We talk shop with Ines Brunn, Beijing’s own fixed gear bike revolutionary. She's also one of the forces behind Natooke Fixed Gear Bikes, the hutong headquarters of the fixed gear set. Want to join the revolution? Catch their regular newsletter by signing up over at www.natooke.com.
What's the difference between a regular road bike and a fixed gear bike? On the back wheel of a normal bike, there's a freewheeling device. When you stop pedaling, you hear the click-click-click, and the chain can stay still while the wheel keeps moving. Fixed gear bikes have a fixed cog, and a lock ring. So if you pedal forward, the bike goes forward. If you stop, it stops. If you pedal backwards, you go backwards. Whatever you do, the wheel does.
Are fixed gear bikes expensive? At Natooke, every bike is custom-built, so there's no big factory mass-producing bikes. Everything is hand-built here in the shop, and you can configure everything. We have people that even choose eight different colors of spokes, so it looks like candy. That makes it unique; in making almost 700 bikes, we've never made two identical bikes. They start at ¥2800.
Are they all crazy colors? It depends on the person. Some of them are crazy colors, some have a classic style, some are all white. But they're all different. Sometimes a person will come in and say, my friend has this bike, I want the same one. But we might not have the exact same parts, so they have to pick new ones. In the process, they end up saying "well, actually, I want this color."
It really shows people's personality, doesn't it? Yes. Most people that walk through the door are strangers, and because we've sold so many bikes, we try to guess what new people will want. If they don't know what they want, you try to steer them towards what you think they'll want, and sometimes we're so wrong. You think, "wow, I did not expect him to want a pink bike."
What about the Fixed Gear Bike Club? The club is an open club, so there's no membership fee, so whenever you have time and you'd like to show up, you show up. But we run different events, like bike polo and tricks practices. We have a newsletter we send out every one or two weeks with all the information. You can sign up at our website.
Where does the club meet? It depends on the event. For bike polo, we meet at an open space on the west side of the Worker's Gymnasium. We used to meet at Ditan Park, but there were too many elderly people at risk of getting hit with a ball, so we decided it was best to move. For tricks, sometimes we meet at the shop here, but there's a space at Dongsi called Longfusi where we practice sometimes.
Has the local Chinese awareness of fixed gear biking gone up since you started? The majority of our customers now are Chinese, but at the beginning it was mostly foreigners, because foreigners had heard about fixed gear bikes in their countries before. But it took a while for Chinese people to hear about it and understand what it is, but now it's caught up.
What: Fixed Gear Bike Club
Where: 19-1 Wudaoying Hutong, 五道营胡同甲19-1号