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Oakland’s fixed-gear fixation

on October 10, 2010

Bicycles have long been ingrained in the Bay Area’s transportation culture, so it’s no surprise that fixed-gear bikes—single-gear bikes with no rear freewheel, making it impossible for the rider to coast—have found a home in Oakland.

While the bikes have a following on both sides of the bay, Oakland’s relatively flat terrain lends itself to fixed-gear bikes, or “fixies,” which lack lower gears for uphill treks.  (Some fixie purists even forgo brakes, and come to a stop only by pedaling backwards against their own momentum.  This would be a dance with death down San Francisco’s Lombard Street, but is perfectly manageable — or so the riders assert — along Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue.).

Picking up on the fixed-gear zeitgeist, in 2008 husband/wife team Sam Cunningham and MacKay Gibbs opened Manifesto Bicycles, a bike shop on 40th Street that sells fixed-gear bikes alongside the more familiar freewheeled kind.  In spite of the slumping economy, Manifesto has thrived.

Click to see how a fixie works

Click here to see an interactive graphic that shows how a fixed-gear bike works.

“We just took a risk and opened the shop,” Cunningham said.  “We’ve been super busy.”

But Cunningham and Gibbs want Manifesto to be more than just a bike shop.  Several times a year, the couple hosts a Sunday morning “Bike Church” at the store, inviting local musicians to perform as Manifesto’s customers and friends enjoy brunch on the sidewalk.  The event is non-religious, but is meant to replicate the sense of fellowship Gibbs remembers from attending church as a child.

“The best part about church for me when I was growing up was after the service was over and everybody hangs out and talks and has coffee.  And so I just wanted to have that kind of feeling on a Sunday morning—in relationship to bikes.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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