Fixed gear trick riding catches on in Portland

Posted by on April 1st, 2010 at 10:07 am

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Tommy Lee works on tricks under the Morrison Bridge.
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(Photos © J. Maus)

Portland’s bike scene is always taking new turns.

Allow me to introduce you to Tommy Lee, Ramon Antonio, and Clay Caldwell. These guys are part of a growing group of Portlanders that like to do tricks on their fixed-gear road bikes. I caught up with them under the Burnside Bridge on Tuesday to get to know more about their favorite pastime and snap some photos of the action.

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Ramon, a San Francisco transplant, says the fixed-gear freestyle scene reminds him of the skateboarding scene about 10 years ago. But, as I learned yesterday, what these guys are doing is not to be confused with the traditional “fixie scene,” which centers more around messengers and racing in alleycats and on the track. “It’s sort of like a different bracket of the fixed scene,” says Clay. Tommy says, “This is a splinter off of the fixed gear scene, we took it in a new direction.”

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Known as fixed-gear freestyle, 700CMX, trick track, or any number of other names, the idea behind it is simple — just have fun. The sport itself has been popular for many years in San Francisco and Japan, but it’s still just beginning to catch on in Portland. For Tommy, Ramon, and Clay, it’s a great way to blow off some steam (or, as Tommy put it, “It’s somewhere to put my energy”) , get a rush of adrenaline, and challenge themselves with new moves — all on a bike that does double-duty as a commuter.

The bikes are simple and clean: One gear, and no hand brakes or cables. Most of them have flat bars (although Tommy likes the classic look of his drop bars) and wider tires than typical road or track bikes (up to 40c, whereas a typical road bike size is 23c). Many of the parts being made for 700CMX come from BMX companies. One of them, SNAFU, recently launched a line of components for 700c, which is recognition that the sport is taking off. Other companies who were first in the market are Purple Machine Works and Volume.

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Tommy, Clay, and Ramon.

As for the lack of a hand brake — which is unfortunately still illegal in Oregon — I asked whether or not cops ever hassle them about it. “Oh yeah,” said Ramon, “I’ve got a court date next week.”

The tricks reminded me a bit of the freestyle and flatland BMX I remember doing when I was a kid (GT Pro Performer represent!). There’s a lot of balance involved. Tommy worked on pulling off a one-handed wheelie, Clay did some great bunny-hop bar spins, and Ramon would endo into a wall and then spin out of it on his back tire. Riding in reverse (which is more difficult than it sounds) is another popular trick.

If you want to check out fixed-gear trick riding, there are about 6-8 regulars who show up under the west side of the Morrison Bridge on Thursday nights. They’ve also got a Facebook page where you can watch videos, see photos of bikes, and meet other riders. Another place to check out the fixed scene in Portland is PDXFixed.com.

For more photos of Tommy, Ramon, and Clay in action, watch the slideshow below:

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

50 Comments
  • Avatar
    cyclist April 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Johnathan: Why is the law about handbrakes on fixies unfortunate? It seems like a common-sense law to me.

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    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

    it’s unfortunate because the law should include an exception for bikes that have a fixed gear — which allows them to be stopped without a separate hand brake.

    there was a law proposed in the 2007 legislative session that would have done this and it it nearly passed, but was shelved at the last minute by one legislator who later realized if they’d understood the issue better they would have likely let it pass and become law.

    for more, check out the Fixed-gear Brake Saga archives.

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    N.I.K. April 1, 2010 at 11:07 am

    it’s unfortunate because the law should include an exception for bikes that have a fixed gear — which allows them to be stopped without a separate hand brake.

    It’s even more unfortunate because the law says the braking mechanism has to be able to skid the tire on dry pavement. While this is a completely crap way of describing effective braking (it’s not particularly effective!), the requirement is at least skidding. Same as a coaster brake, despite the fact that the specific mechanism differs (and that the fixed gear drivetrain is way more novice-serviceable than a coaster brake, and thus easier to keep in working order).

    If people want to slide to a stop and burn through rear tires like there’s no tomorr[ow/y], that’s not only their business/safety/dollars, but the law already all but accounts for it *except* for explicitly recognizing the drivetrain as a braking mechanism. Utterly stupid!

