I have to admit that I’m not a keen cyclist. Don’t get me wrong, I think bikes are great; wonderful objects that serve a noble purpose. A to B using your legs – practical, economical, ecological and fun. I’m no enthusiast but what is there to really dislike? To me bikes are a timeless contraption and a rather warmly remembered childhood friend. I have the clichéd memory of my stabilisers coming off: Dad running behind me saying “I’m still here…I’m still here”. Then all of a sudden I realised he wasn’t. I’m alone, gliding across the earth, propelled at what seemed like tremendous speed by my own body. I bet loads of people of all ages have something similar, it’s a glorious image that bridges generations.
The bike is a universally loved force, it exists for young and old without clique or pretence. Then a few years ago it dawned on me that cycling was somehow becoming really hip…like so ‘hip’ that the word required a defacing ‘…ster’ attached to the end. My humble two-wheeled companion had moved to Shoreditch, grown a moustache and was handing around with the trendsetting arty folk. How the hell did that happen?
This state of ‘bicycle cool’ was vaguely unnerving; I had always just thought of road bikes as these everyday functional objects (like cutlery or shoelaces). Somehow they had now become customisable fashion statements that many newly enthused people suddenly found almost-arousing. The handlebars, the little caps and the facial hair all went together to form a new kind of trendy person. Some cool people played in bands…some cool people rode their bikes around. I didn’t understand.
Everywhere I looked there were bearded yet impossibly well-groomed men on very expensive road cycles that often only offered a single gear. “What about hills?!” I shouted to myself (in my own head). I’ve definitely seen hills in east London… This state of cool stood in contrast to that rad style of bike that my 11-year-old-Sum-41-freak-in-a-flame-shirt-self would have immediately gravitated towards: the BMX.
Deleted E.T scene, the one when Elliot forgot to check the basket was properly attached.
While road bikes were wonderful in a very ordinary way it seemed to me that BMX’s were clearly what young adolescents like myself were supposed to ride: a child’s bike that cool grown-ups sometimes did ‘extreme’ (this was the marketing word of choice for generation-Y and man did it work) stuff on. The moving images I had seen on imported (M)TV cemented that BMX’s, along with skateboards, mountain boards, surfboards, rollerblades…and at a push micro-scooters, were the very essence of being awesome. Admittedly they didn’t prove particularly useful in the rural English countryside unless my friend Lewis was willing to let me stand on his stunt pegs (never once used for ‘stunts’) and get a lift to the newsagents but at least it made sense.
People did impressive things on BMX’s to a soundtrack of So-Cal Punk-Rock. Something seemed to suggest that babes might be into it. The fashion was sort of Hip-Hoppy and urban. Baggy and rebellious. Not like lame road biking clothes. Dad wore that shit. He looked like a hunched moron, what with that spandex and his funny little shoes. I probably looked like a rapper or a member of Limp Bizkit. The ‘cool’ factor associated with BMX’ing was obvious.
Artist’s impression of a Shoreditch hipster, just in case you’ve never seen one in the wild.
Then suddenly I was 19 years old and things became a little blurry. At a party someone whispered into my ear that BMX’s were totally out and normal sized fixed gear bikes were now the new ‘it’. My heart dropped. I didn’t understand how this change could have happened. Dark forces were at work. A thin mist of sweat began to form on my forehead. My pupils became dilated. I looked round to see if anyone else had heard before writing this crucial new fact down in my notebook of 2009 things: ‘Big bikes…retro…Dub-Step…beard…little cap with pointed peak…’. It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t. 7 years have since passed.
My clearly metaphorical 2009 notepad is redundant. Now I’m ageing rapidly, living on a houseboat in the middle of nowhere. London is a distant memory and I can’t say I’m particularly aware of the latest trends. I’m going to look at some gardening supplies tomorrow. Yet I can’t shake the feeling: cycling has reached a hipster tipping point. Bikes have gone full circle and a fashion statement. Kind of like when sculpted beards crossed so far into the mainstream that Jeremy Paxman decided to give one a go, then everyone hated them.
Is everything returning to normal? Are bikes going to be just bikes again? The internet will help me find out. I Googled ‘are fixed gear bikes cool?’. The first result was ‘Top 7 Reasons Why Fixed-Gear Bikes are Oh-So Hot Right Now’ – it was published in 2010. Things move fast. 6 years is enough time for a fad to become redundant. A more recent piece decrees “The fixie is meant for the velodrome, and it excels there. Taken anywhere else, it’s nothing more than a borderline non-functional cliché”.
There you have it. My pathetic amount of research has reached its conclusion. The bike has been returned to the people! Shout it from your windows, let the church bells ring. There is no elitism. Communism works! We are all in it together. Except for the real bikers: the competitive kind of lycra enthusiasts. My dad basically. I haven’t really touched on them but we all like Bradley Wiggins so let’s just leave it at that? Great.