The year was 1887 when Sir Frank Bowden purchased interest in a small bicycle business on Raleigh Street in Nottingham, England. The company, which would one day grow to an international bicycling force called Raleigh UK Ltd., began with a humble single-speed model, a bike with no freewheel but tires capable of treading the rolling dirt tracks and cobblestone streets common of the era.
Fast forward 122 years. It is 2009 and a new type of single-speed bike is in fashion. Now called fixed-gear bikes — fixies for short — the pared-down and freewheel-less models are popular with urban riders looking for an ultimate connection to a machine.
Indeed, you cannot coast on a fixed-gear bike. As long as the wheels are moving, so is the cog, the chain, the cranks, the pedals, and, consequently, your feet, which may be caged or clipped in via the cleat of a bike shoe.
A fixie can be a wild ride, a thrill where your body is locked to the motion of spinning wheels on a road. But once mastered, a fixie provides a unique type of control, as a rider can accelerate and slow down with the pedals. Some fixie riders eschew brakes altogether, learning to slow and skid to a stop when needed with pressure applied against the always-propelling cranks.