[This essay was originally hosted at LadyClever.com] Counterculture king Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes everything look cool. And in the 2012 film Premium Rush, JoGo plays a bike messenger in bustling Manhattan, named Wilee. Other riders have a laugh at his expense because he’s nerdily fascinated with what’s colloquially known as his “fixie”: a fixed-gear, steel-frame bicycle that has no brakes. Wilee cheeses it up in defense of his passion, and says “I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.” He dodges confrontation with some tricky backward pedaling, another feature of the bike, and weaves its lithe frame expertly through infamously nasty NYC traffic. It looks cool. He looks cool. It’s all very cool.
On the street in the real world too, fixies are definitely cool looking bikes, available in a full spectrum of colors and easy to customize. They’re ridden by cool people who embrace the zen feel of the fixed-gear ride and dig the unique, kind of retro look. Are you sensing a pattern here?
As with a lot of cool commodities, and most bikes, fixies aren’t cheap. So despite the trend, when I decided to buy a bike, my bargain-hunting side suffocated the side of me that strives to look cool and I sought out a practical alternative in a sturdy and cheap mountain bike. I needed my new bike to not be a disappointing investment if I didn’t quite take to my old hobby, or a huge loss if it got stolen on the streets of Burbank. After a few weeks of shopping and negotiating, I bought a great little ride for less than fifty bucks from Craigslist. Holla!
I feel really cool about my super thrifty score. I’ve felt cool riding it around my cool, and very pedestrian-friendly, neighborhood. I felt cool everywhere I took it until I had to get it repaired and encountered a rabid cult-of-fixie crowd at the bike shop. With not a JoGo-esque friendly face in the bunch, I started to tense up as the skinny jeans and vintage shirt-clad folks piled up around me while we waited for the shop owner to return from a lunch outing. After ripping the filter off of his Camel cigarette, and noting aloud a few times that the owner “keeps his own schedule” and might be really late, one of them finally acknowledged my flaccid tire. “Yo, you know my man can’t do anything but patch that tire, right? He can’t replace it.” I nodded and said that I’d come to this bike shop for a patch job before and was really happy with the place, plus I’d broke down nearby and needed to get it repaired to get home.
“Well, which direction do you live in?” he pressed. “There’s a place that way that might be closer to you,” he began, gesturing the opposite direction of my apartment. I pretty timidly explained that I live the other way, I like going to this shop, and didn’t mind the wait. He shrugged me off and seemed content to ignore me since he couldn’t chase me away. I wondered how, in a crowd of a half a dozen people where I was the only one that actually had a unique ride, did I feel like the square?
I realize not all fixie riders are heinous hipsters. But less cool than not riding a fixie, is riding one and making people feel like less than because they don’t. No, I don’t own a fixie. I own a cheap, durable little tank of a mountain bike that gets me allover town faster than my own two feet (and often faster than by car, thanks to L.A.’s legendary traffic) and keeps the SoCal sun shining on my face. After fearing a repeat of the West Side Story passive-aggression I encountered last time, I reluctantly slunk into that same bike shop recently for a small repair and was warmly greeted by the gracious and knowledgeable entrepreneur that runs the place. He didn’t care what kind of bike I have. I don’t care what kind of bike I have. And that is actually pretty cool.