reverse-evolution of a bicycle
In my teens i started working as a bike messenger. It was my first job out of school at 17.... my first day i showed up on my Kettler Alu-Rad mountainbike, lunch packed, ready to ride. Benno, the aussie senior rider at office express was showing me the ropes for the morning... he had legs like a bison and was riding an old crapper with just a few gears. I remeber being surprised at his choice of steed.......i was already a competing cyclist and the distances were ok on my legs, though the weekly totals added up to weekend cramps for the first month or so.
I started in the miserable wet wintertime, poorly kitted out with standard office express issue para rubber windbreaker (stretches the truth to say raincoat) and a pair of ten dollar shoes. My bike, i thought was a shining example of what was perfect for an urban assault. Comfortable seat for long days in the saddle, plenty of gears for all the wellington hills, big tyres for kerbs, stairs and small cars that i envisioned i would inevitably be trundling over in my haste. I even had a repair kit under the saddle for on the fly emergency repairs.
Finishing my first week was thrilling and satisfying... I was a good tired, ready for a beer and i already had some good work stories. Things were great and i loved the job.
The following monday i rode down Bolton street to the OE base, my brakes made a graunching scraping sound as i came to a halt. my brakepads had worn thru in one week. Over the rest of the winter i would find this a fortnightly routine of replacing the pads, and so my account at the bike shop started....and grew and grew and grew.
Off the shelf bicycles just aren't made for the persistent hammering a messenger bike must withstand. You are not just riding in a straight line, you are constantly changing gears, braking, jumping kerbs or steps, and mounting/dismounting the bike. Everything wears out lightning quick...and it all cost money to replace.
Derrailleurs would last 3 - 6 months, brake pads in the winter 2 weeks, summer 1 month. handlegrips 3-4 months, saddles 6 - 12 months, tyres 3 - 6 months (depending on how much you like to pull 30 m skids down the terrace and onto woodward) The only wheels i could afford would last around 6 months. Cassette freewheels around 8 months before either the ratchet had worn out or the bottom cogs were shot.
The evolution of my messenger bike (and many others i am sure) followed this formula over a period of a few years of learning the hard way!!
1. Grip tape wore out again, got no money for more... i'll just leave it.. don't need it anyway
2. Seat fabric tore again from leaning against buildings 60 x a day. foam is falling out... i'll just rip the foam off and sit on the moulded plastic (this polishes up nicely after a month of riding and can be pretty comfortable)
3. Rear brake cable snapped, darn it... hardly use them any way so i'll take 'em off
4. Grrgcraunch.... there goes the derailleur around the spokes again... i'll just shorten my chain and run on a single cog and make do
5. crrkatktktkt...clunk. there goes the freewheel... looks like i need to replace the hub. i know... i'll just put a bmx hub on with a single speed freewheel....great~!!
6. Gunning it down the hill, lights are gonna change but i think i'm gonna make it..... turning orange....still gonna do it... quick change red, traffic crossing....shit, not gonna make it... full front brake, move back on the seat.....SNAP, SHit F&*k....cable snapped... peripheral vision, hole in the traffic... prayers!!!......ahhhhhhhrgh!!! ... and thru the gap without being collected by any bull bars.............. maybe i don't need brakes, i can just put my foot on the tyre if i need to stop, or i could put a fixed cog on the back and brake using the pedals
And so... what is left is a fixie much like any you have seen on the streets lately.
Other factors affect the evolution... like narrow bars to shoot the gaps, track frames as opposed to MTB or road frames as they have the horizontal dropouts necessary to tension the chain and crappy paintjobs coated in dents and stickers... which come with the job but also act as a theft retardent... who wants that piece of junk with no gears anyway.
So a fixed gear bike is what is left after you strip away anything which could take time or money to replace on a regular basis. All that is left is the necessary parts, wheels, frame, bars, cranks, seat and the purest enjoyment of riding It's heart still lies in messengering but the simplicity and low maintenance has won many more people over than just messengers or track cyclists.
The first time you ride a fixie it feels weird... but after just a week you realize the rythym and pace of riding can be meditative... and because you have to put in effort to slow down, your pace becomes more even and you learn to preserve energy by avoiding rather than slowing down or stopping. Riding brakeless you also become super alert... using all your senses especiallly peripheral vision and hearing to analyse all upcoming escape routes or possible scenarios... it is total focus and removes any other thoughts or stresses.