The New York Times has a loooong article on, of all things, fixed gear bikes. In case you are among the 95% of us who have no idea what that means, it refers to a sort-of-crippled bike, without fenders, brakes or even a freewheel (yes, that means that you have to pedal constantly while in motion, and you have to apply back-pedaling force to "brake.") [photo:Harry Campbell]
The lack of amenities is no doubt done to save weight, and/or as a means of looking cool, or, as author Jocko Weyland writes praising the "modernist blending of form and function and a look that matches what they’re made for, which is going really fast on a banked velodrome track." Why the Times chose to devote so much scarce newspaper resources to such a fringe activity is beyond me. It will no doubt further serve to alienate that vast majority of people whose only experience with bicycling is the spandex-clad speeder who screams "ON YOUR LEFT" as (s)he whizzes by you, terrifying your four-year-old and traumatizing your dog.
The article claims that the lovers of fixed gear bikes may be as diverse as the general biking population (which is not saying much in the first place,) but to include "your aunt" as one amongst them, along with "militant vegans who are virtual encyclopedias of arcane bicycle history, [by] thrill-seeking members of renegade bike gangs like Black Label, [by] shopgirls, street racers,..." is perhaps stretching things a tad.
I mean why are we glorifying an activity where fans claim to "own the streets," "need a hope and a prayer to stop (remember no brakes)" and spend more than the average Brooklynite's monthly wages on their hunk of metal?
Should the Times not be encouraging instead the use of the bicycle by average folk on their average errands or commutes, both of which are ideally suited to pedal power in this flat and contained city? I live in Park Slope and use my cycle (which has fenders, brakes and a bell as required by the law,) as a means of daily travel. I try to encourage my friends, many of whom own bikes, to do the same. The more of us who do so, the better for the environment and probably for our health. But, as with joining the Park Slope Food Coop, it's difficult to sell people on the idea if the activity is put in a light not desgined to sooth the perceived fears of the middle class...I can just imagine my father saying "but Chandru, it's just not the sort of thing we do, is it?"
Well, it should be. Gentlemen (and Ladies) mount your bikes.