A fixed gear bike is a bike with fixed gears. Until recently, they were seen only in velodrome racing.
Here is an example of an uber-hip fixie utilizing an ancient frame (carefully spray-painted gold and then scratched) with all new components. It does however lose some hip points with the addition of the front brake.
Many young people, often tattooed, have chosen to forgo technological advances made in the past 120 years in the field of human-powered vehicles. Eschewing such mechanisms as derailleurs, freewheel hubs, and brakes, they choose to ride fixed gear bikes. On a fixed gear bike, the drive wheel and the rear sprocket are fixed together and always rotate at the same rate. Consequently, the front sprocket and pedals rotate whenever the bicycle's rear wheel is rolling. The effect is that the rider may never "coast" with feet on pedals. (In olden times, before the invention of the freewheel hub, bicycle frames had footrests. The rider could rest his or her feet on these and allow the pedals to spin wildly as he or she descended a hill.) This also means that the fixed gear rider can stop his or her bicycle by applying reverse pressure to the pedals to slow the rate of rotation. Elite riders can skid their rear wheels by hopping them off of the ground and stopping the spin entirely. Really cool kids can "track stand," or remain balanced with no net forward velocity, by pedaling forward and backward and turning the handlebars. (The name is mysterious, as riders in the velodrome never stand still.)
A claim often heard is, "Fixed gear bikes pedal themselves! They make it so much easier to climb hills and cruise!" This virtue of fixed gear bikes is extolled by fixed gear riders who failed high school physics. It is true that the pedals do continue to turn when the rider is no longer putting energy into the system by converting the body's stored chemical energy into kinetic energy applied to the pedals. However, the kinetic energy of forward motion is turned into potential energy and entropy at the same rate as a freewheeling bike of the same mass coasting up the same hill.
The Relation to Late Capitalism
In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Life is reduced to survival: a life reduced to economic imperatives. All real, lived experience is replaced with the consumption of commodities, and the whole life is replaced by the assumption of roles. Fixed gear riders are particular about their consumption of commodities produced by the Spectacle and their part in the spectacle of production. Their role, like all roles, is based upon the consumption of commodities. However, this role restricts and prescribes its members' consumption in much greater detail than roles such as Soccer Mom or Mainstream Hip Hop Dude. This may because some aspects of the culture are linked to the DIY music and fanzine community of the 1990's. In fact, many participants from that community--at least, many of those who remained slim and attractive--have picked up on fixed gear bikes as a way to "stay young 'til [they] die."
Only the right kind of cheap beer. To be caught with a brand consumed by those who are actually poor is in bad form.
Old, heavy bike frames fitted with the newest, lightest components.
Downwardly mobile employment that allows late-night recreation, such as cycle messenger, bartender, or working for a non-profit.
By SteveR of the Landsquids