Fixed-gear bikes see rise in “fixie kids” in Chicago

Places like the CVA (above) have seen a rise in fixed-gear bikes. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)
Places like the CVA (above) have seen a rise in fixed-gear bikes.
(Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)

A few years ago, before cycling was as common in Chicago, Manuel Tenorio was closing his bike shop, Johnny Sprockets.

He grew up riding bikes in Chicago. He taught himself to ride at a young age after stubbornly refusing help from his father. Over the years had developed a thick skin, necessary, for being a regular cyclist in a city dominated by cars. “I got used to people yelling obscenities at me, calling me everything and anything,” Tenorio recalls. It was common to weather both verbal and physical assaults as a commuter.

That’s why this day was different. Tenorio remembers with a smile on his face, “I’m almost home, and this kid on the corner, yells at me. There was a group of kids, and they all have fixed gear bikes and it’s like five or six kids, and one of them yells at me. And I see him coming up, and (I’m) just, like, getting ready, and he goes “Hey man, nice bike!” And I just did not know what to do with that… I barely could respond because I just didn’t understand that someone was throwing out a compliment for the first time ever. And that was a fixie kid.”

“Fixie kid” is a term used to represent a certain demographic of cyclists. They are high school aged, usually riding brightly colored track bikes, and they come in packs, about three to five generally. Their track bikes are fixed gear bikes, where the motion of the pedals is fixed to the motion of the rear wheel. There is no coasting. Pedal forwards and the bike moves forward. Pedal backwards and the bike moves backwards. This means that fixed gear bikes do not require breaks-although it is still smart to use them. Stopping is possible under the power of the rider’s legs.

The trend of fixed gear bikes is a decade old, and is now established. A new sub-trend has emerged out of it, however, with fixie kids. They wiz around Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Avondale in small packs that some view as gangs or bike thieves. Tenorio has seen a different side of them.

“I see kids getting on bikes, and that’s really exciting to me. Because when I was a kid, you stopped riding bikes in high school. Everyone stopped riding bikes in high school.” He adds, “But I’ve come across many of them in the shop, both locations, and I talk to them. For the most part they’re just good kids that are riding together, having fun.” The predisposition towards these kids as thieves is unfounded in Tenorio’s experience. For every kid he has caught stealing, a twenty-something professional in a tie has been caught just the same.

These fixie kids are discovering the liberation of cycling. The city opens up without having to pay for public transit, gas or parking. There are health benefits both physical and mental that come with the activity.

As more and more find this freedom, the roots begin to be lost. Suddenly the kid up the block has a fixie, and others want them to assimilate. Moises Hernandez has been swept by the movement himself.

“I will admit I became consumed by the hype, but after riding and constantly learning the advantages of cycling, I became more and more invested in cycling. The reasons why everyone joins the fixed-gear “movement” vary, but most join for the hype; at the end of the day, it’s one less car on the road and does the environment (good) and one’s own health (as) well.” Moises started a Facebook group for kids to buy, sell, and trade bikes, as well as organize group rides and races.

He is very accustomed to both the positives and negatives of the trend, but keeps a positive outlook. Hernandez also advocates for the efforts to save the South Chicago Velodrome on his Facebook page in the hope that kids may find some organized outlet for their cycling passion.

For Manuel Tenorio, it is simply exciting to see kids interested in the sport, and he hopes to contribute to the growing opportunities for kids to expand their interests into the other cycling sports, such as mountain biking, bike polo, and cyclocross. All of which are opportunities that Tenorio lacked through his childhood. “I do think that these kids need some guidance so that they’re not getting hurt and they can weigh all their different options. It’s not just about that bike it’s about all the different things you can do with a bike.”