Bike Hoons of the Municipality Unite!

Of course it had to happen. Chaos Theory epitomised – the butterfly wings flapped at BAC Bikes in South Melbourne and a storm erupted over Fitzroy. Someone at the ACCC read my “AntiFix” post and took it seriously, and have now sent out riot squads in Hummers to smash the wheels of every fixie in every bike shop in Melbourne. Trendy boutique bike shops are scared. I’ve been told of certain proprietors quaking in fear as large black-suited men in sunglasses made the rounds, laying down the law. They’ve been hiding the ‘verboten fahrrad’ down storm drains, behind the sofa and in the roof space of every bicycle-sympathetic inner-urban dwelling space until all this unwanted attention blows over.

I’m sorry about this, and I’m trying to think of ways to make amends. I’ve got some old pairs of Mafac centepull and Universal sidepull brakes for period-correct retrofits, if you’d like them. I’ll charge less than they’d go for on Craigslist in SF – that’s fair, isn’t it?

Yet another battle in the ‘War on Bikes’? Was I the unwitting instigator? Oh, the shame. I’ll be shunned in every fixed-gear pub in Melbourne.

Somewhere else I’m shunned is in the canyons of Collins St., around the 400s block, where every cyclist I pass (most of whom are BV employees to or from their flexitimed and shortened {it’s the GFC, you know} hours at the 10th floor office {what a curious place to have an office, of a bicycle advocacy organisation – 10 storeys up in the air with no good bicycle parking, except in the rubbish room} ) stares coldly through me, no mean feat whilst negotiating the short but breath-shortening rise to William St. I’m not a fan of a lot of their public relations efforts (apart from the GVBR), and this one doesn’t sway my opinion:

“Bicycle Victoria’s Garry Brennan said several members had reported sales by bike shops of brakeless fixie bikes. He said would be difficult to stop people modifying their bikes. ”Just as hoons modify cars, similar personalities modify their bikes with unsafe changes and neither are desirable”.”

Things wrong with the above statement:

The sense that we have of a network of informants active who go snooping for bicycle non-conformity, and when found, report it to the appropriate agency, for possible punitive action.

The notion that modifying your technology in a non-conforming way to suit your own requirements is somehow aberrant, and one would like to stop it.

That people who do so have similar ‘hoon’ personalities to people who modify cars to take them out of compliance with vehicle regulations.

Sure, Sasha and Andy have a particular take on the bike industry: the people who frequent their shops like what can these two sell them in order to make a living. They’re in the ‘track bike’ department. Not at all meant to be ridden outside the velodrome, are they? That’s the essence of capitalism, isn’t it? – even when it’s toxic like tobacco or booze, if you like it you can have it. Not everything they are asked to repair or construct (and where does the line fall between the two, exactly?) is as it was when it rolled off the showroom floor of a bike shop that complies with the relevant design regulations in what it sells.

I think brakes are essential for riding safely in city traffic (and in the country too, now that traffic moves much more quickly and more frequently that when fixed-gear road training was more common). In the 2 workshops I co-ordinate that’ll hold sway. Individual volunteers and students choose to ride a fixed gear, and if they end up in the hospital before me, then I’ll deal with that. I agree that fixed-gear riding has inherent risks much greater than the average cyclist can always comprehend or control. I don’t agree with BV’s take on the issue that people who modify their bikes into a non-compliant state should be categorised with the dismissive, brush-off title of ‘bike hoon’. It illustrates most clearly the groupthink and cosying-up-with-the-authorities nature of BV’s publicly expressed attitude towards expressions of bicycling it sees as aberrant. Critical Mass, anyone? What about a criterium on a Sunday morning within coo-ee of Camberwell? No? Awwww!

If certain moderately influential members of BV had their way, helmet mirrors, turn indicator armbands, bike registration plates and the adoption of Captain Safety-Pants as a bike safety mascot would be mandatory. Helmet legislation is in place (they got their way over that one, as well as super-shonky mandatory reflectors and bells), and despite evidence of their overall effectiveness to the contrary, is a non-negotiable feature of the cycling landscape.

Yes, regulations exist to protect people, to an extreme and denial-of-common-sense level in our complex society. Yes, people are capable of making their own decisions about how safe a bike they ride is to ride. No, not everyone who modifies bikes are hoons. Except large manufacturers, when they are trying to venally capitalise on a trend that is essentially a backyard one.

And not everyone who gets into cycling via fixed-gear riding are junkies and graffiti kids in waiting, either, Sasha. Cool if you’ve got tats and noserings and like getting up the nose of the pigs. But I don’t understand the nosepicking reference, Andy. Is this to do with not understanding about degrees of danger, and that a fixie skid in the wet is as life-threatening to a fixie god as cleaning out a bit of snot from the nose canal?

Some are just swayed by fashion. They’ll grow out of it eventually and get bikes that work, not just to pose in the inner urbs with. Maybe after they’ve hurt themselves a little, and learnt by it. Seems to work for most baby animals with a brain that functions.

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