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    Mike B April 1, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I’m sure most have seen this, although if you really want to see some inspired trick riding check this video out.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19zFlPah-o

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    q'Ztal April 1, 2010 at 11:43 am

    it’s unfortunate because the law should include an exception for bikes that have a fixed gear — which allows them to be stopped without a separate hand brake.

    The lack of an exception is a good thing.
    I appreciate that you might know what you’re doing and don’t need a break, however, this sport trend catching on as the title mentions. With this comes the fad followers that have no skills, no clue and no courtesy.

    Can you personally ensure that all the new trick riders are skilled enough not to be a hazard to public safety?

    This most likely will end up relegated to private property anyway.

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    um... April 1, 2010 at 11:47 am

    If people want to slide to a stop and burn through rear tires like there’s no tomorr[ow/y], that’s not only their business/safety/dollars, but the law already all but accounts for it *except* for explicitly recognizing the drivetrain as a braking mechanism. Utterly stupid!

    …Or until their chain breaks going downhill, something that I have witness more than one in PDX. Brakes in the city are not a bad idea at all.

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    Carl April 1, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Know what else is unfortunate? The fact that this comment section has gone directly into brakelessfixedgear rantland. To rectify this, I suggest we change subjects. Helmets. Let’s talk about helmets.

    Seriously, though, I love watching these ballerinas at work, spinning and skidding and circling. It’s pretty impressive stuff. I really hope that this year’s Pedalpalooza has a few 700CMX events.

    Jonathan, d’you still have that GT? I’ve been thinking about a old school BMX/Freestyle ride…

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    Oh Word? April 1, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Yea – i remember the BMX track off the 55 frwy and Chapman Ave!

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    karl April 1, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Nothing beats Kevin Bacon and the bike dance scene in Quicksilver

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIwMGkqa6Sw

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    BURR April 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    according to BikeSnobNYC, fixies are so yesterday

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    travis April 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    ‘nough said: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b36Yi-Pb1wM

    (surely made the rounds on bikeportland.org before)

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    Paul Johnson April 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Every time a fixie faceplants, the rest of us laugh.

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    carlos April 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    karl’s right. Fix-Style peaked with KB in quicksilver and the rest has just been down hill. With no brakes.

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    sam April 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Good for them… looks like fun. And beats the hell out of sitting in front of a glowing screen all the time.

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    andrew April 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I didn’t realize fixies were so emo.

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    N.I.K. April 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    um…(#6):…Or until their chain breaks going downhill, something that I have witness more than one in PDX. Brakes in the city are not a bad idea at all.

    Go back and read the bit where I talked about effectiveness in braking. Note the part where I talk about how back brakes in general aren’t particularly effective, and also the bit about how the legal language concerning skidding a tire has crap to do with effective braking. A coaster brake sucks *almost as much* as a fixie drive train when it comes to chain failure, because you’re still relying on the chain to help stop the bike (in this case, engaging the clutch mechanism in the coaster brake to help lock the wheel and grind the bike to a halt). The difference is that in the coaster brake, you can also have any component of the coaster brake fail independently of the chain. By your reckoning, beach cruisers or any other coaster brake equipped bikes lacking handbrakes could be considered as dangerous as fixies. But guess what – they’re 100% legal! Even for…for **gasp** children!

    Maude Flanders, over and out. 😛

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    Lester April 1, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Most kids’ bike brakes are inoperable or barely effective. I ran around on freewheeled bikes with no brakes all the time. Just jammed a foot on the front tire up behind the fork for emergency purposes.

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    person April 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    “I appreciate that you might know what you’re doing and don’t need a break, however, this sport trend catching on as the title mentions. With this comes the fad followers that have no skills, no clue and no courtesy.” – Good point. I (even as a brakeless rider) completely agree with you there. I have seen numerous people riding brakeless that should definitely have at least a front brake on, it can be a bit nerve racking, but at the same time I have seen people on bikes with freewheels and 2 brakes that have no clue what they are doing. These people have collided with friends of mine, been the cause of car/bike accidents, hit pedestrians, curbs, just fall over on their own etc… There is no law regulating skill level for that kind of bike, so why is it okay to practically outlaw an entire type of cycling because of a few people that don’t know how to ride…

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    frisco*mrs. April 1, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    LET’UM RIDE IN PEACE, STOP HATEN!!!!!! LOL

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    Red Five April 1, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Great…now we have to worship the Fixie Dicks.

