Last month, Columbia Pictures debuted to wide release “Premium Rush,” a blockbuster movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a bicycle messenger who gets mixed up in a criminal plot in New York City.
The 91-minute movie is an action/thriller featuring numerous chase scenes through the streets of Manhattan. Gordon-Levitt rides the steed of choice for many bicycle messengers, a track-style bike with single-speed gearing.
The movie has heightened interest in the fixed-gear trend. According to a bike shop worker I know, many people came into her store after the opening of “Premium Rush” to inquire about fixed-gear bikes.
Association with a movie star always helps. But the speedy, minimalist aesthetic of these bikes doesn’t hurt either.
Fixed-gear bikes, or “fixies,” have no gear cassette, no derailleurs, and few levers or cables. Some do not even have brakes. They are lighter weight and, with fewer parts, less prone to breakdowns. Like all single-speed bikes, they usually cost less, too.
There is no freewheel action in the hub, meaning you cannot coast. The chain is “fixed” to the motion of the rear cog and chainring, and when the wheels turn the whole system — cog, chain, cranks, pedals, and the rider’s feet — are connected and moving in sync.
While coasting is not possible, there are advantages to the setup. The pedals control both acceleration (like on a normal bike) as well as deceleration (by pressuring the pedals as they spin).
This means you can slow down by giving subtle back-pressure on the pedals. You can skid to a stop by taking weight off the back wheel and locking your legs, which is how fixie bikers can ride without brakes. With enough balance, you can even ride backwards with a fixed setup.
In short, a fixed-gear bike offers an entirely different type of riding experience. For advanced cyclists — ostensibly like Gordon-Levitt and the bicycle messengers he’s modeling in the movie — the added control is an advantage for speed and maneuverability in a city.
People not used to a fixed-gear bike will feel helplessly out of control. If you forget for a moment and try to coast, the pedals will abruptly force your feet around in their circle, potentially causing a crash.
Since about 2005, I have ridden a fixed-gear bike to commute to my office as well as for fun. I compare riding a fixie to running on a bike — your legs are always in motion, and there is never a break.
I like the workout of riding this kind of bike, plus for me it’s more fun to have the extra control.
Fixies come in dozens of builds and from many manufacturers. You can buy cheap ones for $300. Pro-level fixed-gear bikes are speed demons made for Velodrome race tracks and can cost a few thousand dollars.
Affinity Cycles of New York provided the main bike used in “Premium Rush.” The company’s Metropolitan frameset, which costs $475, is Gordon-Levitt’s steed as he bobs and weaves in traffic. His feet spin, locked in motion and in sync with the fixie bike piloting him through the Hollywood plot.
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