Fixed-gear bicycles have become an essential part of the bike messenger culture. They appear in movies and videos showing the deadly work-life of bike couriers. This may seem odd to outsiders since fixies have no brakes and only one gear. So, why do bike messengers ride fixed-gear bikes?
Bike messengers and couriers ride fixed-gear bicycles for five reasons: They are lightweight, low maintenance, reliable, cost-effective, and have a strong tradition and culture. In addition, they are light, attractive, mechanically simple, and contain fewer components. This makes them appealing to bike couriers, who want a machine that needs as little maintenance as possible.
But there’s a lot more to it than that. So, in this article, you will learn five reasons bike messengers love riding fixed.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 19, 2022, to include additional information about bike messengers.
Before getting into why bike messengers prefer fixed-gear bikes, let’s first understand what a fixed-gear bike is in the first place.
What is a fixed gear bike?
A fixed gear bike* is a bike that has only one gear. This means that the pedals always turn with the rear wheel, no matter the speed. Additionally, fixed-gear bikes are usually more durable than other bikes since they are less likely to require regular maintenance.
Do people still use bike messengers?
Yes, bike messengers are still in use today! With the introduction of app-based delivery services, bicycle messengers have remained in existence, but the field of commercial cycling has grown increasingly complex and nuanced.
Bicycle messengers and couriers can move around quickly and easily, so your clients will always be happy with their service. Bike messengers also utilize green transportation methods, which help to reduce pollution and save energy. This is why we have a ton of bike messengers here in New York City.
How can you tell a cyclist is a bike messenger?
If you see a cyclist with a messenger bag, odds are they are a bike messenger. This is not always the case, but, it’s typical in bike-friendly cities like New York City or San Francisco. If you are looking for a new bike messenger bag, check out these options below. The Chrome Industries Citizen Messenger bag *is my favorite.
Reasons why bike messengers prefer fixed-gear bikes
Riding a fixed-gear bike has many benefits, which is why bike messengers prefer it. The following are some of the reasons why many bike messengers choose fixed-gear bikes.
1. Fixies are lightweight
Because they require fewer components than geared bicycles, fixies are lightweight. As a result, the bike’s weight may be reduced to under 16 pounds. Having a light bike is fantastic when you have to sling it about all day and sometimes even climb stairs with it on your shoulder.
If the same weight were to be matched by a geared bicycle, the cost of the bike would be very high. If having a lightweight bike is a concern, then a fixie is for you.
2. Fixies require low maintenance
Fixies need minimal maintenance. Aside from yearly maintenance or an emergency, riders only need to oil the chain and pump the tires.
There are no derailleurs or brake pads to replace. A fixed-gear bicycle’s hubs are also pretty basic and should last a long time, provided they are of excellent quality and the bike is used on the proper terrain.
As a result, fixed-gear bicycles need less maintenance than road bikes. This characteristic makes them appealing to messengers, who log several hours of riding each day.
3. Fixies are very reliable
Because there are fewer components that might fail, it is more reliable. This is important because mechanical problems slow down the work and cost money.
4. Fixies have anti-theft characteristics
Many bike messengers ride filthy, unpretentious fixed-gear bicycles with scraped steel frames, ripped bar tape, and decaying paint. The common appearance, as well as the absence of extras and shining features, helps deter would-be thieves.
The learning curve is another reason why some criminals avoid fixies. Fixies do not have a freewheel. Thus, most novices will struggle to ride them securely and effectively. And if there are no brakes, the robber’s getaway strategy becomes much more problematic.
Furthermore, fixed-gear bicycles have a low resale value since most people prefer to ride a bicycle with brakes and the ability to coast, reducing the number of purchases from thieves.
If you are looking for even more security, check out the locks below.
5. They look amazing
The fixie has a beautiful, clean appearance that many messengers like. Even cyclists who aren’t messengers attempt to imitate the look by riding fixed, wearing denim shorts cut above the knee, and carrying a messenger bag over their shoulder. Legitimate bike couriers sometimes refer to people like this as “posers” since they are just copying the surface of the deeper urban bike culture.
6. Fixies are super fun to ride.
Some ride fixies for “the fixie experience” rather than for technical reasons. When traveling through the metropolitan jungle in fluid movements, people prefer to feel like they’re a part of the bike. This is a feeling you only get with a fixie. You can also do tricks on fixies that you can’t do on other bikes.
7. Strong cycling tradition
Bikes have been employed for delivery for a long time. For example, during the 1890s, Western Union in the United States used many bicycle couriers known as “bicycle telegraph boys.” The custom was carried on into the twentieth century.
The messenger bicycles were pretty bare at the time. They only had one gear and no method to brake other than back-pedaling.
Even while current fixed-gear bicycles are more complex and lighter than the machines used at the time, their simplicity recalls the early days of bicycle messengers.
Many bike messengers competed in track cycling in the 1980s. So naturally, many of them started riding their track bikes to work. This influx increased the popularity of fixies as courier bicycles.
Do all bike messengers use fixies?
No. No regulation requires a bike messenger to ride a fixie. Bike messengers use a variety of bikes for different purposes. Some bike couriers use mountain bikes or hybrids for the mountainous terrain that often exists in their areas. Others prefer road bikes because they are faster and can cover more ground. However, many opt for a fixie for the reasons discussed above.
How many miles do bike messengers ride a day?
There is no set distance or number of miles that bike messengers ride each day. This varies based on the rider’s skills and the type of bike they are using. However, the consensus seems to be that bike messengers ride anywhere from 1–5 miles per shift.
If you want to see an example of all of this in action, watch this video about Chicago’s most hardcore bike messenger from Owen Schatz’s YouTube channel.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Below are some commonly asked questions regarding bike messengers.
Are there still bike messengers?
Yes. There are a ton of bike messengers in New York City. With the introduction of app-based delivery services, bicycle messengers have remained in existence, but the field of commercial cycling has grown increasingly complex and nuanced.
Why do bike couriers ride fixies?
There are many reasons bike couriers might choose to ride fixed-gear bikes, the most common of which is that they are more efficient than standard bicycles. Additionally, fixies are much less likely to get stolen than standard bikes, which can be a major inconvenience for a courier who relies on them for income.
What bikes do bike messengers use?
Many couriers use fixies. However, bike messengers use a variety of bikes for different purposes. Some bike couriers use mountain bikes or hybrids for the mountainous terrain that often exists in their areas. Others prefer road bikes because they are faster and can cover more ground. Commuter bike messengers may use standard city bikes, while those who work in rural areas may prefer dirtbikes or even quad bikes—still, many.
Why don’t bike messengers use brakes?
Bike messengers don’t typically have rear brakes on their rear wheels because they’re not legally required to have them. So they ted to skid to stop the bike. However, they are still required to have a front brake. (Tho many still opt-out of those as well).
Even if you’re not a bike courier, a fixed-gear bike is a great mode of transportation. We hope this article encourages you to try one out today.
In this article, we covered seven reasons why bike messengers love fixes. Here are some key takeaways:
- Fixies are lightweight.
- Fixies require low maintenance.
- Fixies are very reliable.
- Fixies have anti-theft characteristics.
- They look amazing.
- Fixies are super fun to ride.
- They have a strong culture and tradition.
- Bike couriers tend to like fixies more than single-speed bikes.
So, are you a hard-core bike messenger who wouldn’t dream of writing anything but a fixie? Or are you a geared messenger who wouldn’t think of touching one of those godforsaken fixes? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.