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    steveisskinny April 2, 2010 at 12:12 am

    i ride all over and i ride fixed and i trick. though i’m cared of what would happen if my chain breaks it has never happened to me and i’ve only been in one accident (and definitely not my fault). even if my chain breaks, i know what i would do. i stick my foot in my back tire (bmx stop) and come to a slow stop.

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    Noelle April 2, 2010 at 12:47 am

    @Paul Johnson
    I would like to think that violence against any cyclist would at the very least NOT make you smile.
    Pretty douchy, guy…

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    hateonwhoweare April 2, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Eat it up. They’re not going anywhere, so live with it.

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    Erik April 2, 2010 at 7:45 am

    @Noelle
    It’s not “violence against” when one does something to themselves.

    Riding brakeless is less practical and efficient. It is stupid but should certainly be legal.

    Track racing is cool though…

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    Paul Johnson April 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    @Noelle: I’m not advocating violence against cyclists. I’m just saying I find it amusing when stupid people hurt themselves being stupid, such as when someone crashes into a fixed object because they don’t have brakes.

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    Jackattak April 2, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Wow. Not being totally into bikes, I’m so lost right now.

    Why would anyone ride a bike without brakes?!

    What’s the difference between a “fixed gear” and “single speed”? Guess I’ve some Googling to do…

    On the actual topic at hand:

    I see a couple of these guys (perhaps the ones in the article, not sure) on PSU campus in the Park Blocks performing/practicing. They’re so much fun to watch!

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    Jackattak April 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Well, I tried searching here on BikePortland first, and followed Jonathan’s handy Fixed-Gear Brake Saga link form above, but didn’t find out really much of anything on what a “fixie” is or why someone would ride one without brakes.

    So I went the Wikipedia route.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed-gear_bicycle

    Pretty good information. Guess I still don’t understand why anyone would ride one over a normal bike, but to each their own. Why on Earth anyone would operate any vehicle without brakes is beyond me, as I often look at brakes as being the most important piece of equipment on something that propels me forward at a rapid rate of speed, but again, to each their own.

    Be safe, my fellow riders.

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    Anonymous April 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    they’re not wearing helmets!

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    pixie April 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    N.I.K. #3 said: “It’s even more unfortunate because the law says the braking mechanism has to be able to skid the tire on dry pavement.”

    What law? Oregon law does not require one to skid the tire on dry pavement. Where are you getting this information?

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    Lazy Spinner April 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Not this crap again?!

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    Paul Johnson April 3, 2010 at 2:32 am

    @pixie: Yes, it does. ORS 815.280 makes it pretty clear what the requirements are.

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    The Truth April 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Trick track is just another piece of progression that snooty Portland cyclists can’t handle. Get over it.

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    weastsider April 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hip kids having fun on fixes!!?

    Call 911, grumpa, and the hater paraders.

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    Susan April 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Bikes are fun. Just let them have fun.

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    pixie April 4, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Paul Johnson: No, it doesn’t. Thanks for the cite, but you might want to look at it again, as it clearly doesn’t require skidding.

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    Anonymous April 4, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    ors 815.280 2a: “a bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement”.

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    Marid April 4, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Fixies are the new rollerblades.

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    stevenbeavenbobeavenbananafanabosteven April 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Jackattak above got it right. Who would want a bike with no brakes, much less one with no gears!

    I’d be a tad concerned for my safety knowing that there are vehicles or bicycles without brakes. SOME people may be able to stop them but I’d guess that MOST would not be able to stop, particularly if they got up a little speed on a downhill.

