Fixed gear bikes that have become popular in New York neighborhoods and fashion forward accessory in Brooklyn, LIC and as far west as San Fransisco are now heading overseas and are being found in Paris, Tokyo and London.
The New York Times reports that:
Suddenly, fixies - the finicky one-speed bikes that, without freewheels, cannot coast - seem to be everywhere: on the cobblestones of the Marais, the boulevards of the Latin Quarter, the north slope of Montmartre. They are in display windows, at fashion shoots, in women's lifestyle magazines. Aficionados of the "pignon fixe" organize alley-cat races and bike polo matches and group rides around Paris.
As one might expect, many fixie proprietors here are skinny-jean design students and inked-up electronica kids, but there are also well-heeled young executives, adventuresome retirees and pleasant men and women of all sorts. There are new fixies and old fixies, modest home-built fixies and fluorescent factory fixies, bobo fixies displayed on apartment walls and fixies tossed and spun alongside the skateboarders behind the Palais de Tokyo.
In contrast with the hipper-than-thou attitude often associated with the bikes' American acolytes, fixie riders can rightly be said to have a convivial scene in the French capital, where the bikes are as much activity as social marker. Despite the haughtiness for which this city is renowned, the community that has developed around them is uncommonly inclusive.
"There isn't that element of snobbishness," said Bruno Zuzzé, 33, the genial founder of Surplace, a come-one-come-all fixie club that organizes frequent group rides. Fixie owners often salute one another on the street, "like motorcyclists, back in the day," he said.
Pignonfixe.com, a Web forum begun in 2007 and widely viewed as the nexus of French fixie-dom, sees almost 50,000 unique visitors and two million page views each month.
Like most others here, Mr. Zuzzé, who also owns a Web services company, makes no claim to the authenticity of his interest in fixed-gearbikes. Sporting Ray-Bans and several days of stubble beneath a close-shaved head, he laughed sheepishly when asked what had drawn him to them.
"It was the aesthetics," he said, "like for everyone else."
He first saw the bikes in Manhattan in 2007, he said, and returned to France enchanted by their clean lines, with plans to imitate. "I hadn't even realized that it was a fixed-gear bike," Mr. Zuzzé said.
But he has since come to love riding them: with a friend, he recently pedaled 1,000 kilometers, or about 620 miles, along the Danube, between Ulm, Germany, and Bratislava, Slovakia. (Their panniers loaded with supplies, in the lonely Czech countryside, the two "looked like anything but hipsters," he said.)
The Parisian trend can almost certainly be traced to New York City. Like Mr. Zuzzé, many of Paris's fixed-gear vanguard say they first saw the bikes about five years ago on visits to Manhattan (the city's messengers have sped around on them for decades) before returning, covetous, to France.
As much design objects as means of transport, the sleek bikes do seem particularly appropriate to Paris and the sensibilities of the aesthetes who make up so much of the city's population. And bicycles, in general, have exploded in popularity here since the 2007 launch of the Vélib' bike-sharing program, bike-shop owners say.
"You take a seat on the Canal St.-Martin to have a morning coffee, and all you see are bikes going by," said Alexandre Billard, who in 2007 opened biCyCle Store Paris, a spare and meticulously curated boutique in the Third Arrondissement.
One of several new specialty shops selling mostly fixies and fixie components, Mr. Billard's store on a recent afternoon displayed cranks of at least 10 colors, including two shades of mauve, along with a selection of messenger bags, wood-framed sunglasses and Brooks England leather saddles.
His shop has provided fixies for events and photo shoots for Dior, Lacoste, Chanel and a variety of other luxury brands, Mr. Billard said.
And the walk-in clientele?
"They're all art directors, they're all architects," said Cyril Saulnier, a co-owner of the shop, trailing off. (He himself runs a Web design studio.)
In May, the store started its own brand of custom-fitted fixies, handmade in Columbus Niobium steel by a French frame-maker, Daniel Hanart - base price: 2,500 euros, or about $3,400, for the frame alone.
They call the brand Heritage Paris. France used to count a great number of artisan frame-builders, Mr. Billard said, most lost in the past four decades to the rise of Asian mass-production.
"We're trying to make it happen again to see a frame that's entirely 'Made in France,' " he said.
This being the land of "terroir," provenance is a point of pride, and not only for those with euros to burn. Many fixed-gear fans here have taken to building up bikes with old artisanal French frames, scavenged from basements or flea markets, said Thomas Courvalin, 34, the fresh-faced and unassuming lawyer who founded pignonfixe.com.
The restoration trend is perhaps unsurprising, given the present fixation - in Europe as in the United States - on all things "vintage." But the fixed-gear fad here also involves a distinctive nostalgia, Mr. Courvalin said, a yearning for an era of French "insouciance."
France has a deep cycling heritage, he said, and fixies are proving a "gateway" to a rediscovering of that history.
There are, of course, the famed stage races, including the Tour de France - in its early years raced on fixed-gear bikes - and a long tradition of fixed-gear track-racing, as well. But there is also an abiding romance here about the bicycle in general, which the French affectionately call "the Little Queen."
In that vein, and inspired by a London event called the Tweed Run, Mr. Courvalin organizes the Béret Baguette, an annual group ride in which fixie enthusiasts are encouraged to don the garb of the France of the 1920s and '30s.
In May, more than 500 turned out for the third edition, some of them pierced and tattooed, some not, but a great number in period clothing: the women in summer dresses and leather ankle boots, the men in marinières or pressed white shirts, with suspenders and wool caps. For the picnic later, some taped baguettes to the top-tubes of their fixies, with bottles of rosé and Burgundy lashed into tote baskets.
"People are discovering the world of bikes through fixies," Mr. Courvalin said. And for that, he noted, there is no need to look across the Atlantic.