Francesco “Fran” D’Anna is staring down the famed Cat’s Hill in Los Gatos. The 24 year old taks to the slope a grade of 23 percent.
D’Anna locks his legs, stopping the back wheel as he slows a bit, then continues through the intersection unscathed and unafraid as if he was in complete control the whole time.
The subculture known as the fixed-gear bicycling scene is spreading into neighborhoods across the Bay Area. Once a fixture of urban centers New York City and San Francisco, “fixies” have trickled to the South Bay first to San Jose and now its surrounding areas.
Whether you think fixed gear is just a passing fad or just getting started, one thing can’t be denied it’s spreading.
In case you’re reading this and donlt know what a fixed gear is:
“A fixed-gear bike is essentially a track bike with a fixed cog, instead of a freewheel, that doesn’t allow the bike to coast. As long as the wheels are in motion, the pedals move in the same direction, and the bike has the capability to move forward or in reverse. Some fixed-gear bikes are equipped with a braking system, but most experienced riders ride brakeless, stopping or slowing only by resisting the rotation of the cranks.”
Track bikes originated in the velodrome an arena for track cycling until bicycle messengers picked up on them for their simplicity and low maintenance. The bikes were easy to maneuver in urban areas and were lightweight and versatile enough to take everywhere.
But almost a decade ago, riders started performing tricks on the bikes, moving the fixed-gear scene once more.
The person largely responsible for bringing fixed-gear to the South Bay is Mark Cosio, founder of San Jose Fixed an online community bulletin board where riders can organize rallies and post discussion topics. He also opened iMINUSD a bike shop specializing in fixed-gear, single-speed and track bikes about a year ago in downtown San Jose, just as the boom was taking place in the area.
Since then, his customers have come from Sacramento, Stockton, Gilroy, Santa Rosa and even San Francisco, supposedly the birthplace of the sport.
“Before I started riding, there were probably three or four other guys I knew riding fixed-gear bikes downtown, and now they’re on every stoplight, every street corner,” said Cosio, a seven-year fixed-gear rider.
In truth, fixed-gear bicycling is practiced all over the world in major metropolitan areas. Only now, though, is the movement starting to hit neighborhood streets.
Similar to what Cosio did in San Jose, D’Anna brought fixed-gear to Los Gatos, promoting the scene simply by riding through town and performing tricks like the surfer, in which he pops on top of the bike and balances using his feet. The trick isn’t specific to fixed-gear bikes, but it’s a show-stopper, and D’Anna says it leads to questions about what else he can do.
His arsenal of tricks include the wheelie, barspin, pogo, leg-over, whirlie bird and of course the whip skid for downhill rides. He’ll also cruise around on his 7-foot tall bike, also a fixed-gear, which turns a lot of heads.
D’Anna picked up on fixed-gear bikes through his bicycle messenger friends while he was attending college in San Francisco. When he moved back to Los Gatos, he brought the bikes with him and soon people began riding fixies around town.
“This little community started arising out of Los Gatos,” said D’Anna, who has ties to prominent fixed-gear riding crew Macaframa. “In the past three years in the South Bay Area, bike riding has just gotten exponentially bigger, especially single-speeds and fixed-gears.”
The fixed-gear movement has somewhat piggybacked on the success of San Jose Bike Party, a monthly ride of 3,000 to 5,000 cyclists hitting the streets all over the Silicon Valley. Just a few years ago there were fewer than a 100 regular riders, barely enough to cause a stir, but now there are thousands, most of whom are riding a fixed-gear bike.
The growth of the fixed-gear culture is akin to how other underground phenomenons have emerged. They’re first valued for practical means before developing an identity of their own as they enter a more widespread forum.
“It takes riding your bike and turning it into more of skateboarding,” says D’Anna, who works at Los Gatos’ Mike’s Bikes.
What he means is the nature of a fixed-gear bike makes it versatile to take around town, stop in a parking lot for some tricks and then head down a few hills if one is so inclined. Some observers have compared the movements in fixed-gear riding to that of board sports, particularly skidding which parallels carving in snowboarding.
The concern, though, is that enthusiastic yet inexperienced riders may be jumping on board before they’re ready. Veterans often caution beginners to practice fixed-gear riding with a set of brakes until they get comfortable.
“If you know what you’re doing, it’s just as easy as riding a bike with brakes,” Marshall said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get hurt, period.”
Marshall isn’t overstating that last part. One of the hardest things to learn about fixed-gear is how to stay in complete control of the bike, especially when traveling downhill. The constant movement of the pedals is awkward to learn at first and goes against traditional bike riding, so “you basically have to learn how to ride a bike all over again,” said Brian Hamilton, 20, of Summit Bikes in Los Gatos.
Traveling downhill requires a great deal of agility, body control and leg strength, Hamilton said. As the bike picks up speed, the rider’s legs have to keep up with the pedaling motion, otherwise all control is lost. Fearful beginners may instinctively pull their feet off the pedals to slow down, but that’s probably the worst thing that can happen.
“You’re at the will of the hill at that point,” Hamilton said.
A fixed-gear bike has an element of danger to it, but it also provides its share of health benefits and advantages. It takes a lot of energy to constantly pedal from place to place using just one gear, and even more effort is exerted performing tricks.
The other attraction is the aesthetics of a fixed-gear bike. It’s fairly inexpensive and fully customizable, which is a major appeal to a generation with a vested interest in originality, Cosio said. As styles shift back toward a simpler, cleaner look, fixies appear to have the edge over the bells and whistles of a more modern bike.
“The thing with trends is that if it’s a trend and there’s no substance to it, it goes away,” Cosio said. “The reason why fixed-gear got so huge is because it actually works you out and gets you in shape. I know some riders who came in looking like Jell-O and they come out looking rock hard.
The appeal of fixed-gear seems deeper than just fitness, however. Word of mouth and videos on YouTube have created intrigueabout the sport. It’s something most people have never witnessed before, with maneuvers on a bicycle that are unheard of but open the door to endless possibilities. Sometimes watching the perfect sequence of tricks can be almost poetic.
“I’d say we’re not even close to our peak yet,” he continued. “This is the early development stage, but there’s still a long way to go.”
You can read full original article at Mercury News