Fixin' to Ride
For a growing number of Hawaii cyclists, less is more. Who needs all those frivolous gears and brakes?
Photo by Olivier Koning
Forget tricked-out mountain and triathlon bikes, the latest craze for local riders is bare-bones minimalism, with fixed-gear bikes.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a fixed-gear bicycle does away with multiple gears and even the freewheel, meaning that it’s impossible to coast—when the rear wheel is moving, the pedals are, too. Want to climb a steep hill? You’ll have to get out of your seat and work for it.
For bicyclists used to luxuries like derailleurs, the idea sounds punishing, but fixie enthusiasts revel in the simplicity. “It’s like the difference between driving an automatic and a stick shift,” says Ryan Lau, the author of Aloha Fixed, a local blog on the fixed-gear scene. “It takes a little time to learn, but after awhile, coasting just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
Originally designed for velodrome racing, fixed-gear bikes are now being used as everyday street rides by hip 20-somethings. Chris Blumenstetter, at the nonprofit Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange (KVIBE), says he sees an ever-increasing number of riders building and customizing their own bikes. “When I moved to Oahu in 2001, there were a total of three fixed-gear riders on the whole island. Nowadays, I probably do eight conversions a month.”
Part of the attraction of stripped-down fixed gears is the low cost of entry (as little as $100 to convert an existing bike at KVIBE), but just like any other sport, the sky’s the limit when it comes to drool-worthy equipment. Those with cash to spare can order immaculate, candy-colored Bianchi or NJS track bikes that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum.
Interested in checking out the scene? Monthly fixie events such as Aloha Sunday (visit www.alohafixed.com for the next one) are the best way to find out more about fixies, even if you don’t have one yourself. “Come out and ride,” says Lau. “People who ride fixed in Hawaii are friendly about riding. If you like bikes, they’ll like you.”