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The Fixie Bike Index (priceonomics.com)
128 points by omarish on Jan 17, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 88 comments

Wait a second- https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3387895/Screen%20shot%202012-01-17%...

There are 100 fixies per capita in Manhattan? So each person in Manhattan owns 100 fixed gear bicycles? No wonder rent is so expensive; I imagine storing 100 bicycles isn't cheap!!

Sorry if that's not clear, it's all indexed to 100. Those are all relative values and not absolute values.

It's not "unclear" it's "inaccurate." :p "Per capita" means something specific, not just "you know, whatever." Thanks for the response tho! I could take the article more seriously if the charts made sense; consider fixing them? :)

"Index" also means something specific.

Please keep the current scaling of the charts, but label it with the actual per-capita values instead of 0 - 100. (I agree with sequoia's comment.)

We're just looking at a sample of the data so the actual per capital figures aren't meaningful. Would have loved to have showed that, but instead we just normalized the data to 100.

We're just looking at a sample of the data so the actual per capital figures aren't meaningful.

Yes they are. The per capita value is meaningful, albeit inaccurate, because you're estimating the value based upon a sample.

Whatever number you multiplied every single index to get it into the range [0, 100], divide by that to get the per capita value.

100 what???

100 doesn't represent a physical number. It's just an indication of the relative frequencies. If, for example, Manhattan had typically two fixies for sale per person (this is completely made up), then Brooklyn would have 1.25.

Yes, per capita literally does mean "per person", but the purpose it serves here is to allow meaningful comparison of more than just raw numbers. Manhattan might have 1,000,000 fixies, and Brooklyn might only have 100,000 fixies. This by itself doesn't really tell you much, since what if Manhattan had 1,000,000 people and Brooklyn only had 50,000 (again completely theoretical); then, the "per capita" fixie bike index would be twice as high in Brooklyn.

"Fixies per person" in a geographic region isn't a "raw number".

I don't get your point with the example, for those values I get "fixies per capita" of 1 in Manhattan, and 2 in Brooklyn. That clearly states that there are twice as many fixies per person in Brooklyn as there are in Manhattan.

If you also normalize based on Manhattan, you'd get 100 and 200 which say exactly the same thing but with more zeroes and no longer being "per capita".

Sorry if that was unclear. The original comment stated that using per capita in this manner would be "inaccurate", but you can't compare Manhattan and Brooklyn simply by comparing the total number. What I was trying to explain in response was that Priceonomics didn't have "fixies per person" data, only the total fixies for sale in a region (the "raw number"). Without using per capita, these results could easily be misconstrued.

not only that but surely 'per capita' is a terrible measure to use for normalizing a place like manhattan where the population during the day (aka the size of market for bike shops) is such a large multiple of the 'per capita' population (http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/4/2012/01/8efea7...) .. surely a better normalization statistic would be sales of fixies / sales of all bikes

None of this data is actually anything to do with owning bikes.

Fixies have always been a fun subject of armchair economics. As late as '06, it was very rare that you'd come across track bike-specific parts. This was especially so with frames. Finding an old track hub in a used parts bin was practically winning the jackpot on a slot machine. Prices and competition for used parts was high, but mostly stable and flat. Ebay and track-specific forums were where you'd buy your parts; local bike shops hardly didn't even know the word 'fixie', let alone stock track parts (with it especially hard to find reasonably priced, non-Olympic competition level components).

The trend was growing quick, and folks started finding fancier and fancier vintage bikes as collectors realized that the market for the obscure bikes lit up like wildfire. At the same time manufacturers (big and small, global and local) began sourcing extremely cheap (>$300) frames from Taiwan and saturating the market, bringing prices down ~50%.

Then the Crash happend in '08. The market for fixies, mostly a semi-practical luxury item/status symbol similar to an iPhone at the time, fell significantly. They're still a big deal and quite popular, but not nearly as much so as a few years ago. Prices, especially the used market fallen drastically. A cheap, Average condition frame that went for $300 in early '08 could barely get $100 today in San Francisco.

Luckily for those who bought into the vintage/collector track bike market (like most), prices are relatively stable...

