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Hipsters, Fads, and Fixed Gear Bikes

Updated on July 16, 2011

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.

My Fixed Gear
My Fixed Gear

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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