Hipsters, Fads, and Fixed Gear Bikes

Is it safe to say that we all know what (or who) a hipster is? You've seem them, without a doubt, especially if you live in a big city like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Hipsters are basically people who latch on to the latest fad, yet act as if they are too cool for the mainstream. They are on the outside, but too cool to look in. Posers. Scenesters. PBR.  Tight vintage-style jeans.  A Hoodie.  Vans.  A smoke.  You get the drift.

Los Angeles Hipster?
Los Angeles Hipster?

Hipsters in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a hipster haven, especially in the neighborhoods around where I live: Echo Park, Silverlake, and Los Feliz. Don't get me wrong, I love it here, which is saying a lot after seven years in San Francisco, the antithesis of LA in a few key ways. I don't mind hipsters really. They add to the diversity of what are truly eclectic and hence quite fun, vibrant, and desirable neighborhoods. You can see them in coffee shops like intelligentsia over at Sunset Junction, but more and more these days, you see them riding a special kind of bike known as a fixed gear bike, or a track bike, or a fixie.

I am all for people riding bikes as opposed to driving or even walking or riding the bus, but are these people riding bikes for any reason other than to look cool as part of the day's most 'rad' subculture? And if they are just doing it to be part of a scene, I guess I really don't care much. I am just writing about it because it interests me. I see it. I live it. And if I can save a hipster from getting run over by a car, I am all for it.

The Los Angeles Hipster and The Fixed Gear Bike

Most people do not know what a fixed gear bike is. Simply put, it is a bicycle with one gear and no freewheel. When the wheels move, so do the pedals... and you can't coast. Therefore when you ride you have to peddle. Bottom line. Real cyclists - people like Lance Armstrong - started riding what are originally known as track bikes on, well, a track as a way to train. Bike messengers in big cities started riding them due to their simplicity, efficiency, lack of maintenance, and at the time unlikelihood to be the target of a bike thief. Of course, the messenger scene has always produced fads for the masses of hipsters around the country to emulate, see the messenger bag. The fixed gear was no different.

Cyclists such as myself latched on to them (about five years ago now for me) for reasons similar to messengers, but more so because they offer a challenge and a great workout. Plus, in my estimation, it enhances the overall riding experience. You really feel like part of the bike when riding a fixed gear. And in traffic, especially without hand brakes, you concentrate more. The strength in your legs serves as your stopping power and you must be looking several steps ahead in traffic in order to stay safe.

All of this said, I did not and people should not hop right on a brakeless fixed gear and start riding. You have to be comfortable and confident on a bike first. Use brakes to begin with. Many never will, or should take the brakes off. But the hipster, in his or her undying quest to be cool, has been known to hop right on a brakeless fixie and take to the streets. Not smart.

There is an upside to the hipster jumping so fervently on the fixed gear bike bandwagon. If you, like me, are the one the folks who will be riding fixed (or still on a bike for that matter) once the fad subsides, there will be lots of bargains to be had as hipsters look to unload their souped-up track bikes. In the meantime, I nod and converse with hipsters on the streets of LA as we ride our simple and sleek machines... that is, of course, unless they are too cool to utter a word.

But, for the record, I don't hate hipsters!

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Comments 37 comments

Cris A profile image

Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I have the same issues with pretty much the same kind of crowd before. But not anymore, I've grown to accept the fact that we all live in different planes in the same plane. But I totally relate to your mellow rant here. I would have hubbed in French had it been me at your age. Thanks for sharing :D

composed profile image

composed 8 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

I agree with you. I hope my rant was taken to be lighthearted. I love hipsters, they're just easy to poke fun at.

Cris A profile image

Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

i orginally though you were referring to low-rise jeans...hipsters! LOL yep, hard to miss them :D

Jensen 7 years ago

I totally agree with you and your outlook. Hipsters are so easy and fun to poke fun at. Yet, I bet I fall into some sorta hipster category, except I am modest, and I don't think im cool, and Im always down to talk to someone with a good friendly attitude. As long as people don't get hurt biking, then its all good on the streets.