I'm not sure what you consider "rare" or how you sourced your parts, but I feel like maybe your timetable is a little off.

I can't speak to the economics side, but I feel fixed-gear mania was in full-swing well before 2006. I worked in a bike shop in a small Midwestern city (so presumably the trend had already been on the rise on the coasts well before this) from 2003 to 2005, and even then fixed-gear discussion was not infrequent. I'm pretty sure you could order flip-flop hubs from QBP at the time, although I can't recall if fixed-specific hubs were available, since I don't recall anyone ever actually wanting one and not a flip-flop. My point is that major suppliers were already providing new parts specifically for that market.

Although, yeah, I don't recall any non-boutique manufacturers making fixed or flip-flop models while I was in the business.

Anyway, maybe you specifically meant the secondhand or market, but I just wanted to point out that your LBS probably had plenty of fixed-gear parts available before '06.

You are correct about the parts being available in QBP and such. I was working in an LBS at the time. I suppose the timetable of 'boom' I'm talking about falls in when the generic sealed-bearing Velocity hubs started to show up on the scene. Before that you needed to go the Surly or Suzue Basic route if you wanted a cheap-ish hub. Prices were notably higher in price though.

I know that I was getting into things right around '03, and my friends were all about it by about then too. But it wasn't nearly as regular an occurance to see a fixie rider on the street (in SF/Oakland) until '06 or '07.

I still find it hard to find good-quality non-trendy track parts that aren't competition-quality. I want to pay $100 for a track crankset. When I last looked, that was not an option, and I paid $200-and-change for a White Industries crankset + chainring. Still better than a track-grade Sugino set, which would end up around $500-$700.

(Also, track parts fall apart on the road. The high-end Izumi chain is a nice example.)

>For those unfamiliar, a fixed gear bike requires riding in a single gear and the only way to stop the bike is to pedal backwards to help skid the bike to a halt.

Lack-of-brakes do not a fixed gear make.

All bicycles should have at least two ways to stop. Fixed gear bicycles are no exception.

But I think most people familiar with any number of fixed-gear advocates will tell you: it's mostly about fashion (in this case, part of the fashion arises from the overall simplicity of the machine).

And if there's one thing that isn't fashionable on a fixed-gear bike, it's a gross cable-pull handbrake.

But yeah, I agree, it's stupid not to have brakes.

In fact, it's illegal to not have a front brake in cities like Austin.

Not to mention that it's downright insane. Ever try skid stopping in the rain?

I guess you can skid and you can use your foot to break the back wheel. If you see messenger races those guys go downhill at 50kmh with pedals spinning free then use foot to break the back wheel, complete insanity if you ask me.

Or you could, you know, use handbrakes. You can still get them on fixies.

It's simply astounding, the number of people who do not understand that most of your braking potential comes from the front wheel.

But it's harder to put your foot on the front wheel at high speed and not fall.

I think track racers would disagree with your last point there but otherwise yes.

To answer the question about Salt Lake City's bike market, I live in Park City, and mountain bike with a bunch of SLC guys, and I know the bike market there pretty well. It's about demographics. SLC doesn't have many more urban commuter/transportation bikers than any similar-sized city, and in fact I think that the per-capita rate of casual cyclists is actually below the national average. But it does have a lot of serious cyclists who spend major money on high end mountain and road bikes. So that skews the average.

Missing detail: A fixie is actually borderline-practical in Manhattan because there aren't many hills. If you live in Brooklyn, you've gotta ride over some really steep bridges to get to Manhattan. So the hipsters ride single-speeds, or retro-bikes, which are actually more hipster than a fixie these days.

Get with it, grandpa!

> hipsters ride single-speeds, or retro-bikes, which are actually more hipster than a fixie these days.

Is the difference between a single-speed bike and a fixie that a single-speed bike has a freewheel so you can coast without pedaling?


Single-speed are also lighter if you have a walk up apartment.

Really minimal compared with being able to comfortably change gears as you accelerate and decelerate, IMO. And I used to carry my bike up to our house in central Padova all the time after long, hilly rides.

That's not entirely accurate. There are plenty of carbon fiber or titanium bikes that completely change your understanding of what is light with regard to a bike.

