For the last five years, this column has avoided covering one of the hottest youth-culture urban crazes in the bike world: the fixie — a minimalist, single-speed bike with a fixed gear and no brakes. Some people like them ugly, others gaudy and others tricked-out with doodads and custom paint jobs. To be honest, I thought these bikes, which have introduced thousands of former non-cyclists to two wheels, were dumb deathtraps (hey, no brakes?) and that the fad would disappear along with the first crash.
Well, fixie-mania keeps growing, and a big reason for it is that the bikes are getting fixed. Riders and manufacturers, responding to public safety laws and common sense, have added brakes, multi-gear hubs, freewheels and fluorescent night-light paint. This makes for safer, more practical bikes that are faster, can coast and are more enjoyable to ride — all while keeping the minimalist and mandatory fixie look.
GT Meatball: Aluminum-frame two-speed with an automatically shifting hub and a rear coaster brake
Likes: Logic and simplicity. Same cool fixie look with a simple frame and flat, gray paint, but with the addition of two gears, a brake, no cables and no thinking — so you can fit in yet go faster. The rear hub, using the centrifugal clutch of the SRAM Automatix 2-speed hub, reads your speed and shifts automatically into the higher gear when you hit about 10 mph. The big gear allows for a fast cruising speed. To manually downshift for hill climbing, just coast momentarily; it'll downshift. The auto-shift quickly becomes second nature. Purchased separately, the Automatix hub ($87) can be retrofitted to your old bike.
Dislikes: There is no fixed gear, so it's not a fixie. Since it auto-shifts for you, if does not give you a feeling of control, as with the 2-speed "kick-back" system of the Torker KB2 (see below). As with all the internal-geared and fixed-geared bikes in this review, there is no tool-free, quick-release lever; a 15-millimeter wrench is required to remove either wheel.
Price: $780. (800) 843-2453; http://www.gtbicycles.com
Pure Fix Cycles Kilo: Steel-framed fixie with front brake, flip-flop hub and glow-in-the-dark paint.
Likes: Classic fixie with additional style and safety features. The 13/4-inch deep aero rims are stylish, and the fluorescent paint and left front brake will keep you alive on night rides. While you can't coast with a classic fixed-gear because the pedals keep moving, the "flip-flop" hub allows you to convert the Kilo from a fixie to a practical, coasting freewheel bike by simply flipping the rear wheel over to the other side; takes about 3 minutes. Frame holds one water bottle.
Dislikes: No rack mounts or quick-release hubs.
Price: $399. (855) 255-5011; http://www.purefixcycles.com
Raleigh Cadent i2 x 8: Do-anything, aluminum-framed fixie lookalike with a hidden 16-speed drivetrain created by an internally-geared crank and rear hub.
Likes: The ultimate looks-like-a-fixie/isn't-a-fixie bike. The beautiful, minimalist frame is not cluttered with visible gears, even though it is so loaded with them that you could use it as a commuter, fitness, or touring bike. The 16-speed sleight-of-hand pairs a sleek two-speed Metropolis planetary-gear crank (which replicates 28- and 45-teeth chain rings) with a time-tested Shimano Nexus eight-speed hub and their cables. The shifting works perfectly via two handlebar-mounted twist-shifters; There are no other clues that gears are present. A carbon fork and rack/fender mounts complete a handsome, versatile package. Note: Purchased separately, the two-speed Metropolis crank can be retrofitted to any fixie ($299).
Dislikes: Has no fixed gear or quick-release hubs.
Price: $1,100. (800) 222-5527; http://www.raleighusa.com
Torker KB2 2-speed: Fixie replica with a two-speed Sturmey Archer "kick back" rear hub.