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    r. Antonio April 4, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    the concept of riding without brakes requires a high level of maturity, intelligence, experience, and knowledge. This is something that cant be fully defined threw words but by doing it. You obviously can’t stop as fast as a bike with brakes going downhill, but knowing the limit of your setup will make a smart brake-less fixed gear rider not go as fast down “that” hill. This is obviously not something for the faint of heart. Just like how there’s certain people that only drive big trucks, or small sports cars, there’s people that ride BMX, road bikes, suspension bikes, or cruisers and more. Each thing is it’s own, and everyone will do what they feel fits them. There can be an idiot behind the wheel of a car and make horrible decisions, and the same with bikes. But with a fixed gear with no brakes ‘typically’ consists of intelligent riders. I recommend going to events and gatherings and talking face to face with riders of any kind, you will learn, understand and learn to appreciate ‘that thing’ a lot better then arguing about things over the web.

    hope to see ya folks out there! 🙂

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    pixie April 4, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Sorry Anonymous, your anonymous quote is wrong as well. That is not the law in Oregon. I don’t know where you’re getting that from, but you might want to go back and look at it again.

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    Paul Johnson April 4, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I’m afraid you’re the only one disputing that the law doesn’t require a brake capable of skidding, pixie. What are your sources?

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    pixie April 5, 2010 at 8:37 am

    @PaulJohnson: Source is ORS 815.280(2)(a): “A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.”

    Clearly, no skid required.

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    Paul Johnson April 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Rather than selectively reading a bill that failed, try reading the law: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/815.html

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    pixie April 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    You’re too funny, Paul. I’m glad you finally found the correct place to find the law. Now, if you try reading your own link, you’ll find I’m right. Clearly.

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    Paul Johnson April 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    OK, if we really need to go there…

    ORS 815.828(2)(a): “A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.”

    If you’re seeing something different, something’s wrong with your eyes.

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    pixie April 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Clearly, you didn’t try reading your own link. If you did, you’d find it says this at ORS 815.280(2)(a): “A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.”

    I used your link, scrolled to the right section, and copied and pasted. You didn’t read your link, did you?

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    Paul Johnson April 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I did read it. I’m curious if you have, because even Google shows that the language you’re talking about was in a house bill that died before it reached the senate.

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    pixie April 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Oh, Paul… Like I said, I used your link and read it. Why bring Google into it? Google’s not the law. You found your way to the state’s own digital copy of the ORS, yet you can’t seem to read it correctly.

    If you and Google are referring to Senate Bill 729 from 2007, then you should know that that bill did not die. It was introduced in the Senate and did, in fact, become law.

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    SkidMark April 6, 2010 at 8:59 am

    If you are worried about Police harassment, get a hinged BMX brake lever. Then your front brake will come off with a 5mm allen wrench. Ride to the spot you do tricks at, take off your brake, do tricks. Put on the brake and ride home. Or, be an outlaw and quit complaining.

    I looked at the 2009 ORS and I cannot find anything in there that says anything about a handbrake being required. If so that makes my 1952 Schwinn illegal as well, until I source a vintage drum brake, which I want because it is very heavy and I often carry stuff on its rack.

    An experienced with with common sense will work to understand the limits of the machine they are ridng and make accomodations for it. If the bike is fixed gear and doesn’t have a handbrake, this means riding a little slower, looking a little further ahead, and taking a little longer to stop which can be easily accomplished by slowing down your pedaling, you don’t have to skid. I have a front brake on my track bike that I use when I feel lazy. Panic stops? Pay attention to the road.

    It is not the law that is unfair, it is the way it has been enforced. Usually someone is riding down the street on a fixed gear with no handbrake and a Police Officer asks them to stop. They then show the ability to stop and ironically get a ticket for no brakes. is the rider magic, can he/she defy the laws of physics and gravity? How did they stop if they have no brakes, and didn’t jam their foot on the tire or drag their feet. Maybe that drive system also functions as a braking system.

    If the Police would just wait for someone to run a stop sign or red light and then issue a ticket for no brakes and the moving violation this would be a non-issue.

    Maybe someday you can do an article on the still underground flatland BMX scene that exists in Portland.

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    r. Antonio April 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

    the reason why we don’t use handbrakes…
    http://bikejerksmpls.blogspot.com/2010/04/hand-brake.html

    haha

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