[edit: missed a word]

...and an expensive carbon fiber or Ti frame w/o a 10-speed cluster on the back and required shifters/derailleurs is still going to be heavier than the one-speed/fixie version.

I used to race off-road, and when racing in N. California (1994) came upon a bunch of guys racing for (iirc) Ventana/Paul -- lovely bikes, one speed (freewheeling, not fixed). For me, it was love at first sight. I had my own single-speed built up by next year, and raced it in (Canadian) National races, long cross country races (Cheakamus Challenge Squamish->Whistler), World Cup races, NORBAs, blahblahblah, and ultimately the First Annual Single Speed World Championships[1] in LA (1999).

I do it because I love it. After years and years of completive cycling, I knew "bike riding" very well, so the one-speed aspect allowed me to explore a new facet of cycling. Sort of full-circle in a really good way, if you consider that your first bike as a 3,4,5yo is probably a one-speed too. And when you want to get up a hill, you just pedal harder. I'm glad I got into it and was able to enjoy that aspect again while I'm fit. My current rig is a fixie (for last ~3-4 years). I ride it because I like it. If somebody tells you should try a fixie (or even single-speed) because it's simpler, or lighter, they're kidding themselves or lying to you. Ride it because you like it.

[1] Started and ended at a bar. Winners got tattoos; if you didn't accept tattoo, you forfeited your position. IIRC the site of next years race was determined by a rally, and the winner got to pick. The fun and joy of bicycles is (was?) alive in that culture.

Expensive bikes usually get a heavier locks, so it tends to even out.

My single speed bike is 24 pounds. A racing bike is 15 pounds. A U-lock is not 10 pounds.

Anyway, I can't think of any time I've ever brought a lock along while on my racing bike. It's for riding, not for errands.

Hurumf Kids today "Young man when you get to my age and your knees are shot you will thank the bicycle gods for gears" :-)

Orange County is a county, with a 3,000,000 population twice that of Manhattan (a borough.)

Orange, CA is a city, with a population of 150,000

Why is Orange County listed in the chart when all other entrants seem to be cities (or boroughs).

You go to LA and you will see. :)

I grew up in LA, and have lived behind the Orange Curtain, and that's my point. The area is way too large in geographic area and demographics for me to believe the folks there are buying fixies in ways that exceed the mean.

It's far easier for me to wonder if they mixed up the data.

Almost by definition, a very large place with a very large population should have regressed to the mean, not far exceed it.

I live in San Clemente (a city of ~60,000 in Orange County) now, and was born in Pasadena. I was starting to get annoyed at OC being treated as one "city" here too, then I realized I should probably just be happy that a distinction between LA and OC was made at all. All too often, "LA" is used to mean everything south of Santa Barbara and north of Oceanside.

That's us Northern Californians doing that to you ;)

> OC

Also, don't call it that.

Manhattan is a county, New York county to be exact.

Very interesting. I figured you were crazy, luckily the wiki is still up, and lo! You're right!

So thank you for the education, although I actually don't think that changes my point terribly much.

Orange County with 3,000,000 people over 1000 sq. miles dwarfs most of the other entities, including Manhattan.

I would think that without an explanation of why they are an outlier, a population this size, this diverse, over a diverse geography (flatland, hills, mountains) would regress towards the mean. If they are dramatically outside the mean (and here they are far and away in the lead), there needs to be an explanation.

(I liked two explanations: one is that they are counting surfer's beach cruisers would could be a very real effect down in OC which has great surfing and lots of trends toward surfing style. And the other that suggests these bikes or similar may be very popular among latino populations for some unknown reason.)

This is a more thorough version of what a popular bike blog "bikesnobnyc" used to call the "pistadex", where he used the average price of a bianchi pista to determine the popularity of the fixie trend.

Don't forget the Chris King Headset Composite Index: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2008/10/no-getting-around-it...

The Brooklyn vs. Manhattan result shouldn't be surprising considering that Brooklyn is really REALLY big, and much poorer than Manhattan. I would bet that if you were to whittle down Brooklyn to Williamsburg, or if you were to control for income, the results would look significantly different.

