The Null Device

Lo-fi transport

Momus' latest New York Times Post-Materialist blog post is about fixed-gear bicycles, the latest hipster must-have after turntables and Lomo cameras, and, like them, a translation of lo-fi into the realm of physical transport, and a refusal to capitulate to bourgeois practicality:
The fixie cult demonstrates that limitations are what give a thing flavor, and that stubborn simplicity can be a sort of charisma. People love these bikes because of what they can’t do as much as for what they can. In that sense they join analog synths, vinyl record players and Lomo cameras as lovable retro lo-fi must-have. In addition to the charm and fashion kudos these bikes deliver, there are other advantages. Not only do they run cleaner than cars, you don’t even have to park them when you reach your destination. Just hang them on the wall and call them art.
Even more interesting than the article is Momus' blog entry about it, which elaborates on some of the points:
Code of honour: I often find myself defending as new forms of honour things that others dismiss as fads. What do I mean by that? I think it's already encoded in Alin's self-portrait. His accident, here, isn't just a random misfortune. He "wears his wounds with pride". Like a soldier wounded in a battle fought in the name of a just cause, he feels there's something more important in life than mere safety. In fact, you could almost see cycling, and its attendant aesthetic, as "something worth dying for". The New York Times actually removed the phrase "to die for" from my text, replacing it with "must-have". But I wasn't just making a gruesome joke about cycling being dangerous. I really meant that it was important that fixie cycling -- like skateboarding -- is both difficult and dangerous. To understand why, you really have to go to non-Western places, places where Being is more important than Having, and where people -- including scary people like suicide bombers and kamikaze -- place higher values on certain ideals, certain codes of honour, certain loyalties, certain aesthetics than on life itself. Or you have to go to the chivalric codes of the middle ages. Cycling is, after all, a mechanized form of chivalric equestrianism.
Viral ecology: There's a danger that making people ecologically-conscious can end up preachy and worthy. What you need is something viral, something viscerally compelling, something cool as fuck, which is also something green. And fixie bikes are that: viral ecology with the urban credibility of skateboarding and the rebel cool of smoking combined. No more sermons! On yer bike!
Distinction strategy: We were talking earlier this month about shifts in graphic design style as a sort of distinction strategy, a game of catch-up in which one set of designers keep throwing wobblies, keep embracing ugliness and absurdity in order not just to "make it new", but to put a comfortable distance between themselves and the client-pleasing coffeetable hacks who hobble along behind, copying and pasting. The fixie trend is also a distinction strategy. It's a way for hipsters to say "I'm not just another suburban bozo with a car". But it's also a way for the West to say to China: "Okay, you all have cars now. Well, we're onto something else: bicycles." Which is ironic, since the West used to laugh at China for wobbling around, in its billions, on bicycles.

There are 1 comments on "Lo-fi transport":

Posted by: ianw http://www.tblspn.net/ianw Mon May 26 02:25:18 2008

most of what he says about fixies could be said about bikes, which makes the novelty aspect ('wow, new green lo-fi form of transport') a bit silly. I must admit I don't see the appeal of the 'fixie' - having no gears is, especially for the audio-enthusiast, a must-have (the constant whirr of derailer gears is the techno of bike-riding audio experience) but I would argue that it is misleading to compare fixie-riding to skating. Sure, no brakes makes a dangerous ride, but with a back-pedal brake and a hand-brake for good measure you can go places that are more dangerous (because it's fun, etc). Perhaps the fixie is the rollerskates of bike-riding?

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