Fixed gear bicycling -- no brakes, no stopping, no fear
Mashing, weaving, spinning, dashing through traffic, all seemingly without a care in the world and fear for life and limb -- welcome to the world of fixed gear bicycling. CNNGo touches wheels with the riders of Crank Gear Steady.
Hakim from the Singapore triathlon forum once posed the question, "Aren't these fixed gear bikers famous for their 'weaving against traffic' modus operandi and 'cyclists are above all vehicles' attitude?"
It feels good not to be a motorist stuck in a traffic jam. And that's why the guys from Crank Arm Steady love their fixed gear bicycles and nighttime rides.
But what is a fixed gear bicycle? It's a brakeless, single-speed bicycle without the ability to coast because the sprocket is screwed directly onto the hub, so there is no freewheel mechanism. Whenever the rear wheel is turning, the pedals turn in the same direction, which allows a cyclist to stop without using a brake by resisting the rotation of the cranks, as well as to ride in reverse.
In so many words, you've got to be pretty skilled to ride one.
Weaving through traffic & bombing hills
But with the dangers usually associated with this sport, why do it?
"It's the adrenaline rush when we're mashing [weaving through traffic]. It's something that you must experience when you're there, now. We become one with the bike and everything else isn't as important," said Bey, Crank Arm Steady's founder, and a web-designer by profession.
One of his friends, Yasin, a junior photographer, agreed, saying "We have to keep pedaling [otherwise the bicycle wheels will lock], so we can't coast on the bike and space out. Somehow I get a heightened sense of awareness; like I've got four to five eyes on my head. And I can 'see' the cars and know where they're going when I weave through traffic."
"We take on alter egos when we ride. Jacky here is the most humble, soft-spoken, and relaxed person, but when he's on the bicycle, he's crazy! Like the devil on the bicycle! You should have seen him skid five meters to a stop!"
Jacky, co-founder of Crank Arm Steady and owner of Sup Clothing, looked sheepish and grinned a bit. "Everyone goes crazy. We want to be faster than the other rider. So we push it. Unlike skateboarders, we travel faster and further; we go really, really fast."
Their favorite activity is "bombing" hills, in which they rush down a steep hill on their bicycles. It's a test of guts and skill, and it's lot tougher with brakeless fixed gear bikes.
Bey says, "San Francisco is full of steep hills so it's easy for riders to find a hill. In Singapore, our current favorite is Sommerville Road in Serangoon. It's so steep that you can't see the end of the road, just the rooftops of the houses! We can go -- what? -- 40 to 50 km/hour, down that hill! It's a rush going down and skidding to a stop!
It's in fashion
It's the adrenaline rush when we're mashing. It's something that you must experience when you're there, now.— Bey, Crank Gear Steady's founder
Some bikers might feel incomplete if they're not decked out in the latest biking spandex outfits.
The Crank Arm Steady folk don't really care what you wear.
Skinny jeans, soccer jerseys, gray singlet, whatever... it's your call. But gear and shoes, now that matters to them. As Yasin says, "At least I thought that messenger bag was some fashion thing. But there's a reason why they've created it. It feels like a third arm, and I don't feel the weight when I'm riding with it."
Even more important are their bicycles, also known affectionately as "wives."
Jacky says, "There's the appeal of customizing your own bicycle. Skateboarders can only customize their skateboard tape. But our bicycles can have any color or paint job, and any bike accessory [such as rims, handlebars etc.]. It really depends on your own style."
Jacky and Bey started out with the basic bicycle frame and built up their bicycles from there. While the frame is relatively cheap ($400 for a basic frame; $800 for a basic fixed gear bicycle), the price goes up depending on the accessories, such as wheelsets and crank sets.
Regardless, creating your own fixed gear bicycle is a source of pride.
After all, "It's not a fixie until you fix it together," according to Bey.
Crank Arm Steady rides every Friday at 7pm, gathering at Sup Clothing. All bicycles are welcome and safety gear is optional, but helmets are recommended for beginners.
34 Haji Lane, Singapore. www.supclothing.com
Fixed gear bicycles are available from TR Bikes
#01-107, Blk 7 Jalan Batu, Singapore, tel +65 9640 7102. www.trbikes.com
Opening hours: Mon-Fri noon-7pm, Sat 10am- 6pm, Sun 1-4pm