How is Chicago not in the index at all! Majority of bikes I see in the city are fixed gear, including my own. The flat land makes it ideal.

I was going to say. I think Chicago is the first place I remember being struck by the number of bike messengers, and sort of distinct hipster style of the bikers.

Fixies in Portland are OVER! It's all about the abomination mutant cycles.

Put a bird on them. Then pickle them.

Dude, double-decker bikes are OVER. Check out my dodekacycle!

http://vimeo.com/30004597 Google for more instances.

Perhaps if one could calculate altitude variance it would be helpful. It take a pretty fanatical cyclist to take a fixie up some of the routes from Boulder.

Having moved to Los Angeles only 7 months ago, I was really surprised to see fixies as a dominant mode of transport, especially within the Latino community (colored, deep-V rims are a huge trend). And even though LA tops the chart in terms of # bikes for sale, that doesn't mean it's a high percentage of people biking (very unfortunate). LA's trying to add more bike lanes, but it's a pretty dismal situation here.

Wow - according to this, Spokane (#30) has more hipsters per capita than Seattle (#33). That's a bit difficult to process. Seattle is literally built around biking. I guess the actual bikes are more practical in nature and less hipsterish? As in, an actual means of transportation rather than personal branding. Still pretty hard to believe. UW alone should tip the scales.

Nail on the head. Also - hills. Seattle has lots and lots of them, and fixies are particularly impractical for hills.

Damn Synchronicity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity

I am seriously considering getting a fixie or single speed and this article pops up on Hacker News.

I remember about 5 years ago getting a fixie was more of an enthusiast cyclist endeavor than a hipster one. I don't care, it's better for training and feels less inhibited.

Isn't there a bit of a huge problem using the number for sale as the metric here? Couldn't more supply equate to less demand?

I'm with you on secondhand sales being a poor correlate for actual ownership. It's completely reasonable that more for-sale listings indicate cities or places where people don't want their fixie anymore. Additionally, Priceonomics only looks at sales taking place on eBay, Craigslist, etc. So, not only are the numbers skewed toward areas that have more active internet users, the buyer may not even be in the same region.

This is why data shows fixies selling so often in Manhattan: it's all the hipsters that moved to Manhattan, who found less use for their bike, and then sold it back to somebody else in Brooklyn.

My first thought was that more used fixies for sale might mean the trend was over in those cities, and the hipsters were all trying to get rid of theirs so they could buy glow-in-the-dark parkour shoes (I just made that up).

You failed to note that the relative hilliness of two cities could have a huge effect on the reliability of using the "fixie index" to measure relative hipsterness. Even if they were equally hipsterish, it would stand to reason that LA would have more fixies than SF, since the bike is far more practical in that city.

On the other hand, Los Angeles is ten times bigger in terms of total area, and has less than half the population density of San Francisco. That makes it more practical to have a fixie in SF, where you're generally traveling shorter distances.

You can get almost anywhere a hipster would want to go in sf without worrying about the hills. It's easy to go around them for the most part, and barring a few exceptions, mostly low-density residential on the hills themselves.

"There are more bikes offered for sale in Brooklyn than Manhattan, but only 8.3% of them are fixies versus 9.5% in Manhattan."

This is key. Fixies as fraction of for-sale bike population <> prevalence of fixies on streets.

From a purely anecdotal angle (supported by BikeSnobNyc's recurring photographs of DIY fenders), there's a lot of cheap mountain bikes in Brooklyn. In contrast, a Manhattanite who commutes by chauffeur or all-Dura-Ace, not-for-sale-on-Craigslist Colnago isn't part of the sample.

One critique of your "Top 50 Cities in America for Biking." You seem to actually be evaluating churn in the bicycle resale market, not riding or ridability. Of course college towns have more bikes for sale - partly due to their practical nature for getting around, and partly due to students buying bikes when they arrive and selling them when they leave.

When I was a kid, I thought all bikes had only one gear. Not because I was "hip" or "hipster" (absolutely the opposite) but because my parents were cheap. I had been riding my used "fixie" bike (from the thrift store) for a year before I found out about bikes with gears, and I actually never learned how to use different gears when riding.