Thorne profile image

Thorne 7 years ago

Nice hub. Really nice bike. Did you do the work yourself? I would love to see more pictures of the bike. I'm working on a fixed gear conversion but who knows if i will ever ride it as a fixed gear like you said not just anyone can(should) jump on and ride a fixed gear. A single speed is a better fix for my bike dabbling. I have some pictures of the project on my hub. Good luck with the Hipsters.

oakland 7 years ago

OF COURSE YOU DON'T HATE THEM...c'mon, you know you secretly love hipsters and kinda aspire to be one. Its clearly hidden behind your "don't get me wrongs" and "just for the records". You have accurately summed up the scene quite well tho.

composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

thanks, oakland!!

vince 7 years ago

Yes there will be deals to be had on track bikes when the fad dies but what about all the vintage bikes that have been stripped of their components and frames painted over? Riding a multi geared bike is not a lot of maintenance and easy to do maintain yourself once you learn. I take pride in maintaining my bike and riding a smooth shifting geared bike.

composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

good point, Vince. never really thought of the vintage bikes getting ransacked. i love riding fixed... for the pure joy of riding that way. i am not big into conversions any way.

Oreste 7 years ago

one does not "peddle" on a bike; the word is PEDAL, PEDALING, etc

[to peddle is something eles]

composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

hehe! good point, but i'll leave as is re: authenticity.

Chris 7 years ago

Dude/Dudette I agree you have a love-hate relationship with hipsters/yourself. No 'hipster' thinks they are a hipster... it's only objectifying eyes that identifies someone as such.

I will however take issue with your Bianchi. That frame is akin to a pair of (checkered) Vans and a (striped) hoodie even more than the trendiest of hipsters allow in good taste. A chrome Bianchi Pista frame is a shiny, cheap bike du jour replacement for a real cycling heritage. I see you also have one Deep V rim just like eveybody else. Thinking about a front Tri-Spoke and riser bars to go along with your anti-hipster bike?

Anyway, have a great day & I love your haircut!


BlackBiker 7 years ago

Yea a bianchi pista is like the late 2000's version of the mesh trucker cap.

composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

hehe again. i wish i could afford 'real cycling heritage,' but since i cannot i bought a Pista stock for $500. And then i bought Deep V's (there are two on the bike pictured) because they take a beating at a reasonable price. Alex Rims don't.

oldfartNYC 7 years ago

Well, I just bought a Bianchi Pista a few weeks ago. Did I make a mistake? I was pushed into trying a fixed gear at a bike shop I've frequented for decades. The first few moments were frightening but I quickly realized the potential. I then test-drove several entry-level models before landing on a Pista. Yikes, what's all the fuss? So far its been a great bike. Fast, agile... perhaps over priced? Is that it? To me its like a pair of Levi 501s. Old Navy makes arguably better, cheaper jeans these days but who cares? Its a very common, standard-issue track/street bike. A successful design. For a guy that's been on a bike since 1964, geared or free wheeled; Im having a blast relearning the basics of pedaling... but I don't get all the fuss. Its fun, seems like a nice ad hoc community of really average people a bit younger than me. To the style police its a silly fad? Well... I guess your right(?) I sure am enjoying the freedom of "no gears" and light weight, super simple machine that's very shiny. Fashion statement? Who exactly cares about that anyway? Should I be worried I've fallen into a trap? In the mean time, can I enjoy myself as someone else worries over whether or not this is a new skier vs. snowboarder argument. Remember that one? Or, should have gotten the Jamis?

composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

The Pista's just fine, don't listen to people who are too cool.

lumberjack profile image

lumberjack 7 years ago

oh those hipsters! :~)

hipstere 7 years ago

you're calling out hipsters yet you're riding the typical hipster bike? a bianchi pista with goofy colors. maybe you're the real hipster. By the way im pretty sure that bike is from like 06 so way to jump on the band wagon

fixed gear bikes 7 years ago

gotta love the bikes and their owners. Nothing wrong with fixed gears...just make sure you respect the function more than the fashion. Of course in Los Angeles, function is never valued more than function, and function and fashion can be blended well together to become one, but when you start removing safety features for fashion purposes (e.g. brakes), then it becomes a problem.

