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Ride a Fucking Bike.

Rebels on the Road

Driving the roads of Kuala Lumpur is no easy feat. The numerous cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles cutting in and out of lanes makes commuting a daunting task in the capital city. On the road accidents are a common sight, reckless driving and speeding are the causes of the high road death toll each year. Undoubtedly, Kuala Lumpur is not a safe place for cyclists to be pedalling around the intensity of KL traffic.

However, it has become a common experience to be driving down the highways in the city, and spotting a crew of cyclists on aesthetically colourful bicycles streaming down the highways at night. These riders survive the roads pumped on adrenaline, riding their brakeless, muscle powered vehicles, down the roads of the city centre to as far as Port Dickson.

These bicycles appear to be your conventional road bike that you may see on the Tour de France. However, Fixed Gear bicycles or ‘Fixies’, are generally used in track cycling in velodromes. Fixie bikes were made popular on the roads in the mid-2000’s by mail messengers in New York and London, and became a trend in the Hipster sub-culture.

If you look closely, these bicycles have only one gear, meaning, that the only assistance going up a slope is the strength of your leg muscles. They also have no freewheel mechanism like any other bicycles, which restricts you from coasting when you’re tired. Many of these cyclists choose not to have brakes on their bikes, as with the ability to lock the pedals by pedalling backwards, they are able to flaunt off with a skid stop.

So, Why would anyone choose to ride a bicycle that can’t get you up hills, doesn’t allow you to coast, and has no brakes?

I find Sheldon Brown‘s article to have the closest objective explanation:

When you ride a fixed gear, you feel a closer communion with your bike and with the road. There is a purity and simplicity to the fixed-gear bicycle that can be quite seductive. Somehow, once you get past the unfamiliarity, it is just more fun than riding a bike with gears and a freewheel.

Riding a fixed gear on the road is excellent exercise. When you need to climb, you don’t need to think about when to change gears, because you don’t have that option. Instead, you know that you must just stand up and pedal, even though the gear is too high for maximum climbing efficiency. This makes you stronger.

Most cyclists coast far too much. Riding a fixed-gear bike will break this pernicious habit. Coasting breaks up your rhythm and allows your legs to stiffen up. Keeping your legs in motion keeps the muscles supple, and promotes good circulation.

It is hard to express the feeling of riding a Fixie without actually riding one. Many of us have ridden a bicycle before, but I compare riding a Fixed gear close to the emotion that you felt when you first got off your training wheels – Pure freedom and joy.

I spent the month observing this growing subculture in Kuala Lumpur. To really explore what’s it all about, I had to get a Fixie. I was able to get my hands on a beautiful aged Raleigh frame, restored with the simplicity of neon green spray paint, which throughout the month I started to intimately call it my ‘Shrieking Monkey’.

My  Monkey

It did not have the aesthetic charm of the other bicycles found in the scene, but it rode like a dream. My first attempt to ride a Fixie was to answer the question: How do you stop with no brakes? I was taken by my friend Ashed around his neighbourhood of Taman Melawati, to test out the multiple hills and probably ride to an expected death. It was around midnight, we both had no helmets, no lights, and ofcourse to be authentic, no brakes. I was presented with my first hill, and to be honest, it was not humble in size. I asked Ashed nervously, “How the fuck do we get do we get down this?”

He showed me the most essential braking technique while riding a brakeless fixie – The emergency stop. It requires the rider to step on the top of the back wheel, using the sole of his shoe or slipper as a friction to slow down and eventually stop the wheel from rolling. It was unorthodox, but very effective. I made it down the hill safely.

After that ride, I was hooked. The sheer rush and exhilaration of riding around the vast area of  Taman Melawati, exploring the back alleys and car parks, and riding beside the speeding cars and motorcycles was a new experience of adventure that I’ve never imagined.  I spent the next couple of days and nights feeling comfortable on riding on the bike and I was ready to try out Kuala Lumpur.

It was Thursday night, Ashed and I were at a penthouse party at an upmarket apartment facing directly the brightly shining KLCC. It had the perfect ingredients of a great party, friendly acquaintances, beautiful women, and free flow alcohol. I was distracted from these conveniences, as I was anxious in riding around KL with his friends, who some, were part of the BRNWRCK crew.

“Well some of them coming from Shah Alam, and some from Petaling Jaya” He said.