How about State Code on the Fixie Index. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aik-d7nXHh6SdGt...

I'm surprised that Allentown, PA has the fewest fixies for sale per capita as there is a velodrome there.


Also note that fixie != track bike. Fixies are often some converted something-or-other (one of mine is a road frame, the other an MTB frame), where a true track bike has a track-frame, which has a specific geometry and BB height (BB== bottom bracket, where the axle between your cranks goes), and may not even be drilled for accepting brakes, and certainly not fenders, etc. I don't know the people using the velodrome, nor the rules for it's use, but it may require track bikes. Investigating, at least one velodrome[1] says road bikes may be used, but not during track bike sessions. Point is, the subtle differences you do (not) observe between the bikes on the street and the bikes in the velodrome may be a cultural world apart from each other.

[1] Oregon Bicycle Racing Association http://www.obra.org/track/information/

Correct. Track bikes have a super-steep geometry (sometimes a 90 degree seat tube!) and tall gearing, both of which are very impractical in traffic.

My first thought ties in with your observation -- the people that are really into their fixed gear bikes aren't selling them.

is the metric of bicycles for sale a good indicator of anything but people giving up? That says to me a large population are bailing rather than riding. Are hipsters known for giving up when the pedaling gets tough?

Cool to see my home state of Oregon up there on all those indexes. A bit surprising to see Bend though. To tell the truth, I think it's too cold up there to be that pleasant a place to ride around much.

I love how my home state (RI) is considered as a whole...

this is flawed, because they are making the assumption that only hipsters use fixies in SOCal. The surfer community has tons of beach cruisers that are fixed gear, and I dare you to go to a parking lot or a lineup and call a bunch of surfers 'hipsters'....

My grasp of the details of bike terminology is rusty, but don't cruisers usually have a single-speed freewheeling coaster-brake hub, rather than a fixed hub? So when you stop pedaling on a coaster, the wheels keep turning freely, and when you try to back-pedal, it applies a brake inside the hub? As opposed to a fixie, where the pedals turn whenever the wheel turns.

You are correct.

According to the first graph, there are 100 fixies per capita in Manhattan.

Does anyone know where the data came from? How it was collected?

Amazing to me how highly Spokane ranks on all of these.

This analysis is interesting but deeply flawed, as you're just using one variable. I don't think anyone would refer to OC as the most hipster place in America.

Weather is a huge missing component. Another is hilliness/other bike-friendliness (bike lanes, etc). The top 12 cities in the analysis are warm-weather cities (mostly California/Hawaii).

For example, no-one is buying bikes in Chicago at the moment, because it's freaking cold. But there are likely many more fixed-gear bikes here than almost anywhere else (flat, bike-friendly city with lots of hipsters). Portland is capital of hipsterdom - well atleast until Pittsburgh takes over (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/portlandi...) but it's cold there right now so people aren't selling their bikes.

Chicago has been a main hub of the fixie/track scene for years, way before the big fixie boom.

Are you saying, that in Chicago, you were riding Fixies before they were cool?

I think there's something about the "before they were cool" statement that Higgs-Boson-like goes back in time and prevents it from happening.

It's true.

I hosted chifg.com after the great bikeforums schism. And that was prior to lfgss.com. I also helped quite a few other cities get up and running with communities, probably about 15 or so.

The first was NYC though. They were the ones who after the BF schism set up an invite only community for fixed gear bikes.

Tracing earlier than that and you only find messengers/couriers riding them, go back to 1987 and you pretty much end up with 1 Toronto messenger and Buffalo Bill in London.

By the time I set up http://www.lfgss.com I already figured that the fixie thing was dead, but if anything it boomed afresh.

As trends go, I think it ceased to be fashion a while ago and became utility. It wouldn't have survived otherwise.

The data set is for the last 6 months so should include Summer and Winter in Chicago.

People still aren't buying/selling bikes in the Winter in Chicago while they are in warmer places, so I think it's still a valid point.

Admittedly this is just a guess, but might the Carson velodrome explain Orange County's dominance in this index? There's precious little overlap in the Venn diagram of people who race track bikes (on tracks) and people who ride track bikes because bike messengers ride track bikes.

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