[messengers] Brake away bikes, Tapei

Date: 15 Jan 2011 15:52:27 +0100
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


Brake away bikes

   

Transplanted from Japan 
and the US , fixed-gear
biking has quickly grown to become a familiar sight in urban Taiwan 

   

By Ho Yi  /  Staff Reporter

   

Tapei Times, January 13, 2010

   

   

Many of Taipei ’s
best-known cyclists gathered outside Ximen MRT Station on a recent Saturday
night. Peng Wen-yan better known as A-bao, arrived with his team Skunk. Members
of the Nabiis (www.nabiis.net), a pioneering fixed-gear bike group, looked
agile in their professional outfits, while riders from BreakBrake 17 (breakbrake17.com)
were in high spirits after winning the trick competition held outside Zhongshan
Hall  earlier that day.

   

   

Tension mounted as the designated time approached. “Ready,
go!” a timekeeper shouted at 9pm sharp, beginning the third alleycat race
organized by Beardude, (beardude.com), an online community for fixed-gear
enthusiasts. More than 170 young cyclists wasted no time in blocking traffic on
 Zhonghua Road 
and racing to the first station at the Bopiliao Historical Block in Wanhua
District.

   

Twenty-seven minutes later, the first racer dashed to the
fifth and final checkpoint at Huashan 1914 Creative Park .

   

   

Fixed-gear bicycles, or fixies for short, are a
back-to-basics mode of transportation with one gear, one sprocket and one brake
(if any). The vehicle’s rear cog is attached to the wheel, which means the
pedals are synched with the wheel’s motion. In other words, if the bike is in
motion, so are the pedals and the rider’s legs. Cyclists slow down or stop on a
fixed-gear bicycle by resisting the turning pedals with their legs. A front
brake could help, but many cyclists choose to ride without.

   

   

With their streamlined design, fixies were ridden in the
early days of the Tour de France and used for track racing on the velodrome.
Then derailleurs and multiple gears came along and forced fixed-wheel cycling
to the sidelines. Years later, fixies were adopted by bicycle messengers in New York City .

   

   

It is hard to pinpoint when and how urbanite fixed-gear
biking achieved its current hipster status in countries like Japan and the US,
but it is commonly agreed that the trend took off in the past decade, complete
with a utility-based street chic that encompasses skinny jeans (to avoid
getting caught in the bike chain), narrow sneakers (to fit into the pedals) and
large single-strap messenger bags. The 2007 documentary film Mash SF is said to
set the benchmark for the street culture of fixed-gear cycling by capturing the
adventures of bike messengers weaving through traffic, doing tricks and
whooshing down the steep hills of San
  Francisco .

   

   

When riders such as A-bao and the Nabiis cyclists started
weaving in and out of traffic on the streets of Taipei more than four years ago, fixed-gear
bicycles were virtually unknown here. “When we first became interested in this
type of bike, we couldn’t find components and frames at local shops or online
emporiums. Bike store owners thought we were crazy to want to ride a bicycle
without brakes,” said 26-year-old Hsieh Chia-cheng, cofounder of Nabiis.

   

   

It didn’t take long before fixed-wheel fever took hold
around the country. The population of fixie riders has swelled in the past
couple years, and bike clubs and teams have proliferated in cities such as Taipei , Taichung , Tainan , Kaohsiung 
and Hualien.

   

   

“You can determine the rise in popularity from the volume of
online shopping for fixed-gear bicycles. About three years ago, you couldn’t
find any entry online. A couple of years ago there were about 20 to 30 pages of
items to browse through, and the number jumped to 70 last year,” said Kenny
Lai, owner of fixed-gear shop Calorie in the Ximen District 

   

   

Now fashion publications like GQ are writing about them, Japan ’s street fashion brand MSPC is selling the
hip fixer-look to Taipei ’s
scenesters in the capital’s East District 
and a young demographic has embraced fixed-wheel cycling.

   

   

“People who were first attracted to fixies were more
creative types like artists and designers. It wasn’t until one to two years ago
that young people started jumping on the fixie wagon after reading about the
trend in street fashion magazines like Bang and Cool,” said A-bao, who set up
his fixie workshop Swirly Whirly in 2009.

   

   

Fixed-gears may be trendy, but the enthusiast culture
surrounding customized bikes means they are also valued as a means of
expressing individualism.