Pedal safe!

acuj 7 years ago

Thanks -- that explained everything. I was wondering about the benefits of a stripped bike -- they didn't make any sense to me, and now they do. You also described a lot of people I know now, and that helped too. Thanks again!

Luke 6 years ago

Well, I have no intention of ditching my SS, considering I didn't want to own a car anymore and pay for insurance.

zach 6 years ago

biking is a huge fad. I live in Richmond and have been biking for years and local state parks since I was a kid with my dad, then some of my hipster friends start riding and they act like they invented it.

thetruehipster 6 years ago

is it just me? sounds kinda like you are the real hipster, trying to be "old school" with your 5 years on a bike. ride whatever you want and don't worry so much about everyone else.. jeeeeeeez!

rpthompson profile image

rpthompson 6 years ago

"No 'hipster' thinks they are a hipster..."


carey 6 years ago

ha ha ... stumbled across your blog when searching for 'vintage fixed wheel bike los angeles' as I am moving from London to LA next year and debating whether to leave my loveable vintage fixed wheel at home. loved your light hearted rant about hipsters ... we call them shoreditch twats where I come from (East London colloquialism). Can you actually buy vintage fixie's in LA? thanks

composed profile image

composed 6 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

One of the upsides of all of this, Carey, is that you can buy a whole bunch of different types of fixed gears in LA when people jump off of the bandwagon or seek cash in the bad economy. Search on Craigslist for starters, but beware of stolen goods!

nekillpack profile image

nekillpack 6 years ago from Utah

damn hipsters

Brandon 5 years ago


Brandon 5 years ago

the point of this is stupid. people that act like they ride them for whatever is bullshit. i enjoy the ride and the freedom of my bike. but in reality i don't need to ride my bike in the snow. i ride my bike a lot but when it snows, it goes up. does that make me a hipster for not riding my bike in the winter so the bottom bracket shits out every 2 months.. hahaha not

Matt Weiss 5 years ago

Hipster or "real rider," you shouldn't ride your brakeless bike in traffic, period. That's not what it's for; it's not safe and it's not legal. You can't drive a Forumla 1 or NASCAR car on the road, either.

Keep your track bike on the track. If you want to ride it on the road, put some brakes on it.

god 5 years ago

i ride brakless where i want and do because i can barspin get your wak ass skliis up , the level of talent is very high now

Jame 5 years ago

I ride a geared bike and I really prefer the factor of I can ride extremely fast.

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WillWoolley 5 years ago from London

Haha I love this, I think Hipsters ride freewheel though as they can't ride fixed, they tend to just have the bike as a fashion. Funny read dude, cheers. Hipsters are big in London at the moment http://www.the-hipster.co.uk

Seaneria 4 years ago

I love my fixed gear. It's part of my stable alongside my medium travel (6') 2x10 mountain bike and my single speed rigid mountain bike. Fixed gears make great commuters. I didn't buy vintage though as I didn't see the need or any purpose. "Hipsters", not that I think the term has ever really been clearly defined, grouped to the vintage bikes because at the time they were cheep...which quickly bit those jumping onto the trend in the ass as the new trend is to buy an older bikes for an absorbanent prices. Retired track riders must have felt like they had won the lottery. Also, for commuting, a vintage track geometry wasn't what I was looking for. Vintage bike conversions also cost a bit more because you have to add a tensioner typically as the bikes have vertical dropouts. I built up an NS Analog in matte black with Paul hubs, velocity wheels, deity ring, Premium cranks and a surly cog. The goal was durability, style, and simplicity.

Glenn 4 years ago

It's pedal dumbass, What? Too cool for spellcheck, poser.

arcoputra 4 years ago

hipsteria 19 months ago

In internet comments, no one is a hipster.

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