Monday, December 7, 2009

What's Old is New

It's happened in both of my favorite sports. This urge to rummage through the history of a sport, a scavenger hunt for the unvarnished essence in the roots. It's the counterweight that launched punk rock; get rid of the orchestration and the synthesizers, the overdubbing and the bloated recordings, get back to three chords and the truth.

And so it goes with the fixed gear crowd. Raiders of the lost art, following the lead of the NYC's messenger bike movement, these local riders have stripped it down to two wheels, one gear, toe clips and steel frames, often with no brakes. What's old is new. I was introduced to fixed gear riding in 2002 by friends Yo Adrian and Dan Gatti. I wasn't immediately sold on the idea. But I'm prone to peer pressure, and I set up my first one using an old Super Course TT and a Brooks B17-N (stands for narrow) saddle, which tried to kill me on a 70-mile ride, cutting me in places that ought not be cut. My longtime friend Ed, the owner of Cycle Logic in Raleigh, gave me a doubtful look the first time I rolled my fixed gear into his shop.

Times have changed. Nowadays, Ed has three fixed gear bikes in the shop window, including a classic Japanese track frame that someone sold him. He's stocked and sold dozens of fixed bikes. I stopped by the other day just in time to see a mom and dad with an esoteric Christmas shopping list for their son ("do you have a 43-tooth 130 BCD ring....?") The fixed riders are all over town, Men in Black without Brakes, hopping the rear wheel and skidding off a layer of rubber on every emergency stop. Maybe it's a fad that will come and go as quickly as the Sex Pistols. You know, band is gone but the music lives on. Fad or not, those guys are out there riding, and I predict some are forming a lifelong habit. Here's to four decades of riding with your buddies, no matter what kind of bike you're on.

Okay, I said this roots revival has happened in both of my favorite sports. That includes surfing. Brother Rich just sent a NYT article headlined "Ancient Surfboard Style Is Finding New Devotees." Yes, some surfers have returned to the the roots of that sport, riding finless surfboards that are featherweight replicas of the thin, round-nosed, square-tailed boards ridden in pre-20th-century Hawaii.

Like I said, I'm given to peer pressure. I guess I wouldn't mind trying one out, especially after watching this video. Notice how easily the board spins without a fin, and how fluid the ride is. Enjoy.


Doctor on a bike said...

The Sex Pistols ROCK!

Mike D said...

Dear Doc,

Could not agree more. IMO, Holidays in the Sun ranks as best opening album song ever.

Best, Mike / Raleigh

Jerry Phelps said...

Kind of like snow boarding on the water. The sport has come full circle. Next thing you know, we'll be calling you "Goofy Footed."

sag said...

Extremes in everything :-)

y2bike said...

I think it’s crazy how the whole fixie fad took off. FWIW, when I was a courier in NY only a very small percent of messengers rode fixgear bikes, most used road bikes and then later mountain bikes. You had to be a good cyclist to survive more than a few weeks on the streets, you had to be a really good cyclist to ride a fixie and you had to be a really, really, really good rider to ride a fixie with no brakes in traffic. Even Nelson Vails,, bike messenger and Olympic Silver Medal winning track rider didn’t ride a fixie for work. He rode a bike with 2 hand brakes AND a coaster brake according to an article he wrote in 1987 for Playboy.
I do know how the one speed trend took off though, after having a cable or derailleur break, it was just easier to chop the chain and make the bike into a one speed. I rode an entire summer on a 42x14 one speed after my rear derailleur gave out.

Mike O.
Can Carriers
Prometheus Couriers