Not-So-Easy Rider

Fixed-gear bikes are a reflection of the city's growing urban culture


Remember your first real bike as a kid, the Schwinn without training wheels, one speed with the coaster brake, and how you aspired to upgrade to something cooler with enough gears to ride up the side of a building?

In homage to a pre-derailleur world when all bikes had one gear, the trend in cycling is moving toward a subculture of minimalists that live to spin only one. The fixed-gear bike has the anti-establishment draw that skateboarding and surfing once had.

"It's like eating ice cream for the first time," says Geoff Nau, thirty-six, a former BMX and road cyclist, of his transition to fixed-gear cycling four years ago. To help other people get into it, he started the NoDa Velo club while building bikes for others out of his garage.

The trend evolved—or devolved—over the past three decades from the daily grind of big-city urban bike messengers, who believed that the only purpose of cars on a street was to give them a slalom course. Toss this borderline suicidal joie de vive with a fixed-gear bike with no brakes, and you have a group of people who may never be insurable.

From the New York tribes—the term club just doesn't seem appropriate—like Black Label, Chicago's Rat Patrol, Mash in San Francisco, and Dead Baby in Seattle, the culture has expanded in Charlotte through loose-knit groups like the Noda Velo and the Rag Tag Armada.

"It feels like the mid-'90s when BMX made a resurgence," says Cory Slusher, a former owner of the now defunct Lucky Cycles that was the de facto clubhouse for "fixies." "A week doesn't go by where I don't see a new kid out there."

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