde to push right on through those pesky red lights and stop signs.

While coastal communities have seen the rise in popularity of those cutesy, candy-colored beach cruisers pictured here for the past decade or so, the latest trend in urban communities is the fixed-gear bike, characterized by its lack of a freewheel (which allows a bicyclist to switch gears while in motion), and it usually only has one gear ratio. No freewheel means the inability to coast—the pedals continuously cycle. Fixed-gear bikes look pretty minimal: a simple frame, thin wheels, maybe those ergonomic curved handlebars. They're lightweight and low maintenance. But mostly, people think they just look cool.

Did I mention there are usually no brakes on these things?

Well, there aren't. Most fixed-gear riders (called "fixies") pride themselves on learning how to stop without brakes—intense concentration on what they call "flow," being able to measure distances when you need to stop from afar. Fixies slow down or stop by resisting the turning pedals, and some even drag their feet against the tires. They think brakes aren't necessary. Legs are all you need, they say. And besides, brakes look ugly on a bike.

What if you need to pull an emergency stop? Well, if you're a proper fixie, you shouldn't have to. Seriously. It's a matter of pride with these guys. Though fixies are centralized in Northern California, you can see these guys cruising up and down PCH any time of the day. They're easy to spot: pant legs of their skinny jeans rolled up, trendy shoes sans socks, messenger bag thrown across their back. If it sounds silly, it kind of is, but what do we non-fixies know? I've always thought brakes were kinda necessary. But what does safety matter when you look fucking awesome?

 
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