The Track Bike
Everybody and their grandmother are riding a “Track Bike” these days. It used to mean something when someone said “I ride Fixed.”. Now the previously exclusive domain of bike messengers has become as much a part of your average hipsters’ wardrobe as a mesh back trucker cap or gas station attendant shirt. Can this boom in fixed popularity keep going, or is it just another passing trend like
All the first bicycles were what would now be called a track bike, or a fixed. Snappy cycling accessories like brakes and derailleurs had yet to be invented when the Tour De France was first run on the dirt roads of rural
Today there are only 16 operating velodromes in the land of the free, most used only by a handful of people. The Kissena Velodrome out in
When the messenger boom started in the 80’s the streets were filled with all kinds of different bikes. Messengers, like New Yorkers, come from all over the world and in other countries that are not as developed, people still ride fixed everyday. An unnamed messenger from
In 1984 the track bike gained a special place in the hearts of all NYC bike messengers when one of their own took a silver medal in the 200meter sprint at the Los Angeles Olympics. It was Nelson Vails who showed the world what one dedicated messenger and his bicycle could do. This caused a whole wave of messenger on track bikers to hit the streets during the ‘gravy days’ of the 80’s trying to emulate the new hometown hero. The impact was so great, that when the timeless messenger classic film “Quicksilver” debuted in 1986, Kevin Bacon runs out and buys a track bike when he drops out of Wall Street to find himself as a bike messenger. When the cycle messenger world championship started twelve years ago, couriers from all around the globe were impressed enough by the
The fixed has been a contentious issue in the messenger community since the early days. Many couriers share the view of regular folks that riding a bike with no hand brakes in
Many veteran riders have seen too many young bucks go down and not get up from an accident on a track bike.
“If you want to ride fixed in traffic then you need mad skillz my yut”, said Eddie Williams, author of “New York Messenger Life”, a collection of courier photos from a twenty year career as a messenger and a photographer. Eddie is also a Campagnolo fanatic and has a choice collection of the coveted vintage pista hard ware. Many see the fixed as a badge of honor that sets them apart from other riders.
“Messengers are like soldiers in the war against traffic who know that they could die in combat. Messengers on Track are like Green Berets who want to jump out of a plane behind enemy lines.” says Horeshack. The lightness and mechanical simplicity of the track bike is what draws many couriers. “There are just less things that can break. The bike is cheaper because you don’t have to buy shifters, brakes or levers”
Back in 1999 a Track rider named Snake threw an Alleycat race called “Monster Track”. It was the first of it’s kind; an illegal street race through
About three years ago, sometime after someone blew up the world trade center and dirty looking jeans came back into fashion, I started noticing them; hipster punks riding around on old road bikes with a fixed gear and (yuck) a brake or two. Most of them wore distasteful, mess bag like devices that are sold at the Gap and a shiny new kryptonite chain around their waists’. As one well respected courier put it, “I just want to knock one of them off their bike with an elbow to the face and say,”This isn’t for you, you little jerk-off’”. Most didn’t feel as strongly as he did, but many couriers have funny names for these characters like culture-vulture, poser, dick-jocker, tourist hipster scum and fakenger. They don’t have real track bikes, but converted road “wack bikes”. ”its fashion, not function”, says Alex, who opened Bicycle Doctor (
The draw of popular culture to track bikes is obvious and sometimes disturbing. Messengers have been a staple of the advertising business for years now. The have us selling watches, sneakers, cold medicine, banks, 401k plans, and even fucking cars. Can you believe that? It’s like, “Buy our car and you can run over these guys.” The NYT Sunday magazine is running ads for a SUV that stole three of my friend’s names and put them in the ad without paying them. Bronx Johnny indeed. The manufacturers of the killers of more Americans than handguns and terrorism combined couldn’t pay three regular cats whose names they stole. Thanks for nothing
Oh yeah, track bikes, sorry, I like to rant.
The allure of these pure machines is not easy to avoid. A classic Atala frame with full Campagnolo Pista Record groupo, Brooks leather saddle, Alfredo Binda double toe straps and Cinelli stem, is a vision most people will never see with their own eyes, let alone ride. Such a machine was made for a champion of the days of old and is the goal of any true track rider to assemble. To accomplish such a task one needs to be resourceful and adept, skilled with tools and blessed with a delicate touch. You must be able to identify the worn markings of constantly changing logos on even the smallest nuts and bolts. A whole new vocabulary must be understood and a mind for geometry is a helpful tool. Otherwise you will swiftly fall victim to the hucksters that work at many bike shops and infest the black market. For example; how do you know if your Bianchi was made in
A true Fixed Fanatics bike will show not only their wrench skills but their taste. Some go for retro styling, while others want only new high tech parts. Some distinguish their bikes with bright tires and toe straps that match the bikes paint job. That’s rookie shit. If you want to impress me have all the same parts from the same manufacturer from the same year. If Phil Wood hubs still impress you, you might be a rookie. Phil Wood hubs from 84’ would get my attention. Remember if you can just buy something at the store, its not that cool, anybody can get one.
It looks like the mass commercialization of the fixed has begun and it won’t turn off any true fixed fanatics away from their bikes. There will still be velodromes and Monster Tracks after all the hype dies down and college kids get back into rollerblading. If the hype can get big business to not only invest but share some of the bread, maybe Monster Track will be an x-game event in a few years. Knowing corporate
By the way, No one is impressed with road bikes with a fixed wheel jammed on the back. It might be a good idea for a beginner to slap together and see if they like riding fixed before they go out and spend a lot of money, but don’t expect anything but snickers from any true disciple. Even if you go to one of the little track bike boutiques that have been popping up and get a real bike, don’t try to race me over the bridge or in traffic, because you ain’t gonna beat me. You might even get yourself killed by an SUV.