Fixed-Gear Hooligans

Fixed-Gear Hooligan Manifesto!!

by Steven Karp

Editor's note: There are all kinds of fixed-gear bikes and fixed-gear riders. One kind is the city rider who rides brakeless in traffic, sports black denim instead of neon lycra, and hops curbs instead of gingerly carrying his bike up and down them. This kind of rider melds postmodern urban culture with the image of Sonny Barger's "1%" outlaw cycling, and it's a good fit.

Steven Karp's article serves as a manifesto for this kind of fixed-gear cycling. The present article began life as a series of e-mail exchanges on the FIXED-GEAR list, where some readers were questioning the ideas behind Steven's Fixed-Gear Hooligans designs. The discussion had many of the elements of a culture clash, and it gave Steven the opportunity to express his passions on the subject.

By the way, Steven makes several references to the area where he lives -- suburban Connecticut. But there are vastly different reactions to street fixes in other places. Here in NYC, fixes are regarded with a combination of mystifaction, awe and respect. Enjoy!
People see us as outlaws. We get judgments and disses. So we're "fixed-gear hooligans." And I'm here to say that cycling doesn't have to be about carbon fibre lust, boutique name-brand "proper" cycling clothing, and $200 Sidi shoes.
The "hooligan" term reminds some folks of dim-witted, slack-jawed drunks prone to mindless violence. But we aren't declaring ourselves to be hooligans -- it's just how some mainstream cyclist see us.
I'd hoped people would see the satire and tongue-in-cheekism from a mile away. The main point is to strip away all the cycling tangents that people get caught up in, and bring folks back to the bare basics of cycling for cycling's sake. By all means, wear what you want, ride as expensive or as cheap a ride as you want; but just ride for the *fun and camaraderie of riding*. There's no persecution; just reaching out to folks who might feel left out of cycling because it's gotten so expensive and caught up in the newest and shiniest and techiest'...

Snobbery in Reverse?
Yes, my little tirade is reverse snobism - but who speaks for the unspoken-for? And with a sense of humor? There was a time when cycling was a grass-roots, working class sport - look at vintage pictures of track racers. These guys doubled as boxers, or carpenters, or blacksmiths- they were everyday, bare-knuckle kinda folks. Out this way, people on high-endy bikes with high-falootin gear tend to disregard someone who isn't decked out in the same gear, with the same super bike....instead of getting angry at this fact, the decision was made to have some fun with it.
Here's the lowdown on Fixed Gear Hooligans for anyone who may be intimidated, offended, or put ill-at-ease by the concept: It is not a gang, or even a true club with dues and secret handshakes. It's a couple of patches which reflect an all-too common reaction to folks who happen to ride or maintain fixed gear or track bikes.

We're in the Minority
We all know that fixed gear bikes are in the vast minority of bicycles out there- for better or worse. Especially if you don't live anywhere near a velodrome, people will be even less used to seeing one. Out my way trackbikes are an anomaly - one that is usually (unfortunately) met with scorn by folks who don't quite know what to make of a trackbike miles away from a velodrome, let alone not on a banked track. That is, if they even know what a trackbike is! The most commmon response is a snorted:
"Whatta ya wanna ride one of those things for- they'll screw up yer knees"...
Whether from a passing cyclist or if you go into a bike shop that isn't familiar with the concept that fixed-gears make pretty decent all-around bikes.
Okay, not everyone responds with disdain- there are a good deal of folks who are enthusiatic or nostalgic about them- cheers to those open-minded folks! Most of the people who do slag off fixes and their riders are just repeating that age-old "they'll ruin your knees" mantra out of innocent ignorance - they've never ridden a trackbike in their life, but they always manage to know someone that has some irreprable knee damage or the like due to the evils of a cog screwed directly onto a hub.

Prepare to get Dissed
So why Hooligans'? Because that's how folks who ride fixes/tracks for fun or profit are *perceived* by (some)other, more mainstream cyclists. If you're outside of the somewhat narrow conventions of cycling, whether it be your choice of bike, your clothing, footwear - don't expect to get waved at by fellow cyclists, or welcomed with open arms on a club ride. That's a pretty sad statement about cycling right there. This is NOT always the case, but it does happen often enough to make people all over take notice and realize that maybe they're part of a fringe element of cycling.
This Club is not about prejudice of any kind, it's about having fun with people's perceptions of one narrow group of cycling enthusiasts who subscribe to a different set of guidelines. Yup - it could be seen as conformity to noncomformity, the way folks were able to poke holes in the whole punkrock ethos.

I've Even Been Snubbed by Other Fixers
Are people who ride trackbikes and fixes capable of the same level of exclusivity and snobbishness that Fixed Gear Hooligans' is supposed to oppose? Absolutely. You can't fight human nature. I've been snubbed by couriers who sneered at the fact that I had a front brake on my Pista - so what? There are no secret by-laws in the FGH Charter which says 'only wear punkrock clothing, ride recklessly, and never wave to other cyclists or help them out'.

No Laws
There are no by-laws or charters! There's only some patches and a desire to bring folks together who may be feeling excluded from the broader spectrum of cycling. It's a very Do It Yourself'(DIY) ethos: if there's no scene, you make one. No velodrome to race on: set up your own underground track series like the folks in the Richmond Sprint Club, or the countless alleycats that pop up here and there. Can't afford nice club jerseys? Get some patches made and sew them on your messenger bag, tshirt or whatever.
It's not an anachronistic desire to look backward- there *is* a growing number of people who live trackbikes and fixed gears. Maybe they're couriers, maybe they're bike mechanics, maybe they commute on a trackbike- but they're out there, just like in the old days.
We have fixed/track rides out this way that are open to anyone and everyone; we have underground races and feats of daring - all for the fun of riding a bike that's just a little outside of the mainstream. FGH is a celebration of being outside of that mainstream.
Instead of getting angry that some people perceive us as wanton, lawless, brakeless hell-bent brigands; we're having fun with those very notions.
© Steven Karp, 2004

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