Friday, August 31, 2007

The Hipster Bike

Being a bicyclist for the last 25 years, I have certainly taken notice of the fixed gear (or fixie) phenomenon that has seemingly taken over the “underground” or stylish bike scene, over the last 10 years or so. My fall into the abyss of fixie started in 2001 when I started riding a singlespeed mountain bike. Thinking I would need to maintain my “singlespeed stamina” through the winter months when I usually dedicate myself to road riding, I starting thinking of some means to do so. At this very time synchronicity played it’s hand and a neighbor inquired if I wanted to buy a track bike he had taken in trade for Chiropractic services. The bike had a custom steel track frame/fork, Campy Record flange hubs laced to Mavic sewup rims, Cooks 165.5 cranks, with some other Salsa, Campy, Cinelli and Sugino parts, and no brakes; he took $200 for the bike. After tinkering with the sewups and no brakes; I replace the former (clinchers) and added the latter (front). This bike has been my sole road ride since, including commuting and centuries. This is how my bike looked before the crash of 2007.

But still, there is the other side. The whole messenger/courier look, which changed your typical track bike

into the “Langster

into the “NYC Langster” (even Specialized can't get it right; brakes on a Hipster?)
The whole messenger/courier fixie thing has become a movement, and with all movements, as the Doobie Bros named their album, “What were once vices, are now habits.” Of course most couriers don’t even ride the things, but that doesn’t matter, the mold has been cast. The following is the reasoning I have heard for the silliness that is now a Hipster bike (as far as I know they really aren't called Hipster bikes, but I just like the sound of the name from this incredibly dumb down video; I wish that's all there is to loosening a stuck seatpost video). Speaking of videos, this one fits because it includes a road biker vs a hipster with fixed gear, but is also the coolest and catchiest bike video I have ever seen;

This is part 1 of my attempt to decrib and define what a hipster bike was and what it has become.

#1) It must be a fixed gear or course. The fixed gear is the bike of choice because it requires very little maintenance. A courier usually makes $200-300 a week and can’t be pouring money into his bike. This unfortunately has led to what was been coined as the suicide hub. Since a true fixed hub is not common place, garage mechanics have taken to converting freewheel hubs to fixed gear. A freewheel hub is much like a BMX hub, but was designed to hold a multi-speed freewheel. The conversion involves re-dishing the hub so it will line-up with the front chainring when you screw-on a fixed gear cog. Unfortunately, unlike a fixed gear hub, there is no lock ring to hold on the cog. Generally they use a bottom bracket lock ring in it’s place, but since is screws on in the same direction as the cog (unlike the fixed gear hub) there is nothing to stop both cog and ring from unscrewing when you apply back pressure on the crank to slow down or stop. Hence it’s suicide to use the setup. The safety minded mechanic will actually weld the cog on the hub.

#2) Messed up handles bar. One thing the messengers seemed to have started was the “flop and chop”. Road or drop handlebars were designed to be aerodynamic, but most folks ride on the “flats” or top and hoods. To make the bar more user friendly they flipped the bar over and cut the drop off. They left enough of the drop sticking up to cradle their hands or add a brake; it does however reduce hand positions to one. Track bars have no real flats, because track riders ride exclusively in the drops. It is common to see track handlebars with bar tape or special track grips on just the lower grip portion of the bar. A lot of hipsters do a reverse track taping, taping just the flats and leaving the drop bare. NYC BikeSnob described this as looking like a dogs penis. Everytime I see them now and think of that; thanks BikeSnob.

If they don’t mess with the bars they leave them bare. Why anyone would want to ride a bike with their sweating hands sliding on non-taped handle bars is beyond me, but it is one of the most common “modifications”. Since all of my bikes have grips or bar tape, I have often wondered what it would feel like to grab a hold of a bare bar after it was sat in the sun while the rider I was carousing at my favorite coffee house. Holy blisters Batman! (but I digress).

If they decide for some reason not to chop up the bars sometimes they'll just put them on backwards?? This guy said it was his first build; no doubt, he also mounted the seatpost backwards.

Another reason I’ve heard to clip the bar was to make it easier to maneuver between cars. Of course this has been taken to the extreme of being no wider that the combined width of the grips; kind of like riding a horse with both hands on the saddle horn.Once the couriers started buying into their own rhetoric and riding without brakes, they imagined chopping the drops off completely, leaving just the flat portion of thenothing more than a straight mountain bike bar, hence the move to flat or low rise MTB bars and grips; Qury grips of course, because they come in so many colors. However, there is also another gripless bar that is commonly called, are you ready for this? The dildo bar.

We're going to see this bike again because, except for the lack of a "bike pad" and Brooks saddle, it represents the classic hipster bike.