   

   

“I choose to ride fixies because I want to be different,”
said 20-year-old Tseng Shih-hsiu from fixed-gear team Braised Pork Foot,(BPF),
whose members are mostly musicians and designers. “There is no end to how
unique you can make your ride, and the bike always reflects the personality of
its rider.”

   

   

Simplicity is another frequently mentioned attraction of
fixed-gear bicycles, which have a clean, elegant look. Unlike geared bicycles,
with their abundance of parts and accessories that can break, fixed-gear bikes
require little more than a few drops of oil on the chain every once in a while.

   

   

“Fixed-wheel is a return to a simpler time when no fancy
accessories were needed. There is a sense of freedom in it, and you become a
little boy again, just wanting to ride with friends and have fun,” novice biker
Lo Tien-yi said.

   

   

A host of fixed gear-related activities have sprung up in Taipei over the past two
years. They range from alleycat races and trick competitions to bike polo games
and social rides. Hosted by Nabiis, Friderday is a well-known event composed of
cycling activities and games as well as large races. One recent effort to
promote fixie riding is Pop 5, a get-together of riders who pedal around the
city every Friday night. Lots of Vans, tight jeans and tattoos were in evidence
at a recent edition of the weekly event that saw some 30 fixed-gear cyclists
assembling outside the Sogo department store’s Fuxing branch on Zhongxiao East Road 
in Taipei .

   

   

However, a mixed crowd is not a common sight, as each bike
team has its own territory in the city. Members of BPF are sometimes sighted
practicing tricks on the square in front of Taipei 101. The Nabiis team trains by cycling
up the mountains in Waishuangxi on a weekly basis. Skunk, led by A-bao,
maintains a presence in the Minsheng neighborhood across town.

   

The riverside park under the Dazhi Bridge 
has become a favorite spot with riders from BreakBrake 17, a swanky fixed-gear
shop near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall The riverside area has recently been
furnished with mobile toilets and extra lighting at night, thanks to the large
crowds attending the nearby Taipei International Flora Exposition.

   

   

Though the urban biking scene is dominated by males, Fixed
Gear Girl Taiwan 
(FGGT, fixedgeargirltaiwan.blogspot.com) is undoubtedly the most noticeable and
eye-catching team in town. The group was set up in June 2009 by several young
female riders in the hope of encouraging more women to take up riding fixies.
When these amiable lady bikers hang out and practice tricks outside Zhongshan
Hall along with an all-male gang of BMX bikers, they chat about anything from
how to match clothes with bicycles to the limited range of small frames for
Asian women.

   

   

But when it comes to business, competition is unavoidable.
Both Lai of Calorie and Ken 

   

   

Su, owner of BreakBrake 17, point out that the past few
years have seen great efforts made to capitalize on the fixed-gear trend as
manufacturers, both new and established, rush to produce new frames and
components.

   

   

Since Taiwan has a strong bicycle-manufacturing base, it is
not much of a surprise to see local fixed-gear brands such as Favor Bikes
(favorbikes.com) and Steel Fixed Gear expanding their ranges, selling
Made-in-Taiwan designs not only to riders at home but to cyclists in countries
including China, Japan, Thailand, Australia and the US.

   

   

“Skateboards and BMX bikes have developed in the West for
over two decades, but it has only been a few years since fixed-gear bicycles
took over the street. The way I see it, we stand a chance of taking Taiwanese
designs to a global market,” the 32-year-old Lai said.

Cyclists and extreme-sports enthusiasts are drawn to the two
wheelers, Lai said, because fixies enjoy a variety of advantages over other
bikes: “You can simply ride them, go airborne or do tricks.”

   

   

Gen Tsuchihashi, a Japanese messenger who rode for By-Q for
five years in Tokyo before setting up the
courier company Prodorapid (www.prodorapid.com.tw) in Taipei ,
said that when he worked as a messenger in 2005, the majority of Tokyo urbanites didn’t
know about fixed-gear bikes. “But now they’re everywhere,” he said. “The
fixed-gear craze is a global phenomenon.”

   

   

And what do enthusiasts who identify themselves with the
messenger culture and regard themselves as skilled riders think of
trend-chasing kids riding fixed-gears with bulky frames in crazy colors?

   

“It’s all good as long as people are having fun,” A-bao
said.

   

   

  
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