Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Critical Cycles

    Somewhere along the line the idea of style and expense became fused in the public mind. Or maybe it's just me. I noticed this bike Monday, locked on Randolph Street, because of its clean lines and unusual orange rims and hand grips. Then the name on the frame,"Critical," leapt out, one of those moments when life seems to become a Greek chorus directing some kind of sly remark at you. "Critical? Why yes I am. What of it?"
     I assumed the bike had to be a costly couture bike, made of titanium perhaps, designed to be shown off more than ridden. Wrong. Critical Cycles, "America's on-line Urban Bike Shop," based in California, slogan "Happiness on Two Wheels." This bike, their Fixed Gear Single Speed Fixie Urban Road Bike: $219, with free shipping. Made in China, natch.
    I can't vouch for the bike itself. Some glowing reviews online, some dismissive ones, claiming that it gets beaten up too easily. But the machine sure looks nice. Doesn't it? One reason the front wheel is so clean is that it doesn't have any front brakes -- "fixed gear," if you are unfamiliar with the term, as I was, means that there is no mechanism that allows the pedals to remain stationary while the wheels turn. This saves weight, and means that you can also slow the bike down using the pedals, thus less need for front brake stopping power (some riders dispense with the rear brake too, though the company discourages this). Fixed gear riding also "gives you a feeling of oneness with your bike," the company claims, "similar to driving a stick shift."
     And "Critical Cycles"? You have to admire the name. Maybe from a closet electronics geek, "critical cycle delay" being a problem in integrated circuit design. Although, to me, it sounds like a term that describes how a particular writer or artist falls in and out of favor as time lopes along. "Strindberg passed through several critical cycles before reaching his current popularity." Now that I think of it, the company name has to be a stab at borrowing a bit of the cool from the "Critical Mass" bike rides that draw hordes of bicyclists to reclaim city streets by weight of numbers. Though between the Divvy bikes and the dedicated bike lanes downtown, it seems that bicycles have achieved a critical mass in the heart of Chicago already, with no packs of riders necessary. 
     A pretty bike, this, though I'm hanging onto my black Schwinn Cruiser, with its balloon whitewall tires, coaster brake and fat ass saddle.  So uncool, it achieves a kind of transcendent coolness all its own, in my own eyes if nobody else's. Of course that's nothing unusual: most coolness is both self-assigned and illusory.



  1. Only a fool or someone with a death wish rides a fix with only a rear brake in the city!
    Fixies were intended for short track racing like the track in Northbrook [is that still there?].
    Front brakes do far more to stop a bike than the rear one, at least 60% of the braking. No front brake, truly poor braking!
    And $219 for a piece of Chinese crap? What a ripoff as it's stripped of most components.
    It also has a cheap welded frame.
    Basically, an overpriced gas pipe special that sells for under $100 at Walmart, Target or Kmart!

  2. I would add that I suspect that 90% of complaints about cyclists in the city (they ride through stopsigns and red lights, they cut crazily through traffic and intersections!) are generated by fixie riders, especially brakeless fixie riders, ie, future organ donors. Bike messengers, Jimmy John's delivery cyclists in Evanston, all fixie types. ALso, note that this bike lacks front and rear lights or reflectors: another way it's dangerous and stupid.

    1. Bill, I do ride through stop signs, but only after slowing to almost a stop & when there's no cross traffic, plus I'm older & ride mostly about 10-12 MPH max. I only go through a red light under the same conditions, no cross traffic. I never weave through traffic.
      Those are the laws now in effect in Portland & a few other cities.
      And I have lights & reflectors for night riding.
      I'm not crazy or stupid!

  3. Becca I also slow-and-roll through stopsigns and lights. My point was that brakeless fixie riders often CANNOT stop and choose to not slow down, and that they are the sort of riders that drivers always point to when calling cyclists scofflaws and dismissing any accommodation for cyclists in road design. The bike pictured has no lights or reflectors, and I was addressing that. See here:


    1. Maybe the city should try to ban fixies without brakes from the streets.
      It might help.
      Or a really high fine for riding one on a street.

  4. Well, Neil's traditional Schwinn has no front brakes, and I imagine that it stops all right. Or at least the one I used to have did. I'm no fixie fan, but I seldom use the front brakes on my regular, 30-year-old ten-speed. But I agree about the aggressive riders and the lack of lights/reflectors.

    Speaking of being critical, I'd have gone with "illusory" in the last sentence of the post. Wondering if that would have been better, worse, or "toMAYto, toMAHto". ; )

    1. The traditional Schwinn had an internal foot operated drum brake which had far more stopping power than simple hand brakes. The force you can apply to a rear drum is from your weight & the strength of your leg. Typical hand brakes are dependent on the strength of your hands, the wheel's material [aluminum stops better than steel], the type of brake, caliper vs. cantilever [cantilever is better] & the alignment, size & material of the brake shoes.
      The best current brakes on a bike are disk brakes, just like a car has.

    2. @Jakash -- particularly given how I ride -- it's practically stopped even when it's moving. And I took your advice regarding "illusory," given that my choice, "illusionary," as legitimate as it sounds, is not in fact a word. Good catch.

    3. Hmmm...

      "Illusionary" sounded odd to me, but I sincerely doubted that you'd have used it if it weren't also a valid choice, Neil. So I looked it up before making that comment. It is found both at dictionary . com and in my print Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, where it notes a date of 1866 and the definition is "illusory", by the way.

      Regardless, speaking of self-assigned coolness, contributing to your blog in even that tiny way is the coolest thing that's happened to me in a while. Fortunately, I think you're the kind of guy who could appreciate that perspective. Given the name of your blog, I trust that you won't be offended when I mention that, seeing that you had changed the word in the actual post, before I read your comment right now, my thought was "Holy shit!"

  5. I'm glad. I just plugged it into the online dictionary and it wasn't there. I try not to use an obscure word when a more common one will do. As far as mistakes, I make them all the time, and have no problem fixing something -- I'll often go in and improve the post. I only mentioned it because I didn't want your comment seeming to refer to a word that isn't there. Some people feel that correcting posts is somehow deceptive -- particularly tweets -- but I don't buy that. To write is to err, and one of the great advantages of the online world is that you can fix things. Why thwart that in the name of some non-existent historical record?

  6. This post is very useful for us. Because we have a lot o tips and tricks from this post. Thank you for this amazing post share. travell bike

  7. Jakash is okay but full of himself at times

  8. This bike looks very stylish. I just want to know can I modify this one? I really like the design of this bike.


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