Philadelphia Metropolis


A Field Guide to Fixie Chicks

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A few weeks ago I was riding home from my studio, tired and grimy after sculpting all day. What I wanted and needed was a hot shower and a hot meal and a few hours of sleep. It must have been around 2 a.m., because the bars were letting out and the sidewalks were getting crowded.

I was stopped at a light when something hurled itself on me and nearly knocked me over. It was a woman, blonde, dressed up, made up, heavily perfumed. She had me in a death grip around the middle. She was a lot bigger than me. She was shouting,

"I love Fixie Chicks! I got to give you a hug!" I could feel each word wet on my face. I was aware of an unhappy looking man on the sidewalk, calling to her. Mercifully, the light changed, and I twisted out of her grip and raced away. Later, I told my friends about this incident with much moaning and grimacing and unspoken pride. A Fixie Chick - a woman who rides a fixed-gear bike -- is a pretty cool thing to be.

Fixie Chicks are divided into four distinct strata.

At the bottom are those who enjoy the company of messengers but do not ride themselves. They love knowing bike people (both in the modern and Biblical senses) and throw great parties for them and know all the latest cycling gossip and are fanatical about the Tour de France. However, whenever they venture onto a bike there is a crash and a broken bone and a vow not to do it again.

Fixed Gear Bike.bmpNext up are the women, usually very young, who ride fixed bikes because it's cool. Their bikes are often brightly colored, new, and brakeless. They fall off a lot. They are the ones who bring a flat tire into the shop where I volunteer, complaining that their wheel is broken. Often they are the girlfriends of bike fanatics, and would secretly prefer to drive or at least ride in a Cruiser. They do have the look down: the short hair and bandanas, tattoos and clove cigarettes.

In the third category -- the one I fall into -- are women who ride a lot, enjoy it, and know something about bikes. Like the first group, we choose fixed because they are cool, but also because they are light, low maintenance, fun to ride, and have a have a twitchy responsiveness that is great for cities. These are the mechanics, the hardcore commuters, and the occasional racers. The bikes are still very much status symbols, but they are often vintage frames built up by the owner to her specific taste. They are more battered than those in the second category, and more loved. The look is much the same, only dirtier. The small backpack is replaced with an enormous messenger bag. The tattoos are larger. The right pantleg is always rolled up, to keep it out of the drive chain while riding and to display impressive calf muscles while not riding. I am something of an oddity in that I have no tattoos, few piercings, don't smoke, drink rarely and bathe often.

In the top category are the girl bike messengers. They are hard riding and hard drinking and nothing is cooler than they are. Their wheels bristle with spoke cards and their bodies bristle with metal. They leave trails of broken collegiate male hearts wherever they go, and can be found in bars, often violently caressing each other. They hate inferior Fixie Chicks with a jealous passion and are quick with their steel-enhanced fists, but they are rarely challenged. They track stand on the pinnacle, and they know it. In Philadelphia there are about three.

I wonder what we would do without the crutch and symbol of our bikes. How would we define ourselves? Does any other accessory look so good thrown casually over our shoulders? Is there a more stylish entree into the coveted world of male envy?

As poetically as I may laud the happiness of slipping silently through traffic, keeping warm in the valleys between busses and floating past miles of cars, I know I could just as easily coast along on a steadier bike that would cost me half the money and a 10th of the time. I could save myself trouble by taking public transportation once in a while, which I don't, and there is no reasonable explanation for riding in torrential downpours, snowstorms, and blistering heat, which I do.

Fixie Chicks are not rational people. But I salute them, us (although we resent being classified as a group). I salute our choice of elegance over common sense. I salute our intrusion on a predominantly male world. I salute the importance we attach to one small cog. I salute our ragged beauty.

And, as a Fixie Chick, I swear and aver I will not roll my pantleg down.


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