Bicycle Democracy

27 04 2010

When future ethnographers and anthropologists look back on the early 21C, they will certainly attribute nearly every social trend to the popularity of the iPod. While there were certainly other tangible influences prior, the iPod established the era of mass customization.

And if that sounds just a tad bit oxymoronic, perhaps you have been living in a cave this last decade. We are a nation of 304 million individuals, each with a different soundtrack.

And we have carried that notion of personal playlist into nearly aspect of our lives. Custom tennis shoes. Custom jeans. And now custom bikes, via Republic Bike.

Everyone from urban hipsters to grizzled old racers wanting a simple ride are repurposing old bikes as fixies (aka, fixed gears), each one a unique piece of bicycle art. Republic Bike has raised the bar by allowing customers to literally design their own new fixie online. Everything from wheel and hub colors down the chain can be spec’d as you see fit. Want a pink seat? Ya got it, Paula. Yellow rims? Roll on, Rocky. Red frame? It’s in the box, Buddy.

And to Republic’s credit, they have now partnered with way-cool Urban Outfitters to sell their bikes. With over 100,000 possible color mashups, Republic stands right up there with Waffle House in combinatorial supremacy. The link to UO is a match made where the rubber hits the road.

But from my perspective as critic of all things online, Republic is a master stroke. It is a bike factory and bike shop wrapped into one, but without the haughtiness that often goes along with shops catering to Lance Armstrong wannabes in a hurry to drop $8000 on a cool bike. No intimidation. No insecurity. No dudes with shaved legs making you feel uncomfortable (OK, I am guilty here).

Until just recently, Republic offered only one model (the Aristotle). They recently added the Dutch-style Plato, which is equally customizable.

The simplicity of both bikes allows Republic to sell them at ridiculously low prices. Letting customers in on the design phase is like the chef inviting you to the kitchen to help prepare your dinner. The $400 price point is extremely competitive for fixies. By comparison, this year I have acquired two fixies, spending $700 on an Origin8 custom, and $1100 building out a 20-year-old Paramount frame.

I don’t need another bike, but that has never stopped me before. I vote for a black frame with all white accessories.

Dr “Under My Wheels” Gerlich


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