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Fixie Fad Reaches Watsonville Youth

The bike trend more often seen in large cities has kids excited and cops worried.

A bike trend typical of urban centers is booming among kids in Watsonville, a blue-collar, agriculture-based, nearly rural town.

Fix-gear bikes have become the ride of choice for Watsonville teenagers, young adults and even one 45-year-old cop who needed to exercise more.

Popularity of the bikes spiked years ago in cities like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle where bike messengers used them to zip from client to client. Hipsters jumped on the trend, creating a subculture of cyclists who love the often-brakeless, brightly painted, fix-gear bikes.

But the fixie fad has only hit Watsonville within the past year when the sole bike shop in town started stocking a more affordable fixie and offered a lay-away plan. Now it's hard to keep the bikes in the store.

"I was not aware of it any place little like Watsonville," owner Hugh Forrest said of the trend, as a pack of middle school-aged boys hung out in his store and ogled each others bikes. "I don't know what these guys were doing two years ago, but it wasn't riding bikes."

Watsonville police Sgt. Henry Robles, who rides his fixie to work, estimated there are 20 to 40 people riding the style of bike in Watsonville. At age 45, he's probably the oldest one.

Robles has capitialized on the trend. He and his girlfriend launched West Coast Fixies this year, an apparel line for fix-gear enthusiats. Watsonville Cyclery carries their shirts, hats and stickers.

Forrest said most of his customers are boys, but a few girls have come in for fix-gear bikes, which run $340-$370 in his shop. He wasn't sure how many he's sold, but said "it sure seems like a lot."

Luis Ramos, 14, and 13-year-old Alex Anaya, spent part of Thursday afternoon hanging out in the bike shop with friends checking out parts for their bikes.

Alex said that, until they got fixies a few months ago, "we didn't even like bikes."

The Watsonville teens said it wasn't hard to learn how to ride fixies and Luis said he prefers a fixie over a BMX or mountain bike.

"You go faster to go places," Luis said.

The benefits are easy to see. Kids who ride bikes are more fit, a plus in .

Also, the highly personalized bikes also seem to rise above gang culture, Forrest said. Red and blue—normally claimed by the Norteños and Sureño gangs responsible for much of the crime and violence in the city—are allowable colors on a fixie in Watsonville.

Responsible Riding

Robles regularly rides his San Diego Charger-themed fixed-gear bike to work at the Watsonville Police Department. The blue, white and gold fixie was Robles' saving grace after a medical issue last winter left him needing exercise but uninspired to pick up running again.

The cop had been commuting around town on a mountain bike when he saw kids riding sharp-looking, fast fixies. He had to have one.

Robles, who picked up his bike at Watsonville Cyclery, wears a helmet. He also got the bike equipped with hand brakes. It's been important to set an example because the interest in fixies is not without its problems—namely safety.

"It was really obvious really quick that these kids recognized that I was a police officer," Robles said, explaining that kids aren't receptive to adding brakes to their bikes and are reluctant to wear helmets. "Going back to my responsible role, I have brakes."

These issues aren't Watsonville-specific, but are something police have just begun to address because the fixie trend is so new to the town.

"The popularity of the riding has caused some concerns in our community," Robles said.

Earlier this month, a Watsonville teenager was badly injured when he lost control of his fixed-gear bike and crashed into a car near Main Street and Green Valley Road. He was not wearing a helmet and his bike didn't have brakes.

Robles said he didn't know the teen, but recognized his bike.

Cyclists younger than 18 must wear a helmet and California Vehicle Code states all bikes must have brakes. That rule has been met with controversy in other areas. Fixie riders have argued that their legs are the brakes. They can counter-balance the rotation of the cranks by leaning forward and creating a rear skid.

Watsonville police traffic officer Ely Uretsky said also have been issues with kids riding bikes on sidewalks—again, against the law—and the packs of riders causing traffic disruptions.

This shaky YouTube video shows a pack of teens riding fixies through town without helmets. When they see a police officer, they rider faster and try to not be the last person in the group, hoping that will allow them to avoid a ticket.

Uretsky sent out a memo to Watsonville police officers urging them to educate kids about the rules.

Robles has plans to do as much, hopefully through a bike safety rodeo this fall. In the mean time, he's encouraging youth to keep riding. He'll take a group of boys to Hellyer County Park Velodrome in San Jose on Friday night to watch the professional bike races.

The experience can be like going to your first professional football or baseball game, Robles said. Forrest, at the bike shop, agreed.

"When you walk in there and it's under the lights on the banked track ... it's really exciting," Forrest said.

