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Aside from hardcourt bike polo, bored bike messengers also helped birth freestyle fixed gear riding, or FGFS as it is now known. The internet, and YouTube in particular, helped spread the idea that riding fixed gear bikes wasn’t limited to the velodrome, or cruising around town. One of the first standout videos was 2004’s NYC Drag Race, filmed by alleycat junkie, Lucas Brunelle. This video shows the extreme side of urban racing that bike messengers have been using to blow off steam since 1989.
Drag Race NYC
From the alleycat racing scene grew side events like long skid, trackstand and backward circles competitions. Videos of this style of riding started spreading through the internet and soon people were trying to push the envelope in terms of what’s possible on a fixed gear bike.
In 2007 both the Mash SF crew and Macaframa released their long-awaited dvds. These were the first real high-quality productions that showed fixed gear riders bombing hills and really exploring the idea of fixed gear bikes in an urban playground. Tucked away amongst it all were the first glimpses of freestyle riding in action, with barspins, stair drops and air coming into the riding, all still on 700c track bikes.
This riding had begun to borrow some of its inspiration from another YouTube sensation, the little known sport of artistic cycling, which was mainly popular in Europe. When people started seeing riders like Ines Brunn and the crazy stuff she was doing on a fixed gear bike, freestyle moved in a quite technical direction favouring barspins, technical skids and trackstands.
Ines Brunn Artistic Cycling
Two of the best known proponents and innovators of FGFS at the time were Burd Phillips, who was known for his trackstand variations, and Keo Curry, inventor of the eponymous ‘Keo spin’, who made everything look effortless on a bike.
More and more people were using 650c front wheels to increase clearance for bar spins and to prevent toe overlap, so it seemed a natural progression when people moved to running 26" wheels front and rear. Using smaller wheels, wider rims and tyres, riders were able to build stronger wheelsets, capable of taking a lot more punishment. At this point FGFS started to diverge, with traditional tech riders sticking with 700c wheels, and those wishing to perform more BMX-like tricks moving to smaller wheelsets.
The industry started to notice, and before long companies were offering dedicated Freestyle frames, designed to take 26" wheels and wider tyres. People were running BMX cranks and even pegs. The scene seemed to be gaining critical mass, and when a brand like Red Bull comes on board and starts throwing massive FGFS events, you must think your sport has made it.
Red Bull Ride & Style 2011
While events like this are still being run across the globe, the sport has never gained mainstream acceptance as many thought it might. There are still, however, a large number of people working away to progress the sport in both the traditional, or 'tarck' as it's now being called, style of riding and the more big banger BMX-style FGFS. Two good examples would be Miguel Zendejas and Andy Sparks.
FGFS might never look as 'cool' as BMX, and many people deride it for that, but it is its own beast and people do it for the challenge of learning complex technical tricks, or doing big drops using a fixed drivetrain. If the videos above inspire you then why not give it a try, from trackstand to tailwhip you can do it all at your own level and pace. To end here's local lad Johnny in a recent edit by Dublin-based freestyle inspired clothing company Hell or Win.
Featured image: copyright Hell or Win