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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fixed gear bikes? Give me a brake!

Jason Yang

A bike with no brakes sounds crazy, but there is actually a group of people riding this kind of bike every day. These bikes are fixed gear bikes, or “fixies” for short. In the last few years, fixed gear bikes have gained popularity in Taiwan. Even now at FCU, there are some students who ride “fixies” together in their leisure time. So, what is so special about fixed gear bikes? What is the story behind these bikes? For the answer to these questions, we need to look at the bicycle industry in Taiwan first. 

All photos by the author

The bicycle industry in Taiwan used to manufacture bikes for foreign companies. Then, as Taiwanese labor costs went up, foreign companies had to move into other countries such as Vietnam, where labor costs were lower. However, as Taiwanese local factories improved their manufacture skills, they began to set up their own brands like GIANT and MERIDA and to provide most of the leading bicycle products to the world. Later, people who loved fixed gear bikes took advantage of skilled local factories to create parts and components from their own designs, which helped to cut down the costs. Furthermore, some of the local designers started their own businesses selling products made by local factories.

Others might not understand how some people could be interested in such a dangerous bicycle – a bicycle with no brakes. After I talked to some guys who ride “fixies”, it was fairly easy to understand. According to what these students said, fixed gear bikes attracted them almost at first sight. The simple lines and curves on a fixed gear bike are like some sort of deadly weapon, which bring up one’s passion towards some beautiful things on earth. Some others even defined fixed gear bikes as a practice in Minimalism, which emphasize geometry and strong contrasts. However, according to these riders, the most important reason that they fell in love with fixed gear bikes is the riding experience. 

       When you first get on the bike, you immediately discover that something is different, that you have a big problem; that is, how do you stop this beautiful monster once you get it going? Well, the short answer is that you stop a “fixie” the same way we see Olympic riders stop their track bikes. Because the wheels are fixed to the gears, and the gears are fixed to the pedals, no matter if the bike is going forwards or backwards, the pedals go in the same direction. That means you have to use the power of your legs; instead of pressing down on the pedals, you have to pull up to slow the bike down!

Fixed gear bikes used to be popular among bicycle messengers in the U.S. because they are easy to repair. However, riders in Taiwan treated fixed gear bikes like a fashion accessory. Similar to other subcultures, fixed gear bike culture in Taiwan is often believed to be connected with a certain lifestyle. People consider the bike a way to show their lifestyle, slow and easy-going. Compared to other subcultures such as HIP-HOP, Graffiti, or Rap, the “fixie” culture is probably better for you, both mentally and physically.

    We can say that the fixed gear bike in Taiwan is a product that combines sports and fashion. Bicycles have long been an important means of transportation, and as technology has advanced, bicycles have evolved. Who knows that maybe there will be bike without wheels in the future! 

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