November 28, 2007


I ride a fixed gear bicycle (pictured). They are also known as track bikes. Or, more popularly as messenger bikes, due to their large prevalence in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities where the vocation of messenger is still alive and well.

These bikes have one gear, and only one gear. They are not a "single gear" bike that allows the user to coast, like a Cruiser, or a BMX bike. If my back wheel is in motion, so are my legs. They do not have twenty-one (21) speeds for me to pick and choose from. My chain is connected directly to the cog that makes the back wheel move. No technology.

Yesterday, I stopped by onePlace on the way to class to say hi to Kevin and Mark. While our friend Ace was riding around on my bike, Mark made a comment about progress. "You know, there is a way to have the bike keep going when you aren't peddling. And to change gears to adjust resistance. It just doesn't make sense to revert back to only one, fixed gear. Technology should always be moving forward."

I stood there awhile with nothing to say. He makes a viable argument, but it just didn't sit well with me. I know that technology is good - for society, the economy, adult entertainment, and many other things. We developed cellular technology, and I haven't lived in a place with a land line for four (4) years. Furthermore, our phone numbers don't start with the city's name any longer. You have a better chance calling 867-5309 than you do Pennsylvania 6-5000. And even if Jenny wasn't home, you could leave a message on her voice mail, yet another mad advance in this crazy world of ours.

Later in the afternoon, a few of us went to the Phoenix Art Museum to check out the new Graffiti Fashion exhibit. Free on Tuesdays! After that exhibit, we strolled up the stairs to the Center for Creative Photography for the traveling exhibit about Group f/64. Group f/64 might sound familiar to you because it was the battle cry of Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, Sonia Noskowiak, and Ansel Adams. It was there in the gallery that I finally found the words to describe my feeling earlier that day. Here is an excerpt from the Group's Manifesto:

The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.

Purity. This was it, I found my answer. People sometimes revert back to a single, fixed gear bicycle because they desire the purity of control. Much like how Porsche and Ferrari still offer their vehicles with manual transmission as standard. Purity of control. Sometimes people are so fed up with the direction of photography, that make a pact to avoid glossy prints, and narrow focus. Sometimes a callback to the basics is really rewarding.

This one might be a stretch, but what if there is a group of people who decide to rebel against the technology of warfare, and engage in the purity of diplomacy? Neat idea, huh?

So next time you see someone without a digital camera, automatic transmission, or a ten (10) speed bike, remember - technology doesn't always have to move forward.

"Being thus and no other; containing nothing that does not properly belong."
(Definition of "pure")

PS- Here are some cool things you can do with a fixie.


fromtheashes said...

I don't know sam, seems like that sliding around in the video can't be good for your tires. It does make me want one though.

brittany said...

i'm down with the fixie...everyone knows

Samuel I. Richard said...

You're going to have to learn how to ride any bike, first... :)

Lewis Cash said...


Great post as usual. I am very interested in fixed gear bikes as I love riding bikes. (Actually I rode mine everywhere I went from April to August, but haven't ridden since my bike accident because I haven't got my bike fixed and now its snowing here.)

Anyways, I have always wondered what the deal with fixed gears was. I don't really understand it, or why it is more "natural" than bikes that coast. Maybe you could enlighten me.

All I know is that in Portland, every single hip person you see has a fixed gear and they almost take pride in how old and beat up it looks. I'm not sure where "purity" ends and looking cool and fitting in begins. Let me know your thoughts on this.

Samuel I. Richard said...

The line is thin, that's for sure. But when your feet are in the toe clips of a fixie, you are in control. The bike does not start until to tell it to. It does not stop until you tell it to. There is ultimate control.

Many people use fixed gears and track bikes for tricks and show. But some people drive stick shift cars because they are cheap, not because you are one with the vehicle...

I know for me, a lot of the initial appeal was due to the fact that "everyone" was doing it. But I'm still doing it because I fell in love.

Conversion kits are pretty cheap over the net, or your local shop could probably build you a new wheel for a fair price.

Good luck, and keep me posted.

timuthee said...

Hmmm while it seems to make sense in general... didn't the simplicity of "war" come first? It seems to me that diplomacy is the "advancement." I mean what's more simple that the survival of the fittest?

Samuel I. Richard said...

Tim, you caught me. I was stretching the word and concept, and of course the public policy guru calls my bluff.

By saying "diplomacy", I meant peace. Like talking with Iran, instead of threating them with war. After all, they were telling the truth about the nuke program, right? We could have found that out if we asked them. But peace is just a little pipe dream of mine...

Also, I think the purity of peace was first. My buddy Adam and his lady Eve were kicking it in the Garden without much trouble. But Cain had to go and spoil the whole thing. If only he had the foresight to sit down with Abel to chat about the differences in offering, we could have potentially missed the whole war boat. I'm sure God wouldn't have minded a little sharing of the corn, a little sharing of the cow. :)

Glad you stopped by, looking forward to reading more of your stuff as well.

John Spencer said...

This is why I don't have a cell phone and why I ride a bike (albeit a bike with gears) to work. I am attracted to the mystery of purity and the fine line of staying relevant while not becoming an android.

I feel this tension all the time as a teacher. I think the "man and machine" motif is the defining theme of our age.