“Your joking? Thats a good twenty to thirty kilometers of highway!” I replied, imagining a bunch of fixed gear cyclists pedalling tirelessly down the treacherous Federal Highway.

It was around midnight when he received the call, we were going to go meet them at the base of KLCC. We sheepishly left the party with protests from the host, but assured we’d come back later (which we didn’t), and grab our rides from our cars to meet them at KLCC. When we arrived, I was in awe of their rides.

Riding a bicycle around the Kuala Lumpur created a new perspective of the city, we cruised down the strip of Bintang Walk, rode down the quiet roads of Titiwangsa, dodged speeding cars and motorcycles down the highway past Tawakal Hospital, and eventually reached Danau Kota for drinks at a Mamak stall, an area just five kilometres out of the city centre.

It was like an assembly point of Fixie riders, there were about twenty of them from the Wild Dogs Brigade. I’ve learnt that these people take their hobby seriously, the detailing of their bikes go right down to their saddles:

Darth Maul Guarding Yo Ass

At a glimpse of the guys on the table, they seemed like intimidating individuals. A whole variety of bike riders from hipsters to those from the Hardcore Punk scene. However, they were friendly either comparing the bikes, talking about bike parts, and comparing tattoo’s.

At the table, one guy was telling us about an Fixed Gear event happening in Malacca on Saturday, which most of the KL crews would travel down and with some riders coming from Singapore. It was must go event to really see the measure of this subculture in Malaysia.

It was getting late, four am to be exact. A couple of guys were yawning through idleness, I’ve learnt that these riders don’t sleep at nights anymore, the pure adrenaline of cruising KL roads was keeping them as insomniacs. We soon rode off through the back roads of Danau Kota, passing by Chinese Crematories, derelict buildings, and areas that I never knew existed.

It was exhilarating, the mixture of the muggy breeze and dangerous terrain was a passive adrenaline boost into the bloodstream. Like Ecstasy without the rat poison, like Erimin, but you remember the night before.

There are a couple of prominent Fixie crews in Malaysia; RatsKL, Wild Dogs, BRNWRCK, Harufixed, and Southern Fixed represent the Fixed Gear culture in the country. Their blogs show off their riding skills, and showcase events such as the ‘Critical Mass’ rides that are organised every last Friday of each month to promote non-motorized commuting.

RatsKL promo video:

Critical Mass Ride 25th June 2010:

It was a hot day on Saturday, spread with blue skies, seemingly fit for a large scale cycling event. We drove down following the large convoy of cyclists from KL. It was expected about a hundred Fixed gear riders were going to be present on the day. Cycling Nation was the perennial event to showcase the Malaysian Fixie scene.

Historical Malacca seemed perfect for the event. The city, renowned for being bicycle friendly, due to the flowery bicycle taxis, the picturesque scenery of its colourful buildings, historical streets, and cruising down the canals of Malacca strait presented a great day for cruising the town.

It seemed that many of the fixie enthusiasts envisaged this imagery, and there was close to a hundred cyclists in attendance.

The variety of bicycles were vast, as each fixed gear presented different concepts of how its ridden. Trick bikes, speed bikes, cruisers, and at large boasters. Many of these bikes were impressive, and not cheap. A Fixie can cost up around six thousand Malaysian ringgit with all its customised handle bars, wheel seats, chains, paint work and frames. It is serious investment to look good, and to feel good.

The event organised presented maps to the riders for the best treks around Malacca, and showcased short films and several competitions spanning from best track stands, fastest sprinters, and best skid stops.

The trend has been a growing interest in conversations, with many debating about their growing presence in Malaysian society. Many have commended cyclists in their choice of environmentally conscious commuting, but believe their presence create more danger on the hectic roads. The lack of bicycle lanes and facilities in Malaysia is a safety issue that should be acknowledged by local authorities in ensuring the safety, and encouraging the people, with non-motorized transportation.

The Fixie scene is largely growing, and the subculture seemingly permanent in KL. The ever growing population of bicycle riders in Malaysia will see the country slow down, smell the flowers, and ride a bike.

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About Ariff Azmi

Founder of shriekingmonkeys - My interests span from quirky culture to anything that dares to amuse my highly-desensitized nature.

2 responses to “Ride a Fucking Bike.

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