Fixed-gear bikes: Fashionable fad or true sport?
On any given Wednesday night you can find boys on bikes flipping tricks in an empty parking lot, dubbed Tawanna. Sounds are limited to rubber skidding on asphalt, laughter and the occasional pop of a tire.
Lit by the orange glow of streetlamps, this is the playground of fixed-gear bike gang Far Fast, a dedicated community where members can go to socialize, observe, trade moves and learn new tricks.
A fixed-gear bike cannot coast like a regular bike. This means that when riding, the pedals must always be in motion. And since there are no brakes, a smooth skidding halt is your only option. Originally intended for messengers to get around city streets quickly and efficiently, 'fixies' achieved extreme popularity in Brooklyn and L.A. in the mid-2000s.
New York novelty in Bangkok
A fixed-gear enthusiast, Thai musician Jay Montonn Jira remembers first bringing the novelty bikes back from New York City in 2005.
“There were only a few people [in Bangkok] that even knew about the bikes back then,” he recalls “I didn't realize it would become such a big hit here.”
But big it got. Around 2008 the trend officially caught on in Bangkok, embraced by every hipster in town.
Now there are over 20 bike gangs, determined by neighborhood, totaling around 300 riders in all. As one of the first gangs in Bangkok, Far Fast’s crew has certainly grown in size as well. Two years and countless popped tires later, Anuchit Puenhinlard, aka Sky Pedal, is sponsored by bike brand Fuji and is Far Fast’s top trick rider. He demonstrates a famous stunt called the Bunny Hop Bar Spin, where he hops on the hind wheel of his bike while simultaneously spinning his handle bar. A sticker-covered helmet was a must during the two weeks he took to master it.
Fix it up good
Pimping these rides has become de rigueur for those most serious about their sport. Some riders have up to two or three bikes, and with prices starting at 13,000 baht, this obsession can become an expensive habit. Additionally, a rider can customize the color, frame, pedals, tires, rims, spokes and wheels to showcase his or her personality.
Some claim this makes the fixie scene as much about making a statement as it is about the sport. But one of the scene's protagonists says this only holds true for a certain type of fixed-gear rider. Kunttaput, a.k.a. Ball, is the owner of clothing store Sneaka Villa in Siam Square, and is the creator of BKKfixed.net. He was one of the first to spread the word about the sport and now is loosely acknowledged as the leader of the crowd, organizing events, setting up press for competitions and helping to place Bangkok on the global scene.
Ball comments, “For now people look at fixed-gear in two ways; either as fashion or as a sport. The ones who look at it as fashion will surely disappear with the trend. And you can tell who they are because when a magazine comes to interview they conveniently show up, ride around for a bit, and then wind up taking their bikes back by BTS. But people like me, who look at it as a sport; we’ll keep it going.”
Whether it's art, fashion, healthy living, or just plain fun, it’s always good to see committed communities in Bangkok. The word is out: the fixie is the new skateboard so pick up a bike, strap on your neon cap, flip the rim and start pedaling.
Click here to watch a video of the Far Fast gang in action. For more on Bangkok's fixed bike scene, visit SiamFixed.com.