The hipsters’ legacy to cycling
Hipsters are apparently long dead (or at least, transformed into something different). In 2010, mass-media were ready to write long obituaries on the dismissal of the ‘hipster fandom’. They might have left though something valuable behind, apart from their much conspicuous irony: the stripped down urban bicycle.
If it wasn’t for the hipsters, the fixed gear craze wound’t have taken a global turn. Always in search of what’s new, what’s unheard of, be it obscure music or indie films from Scandinavia, these young urbanites were also interested in mashing all this with the ‘old’. The iPod, yes, but also the vinyl. The Instagram, checked, but always paired with the Lomo.
They did the same with the bicycle. They were fascinated by a subculture popular in the 90s and 2000s, the bicycle messengers, and decided it’s time to do some free style around it. They loved the idea of the diamond frame, stripped down of all gears and cables, but they fancied as much as that the whole concept of craftmanship around the steel tubes from late 20th century and would spend days and days on eBay biding on a particular and quite expensive brazed frame handbuilt by some Italian independent constructor in Northern Italy.
The first to react to such potential (and influential) market weren’t the big bicycle companies, that weren’t fine tuned enough to promptly react to the trends on the urban streets. It was in the first place the fashion industry (see Diesel, Reebok or Vans) that mass produced single speed diamond framed bicycles that could be easily turned into fixed gear by a simple flip flop of the hub on the back wheel. Others such as Playboy (see slide below) followed the lead, long before the big players in the bike business finally seized the opportunity: Giant produced the Bowery in 2010, Trek launched its District model the same year. By that time, the small players (Charge or Create) were already there.
I’ve been quite a few times in London in the last couple of months and I’d say I haven’t seen as many hipsters as single speed and fixed gear bicycles (the former are not as easy to spot as these bikes). They are all over the place, especially in central London, colourful bicycles ridden by men and women, who have no intent to dispatch any important package. The usual hotspots where you could buy custom fixies such as Tokyo Fixed or Brick Lane Bikes not only didn’t close down their business, but are now challenged by many other new shops (Look Mum No Hands or Velorution) who sell similar (mass-produced) bikes.
This second wave of single speed / fixed gear trend seems more ready to adapt to what the market needs. You really don’t have to be a ‘connaisseur’ of cycling legends or to search the whole internet for some obscure Italian frame builder. You can simply pop into a shop, pick the colour for the frame, pick another one for the saddle, than another one for the chain, and, finally, another one for the pedals. And here you are, you just bought yourself a ‘highly customized’ bicycle. More recently, you don’t even need to go to such a shop, you simply go online and visit the webpage of a regular retail shop, such as Urban Outfitters. Click to pick your desired colour for each component and you have your own rainbow to ride on.
The hipsters might have dissappeared or just been replaced by the more fittest urban survivors. They left something important behind, though. The single speed / fixed gear is now a fashion in its own right. The promise of simplicity, accessibility and extreme customization of these new bikes puts them in a position to outlast the now defunct hipster. And, why not, maybe create an entire new generation of urban cyclists.