Jennifer Olds August 17, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I have heard NUMEROUS people complain about these kids not paying attention to cars, darting out in front of them, and too many near misses to count. And naturally, most of them don't wear helmets. It's great that they're outside getting excercise and fresh air, but they need to ride responsibly!!
Cathy P. August 17, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Sounds kinda dangerous to me, of course, riding ANY type of bike around Watsonville (or being a pedestrian for that matter) is taking your life in your hands. The one question I have is how are these kids affording these bikes at just under $400? Seems like a lot for a bike around here...
jay August 17, 2012 at 06:58 PM
of course is dangerous, but its better having these kids do an activity like skateboarding or ridding a bike instead of joining a gang. people always say "we need to stop the gang violence" but when kids pick up an activity some people always have something negative to say. let's give them a break and just teach them how to b safe... i am guessing there parents probably help them out. i see kids wearing 100dollar shoes, 40buck hats, am sure they can afford a expensive bike too. if they can afford a xbox of a flat screen tv they can afford it. people have money u know.
Hector Rodriguez August 18, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Cathy, have you heard about layaway? I don't know why are you suspicious on how they can buy the bikes. I rather have them paying $50, $100 for a bike than spending that money buying drugs. I've seen a lot of kids making payments for those bikes at the Watsonville Cyclery. I have to agree with the other comments, sometimes they aren't paying attention to traffic. And I have seen them riding and wearing headphones, which IMO is dangerous.
Erik Orgell August 18, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I really like seeing all the bikes around but, like others here, I wish the kids learned how to ride on the street, had brakes and wore helmets. I ride my bike all the time and won't even consider riding without a helmet as I've crashed enough times to know that my helmet has absolutely saved my life.
Watzon McWats August 20, 2012 at 09:24 AM
Unfortunately, you almost can't get a non-disposable bike for under $300 anymore. Actually, it's kinda been like that for a while. It's really not as shocking when you consider how much xBoxes, iPhones, laptops, etc, cost. Young people have those too. Their parents buy them for them, or they save up. My fixie riding is limited, but I don't think it's really as dangerous as it sounds on paper. You can stop simply by pedaling progressively shower until you come to a stop (these bikes can't coast - think tricycle or unicycle). So you can stop a fixie without brakes, it just takes a little longer. At slow speeds, this is almost a non issue. It starts getting sketchier as you go faster though. Watsonville I feel is about as safe as ridding in Santa Cruz or Capitola - for whatever that's worth (laughing a little bit internally). With the way our city is laid out, usually you can cut through a neighborhood to avoid the less cycle friendly parts of town. A lot of our bike lanes are really bad though. Broken glass, hardware, etc. - that's one reason you'll see riders in the street or on the sidewalk rather than the bike lane.
Watzon McWats August 20, 2012 at 09:36 AM
I absolutely love the bike explosion in Watsonville. Not just fixies, but the low riders, cruisers, roadies, etc. I'm really enjoying it. It's nice to see people out and about. There are some issues with riding habits, but I have a hard time hatin'. We did the SAME thing when I was a kid with our BMX bikes. Rip the brakes off, render our seats useless, ride at night with no lights or reflectors, ride on the sidewalk, zip through traffic, etc. This is just the next generation. Eventually they'll grow up, add a few gears, tone down on the bright colors, and learn to ride responsibly. I believe it largely comes with age. Riding brakeless bikes without helmets is still probably safer than obesity. :-)
Sean Taylor August 20, 2012 at 03:30 PM
This bikes are a lot of fun and i see a large group of people riding in the la area. I have since purchased a fixie from http://2wheelbikes.com/ and i really enjoy riding now. i think a major concern is the safety of the people riding as well as drivers who come across these riders. although i don't think helmets are always necessary i think its important that both the bike rider and the driver of a vehicle take extra steps to be well aware of their surroundings!
Angela Elmore- Gallardo August 20, 2012 at 08:00 PM
And safer than gangs and drugs :) You said it perfectly!
Angela Elmore- Gallardo August 20, 2012 at 08:05 PM
I strongly believe that this "bike thing" could really be a GREAT thing for our youth in this town!!! Maybe something could be done to support this?? Like someone said, the safety class?? Maybe a "work on bikes together" spot?? I don't know... Just something to maybe get MORE young kids involved in this would be great!!! Maybe some sort of reward or certificate to acknowledge the kids safety class?? More bikes= less drugs, gang members, and crime :)
Watzon McWats August 20, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I couldn't agree more, especially with your first and second sentence. We do have a bike co-op ("work on bikes together spot") in town, but it is politically based and race-centric. It would be nice to have a non-political co-op where people could use tools and share knowledge. Some other things we can do are lobby for cleaner bike lanes, more bike lanes (or off street mixed use paths), and more (good) bike racks. A lot of the businesses in town lack bike racks, and the ones that do tend to either have really crummy ones that are hard to use with a U lock, or they tuck them away in a dangerous unlit corner of the parking lot behind some trashcans or whatever. A good bike rack should be cemented into the ground, work with U locks, and be right out in front of the businesses in well lit areas. You'll notice that one of the towns most popular fixie hangouts, the Starbucks adjacent to Target, has a nice bike rack positioned right out front in a well lit area where everyone can see it. City hall is another example of good bike racks. Target on the other hand stashes it's bike rack in a dangerous unlit corner behind the shopping carts. I wouldn't want young kids going back there to park a bike (you can use the rack near Starbucks of course, but it does fill up). Maybe if we had better bike routes and bike racks, we could help alleviate another one of this cities problems - abandoned shopping carts.
Jennifer Squires August 23, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Sgt. Henry Robles took a group of kids to the velodrome in San Jose. They got to compete against each other in a three-lap race on the banked track (while wearing safety gear-yay!). See pics from Henry here. http://watsonville.patch.com/articles/your-neighborhood-gallery-635ea633#photo-11107441

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