#3) The Brooks saddle. Brooks has been making saddles for over 100 years. Their saddles are heavy and consist of a thick, non-forgiving layer of leather. These saddles have become the defacto saddle on a hipster bike. The trade mark are the copper rivets that sometime hold the leather to the frame. It has been said, mainly by the Brooks I might add, that once you “break-in” a Brooks saddle, it is the most comfortable saddle you’ll ever own. The truth is of course quite different; Brooks saddles don’t break-in your butt does. That’s right. The problem with most saddles is they break down after you’re butt has conformed to them; Brooks saddles don’t. It may take twice as long for your butt to conform to a brooks saddle, because they horribly uncomfortable, but once your butt has conformed to them, they will keep their shape for decades. That's why there is so many of them around. I’ve never understood why someone would spend the same money on an stiff piece of leather as they would on a modern, Sella Italia, but they do and boy do they suffer for it.

#4)The bike pad. There are two possible avenues here. The first is a bike pad may be just an elongated top tube protector. A top tube protector is a very short piece of plastic used on track bikes. Since the handle bars on track bikes are only taped on the drops, often times the bar can swing around and dent the top tube. These clip on the top tube to protect it from being damaged by the handle bars. The other route is that Couriers have this steel thing with wheels that they have to do something with when they get where they are going. Sometimes they take it with them and other times they lock it to something. Either way they either need something to protect their shoulder from the bike or the bike from the lock. Since bike couriers only exist in urban areas known for their high crime, the lock of choice is usually a big burly chain. “They also use chains for chainsaws” as I said before, so the bike pad was born. Originally a length of pipe insulation covered with duct tape to hold it on, it is know a fashion statement. Never mind that few hipster bikes will ever see a bare chain, you can now buy them custom made to match your paint scheme and tube diameter. They are totally useless.

What goes hand and hand with the pad is a very useful item called a Messenger bag. The original bag was designed as a more contemporary version of a Postal service mail bag. Companies such as Chrome and Reload, (they also make pads of course) make some very stylish new bags that are functional as they are butt ugly. They're designed to throw over your shoulder and hold anything one would pay a messenger to deliver. They also seem to be designed to coordinate with your tattoos.

Part 2


sean said...

its very obvious your that old dude in the back of that bike shop mummbling to yourself how lame new fixie riders are cause youve been doin it for 25 yrs.dude people custom make theirs bikes to look good....yeah whos doesnt want to look good when riding.dont be a hating geezer its a hobbie.

upside down handlebars pretty funny though


sean said...



Matt C said...

hipster bikes are mainly for show in the living room...

Mr. Potassiumhead said...

Wow. Absolutely hilarious. Thank you, so much.

Martian Child. said...

Well done.
The hipster above should show some respect if he wants anybody to take him seriously.
Nobody can see very much of your bike when you're gliding past them.
Hence the living room comment, it's pretty much the time you'd notice how good the bike looks.

I think it's much harder to pedal in high gear nonstop using pure will power then having the bike it's self force you.
I go uphill without a sweat in high gear, out speeding fixies.

Raymond Cheng said...

The only thing i have to disagree on is in regards to the Brooks saddle, then again I may just have a different experience, it was comfortable from day one. it almost feels like sitting on a hard surface (b-17)... but I have been deciding to get a Stella (they make the white saddles right?) if I come across a white bicycle.

on the other hand, I have to say my Avocet saddle is almost as comfortable as my Brooks, so I doubt it has a marginal comfort advantage, but definitely no suffering.

the other stuff you have mention are very funny, to each their own, hipsters have their rights to express their rides in.. strange ways.

I also have a chop and flop handlebar that I cannot seem to convince myself to install!... it just looks odd. I like my road drops more, and may be replacing them with a new one because for some odd reason my right brake lever doesn't seem to mount straight on it, as if the right side of the bar is slightly bent.

I am sourcing out 700c wheel set for a fix conversion though...

Nathaniel said...

Right on - cept for the Brooks. Usually these Hipster Doofus's don't ride outside of a city - the fixed gear promotes unsafe riding by not allowing them to stop for traffic.

john said...

In East Vancouver the hipsters call my Marin Argenta a "Motorcycle"

Jason Nabors said...

Nice blog. Really a fixed is all people really need, but it is nice when going up a hill to switch down to a lower gear. On a normal day I only use two gears, the one I usually ride on and the one I switch down to when going uphill.

David said...

What I don't understand is how hipsters can pedal these things around and not build any leg muscles. It must be something in their genetics in order to fit into those skinny jeans.

I ride BMX and downhill MTB with a small cog and proudly cannot fit into skinny jeans.

Vadj said...

I'm most way through my conversion of an old track bike to a fixed gear. Just FYI I'm in college and I take my 24 speed fuji for ~15 mile rides pretty often. I got plenty of leg strength and I still wear skinny jeans... maybe its just that i'm 6'4"

Oh btw I need an obnoxious neon bike for cruising around with my camera in my messenger bag while listening to bands you've never heard of :P

Nick said...

I wouldn't dismiss bullhorns. I find them the best set-up for city riding.