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fixie

noun [countable]

a bicycle with one gear which has its pedals connected to the back wheel

'For a growing number of avid cyclists, the fixie is in … One gear. No freewheel to allow coasting. You pedal, the bike moves. You stop, it stops.'

NWANews.com 19th November 2007

The coolest thing on wheels in 2007? Ferrari? Lamborghini? Well, actually no, Sturmey Archer, and yes that's two wheels not four. Enter the fixie, the simple bike that's pedalling its way into widespread popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.

lightweight and easily manoeuvrable, fixies have suddenly become incredibly fashionable, posing serious competition to even the most sophisticated mountain bikes

A fixie, often also referred to as a fixed-gear or fixed wheel bicycle/bike, does not have the same gearing system as a conventional bike. Instead, the rear wheel and pedals are connected through a single gear which is anchored to the rear wheel. This of course has implications for how the bike moves and should be ridden. Fundamentally, in order for the bike to move, the rider's legs must be moving too. This means that there is no way you can 'coast' (continue moving after you have stopped pedalling) on a fixie. It also means that there is no conventional front brake. In order to slow down or stop, the rider must use their leg muscles, usually by pressing backwards on the pedals.

Lightweight and easily manoeuvrable, fixies have suddenly become incredibly fashionable, posing serious competition to even the most sophisticated mountain bikes and their multitude of gears and comfy suspension. They have been exhibited in the London Design Museum, and appeared in advertisements for high-profile sports brands such as Nike and Puma. Websites, too, have played a major role in accelerating their popularity, with fixie fanatics showcasing photos of their beloved vehicles on sites such as fixedgeargallery.com.

Background – fixed-geared bike to fixie

In the context of growing popularity, the expression fixed-gear bike/bicycle is now often abbreviated to simply fixed-gear (used as a noun), which is in turn informally abbreviated to fixie.

Fixed-gear bicycles have been around since the late nineteenth century, and when first introduced were sometimes described as safety bicycles. This was because they had replaced high wheel cycles, bikes with enormous front wheels which were notoriously unstable. Until the invention of the free wheel in 1897, fixies were even used in the Tour de France.

In the late 1970s, fixies became the preferred mode of transport of New York bike couriers, who favoured them for being fast, strong and virtually maintenance free (no brakes and no sophisticated gearing meant that there was less to go wrong). They were also more stable when riding hands-free – handy for bike couriers balancing heavy parcels whilst pedalling along suburban streets.

Today, as well as being a cheap and simple alternative for urban cyclists, fixies are also popular in the sporting world. Because they don't allow riders to coast and demand use of the leg muscles both in speeding up and slowing down, racers like them for training purposes. Fixies are also popular for track-racing in steeply banked velodromes.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 22nd January 2008.

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