Fixed-gear is synonymous with design
In Copenhagen, ‘brakeless’ is a daily inspiration. Karl Tranberg explains it to us
Clean and evocative shapes. Urban views animated by quick and elegant objects, by pieces of minimalist craftsmanship. In the Danish capital, the fixed-gear is much more than a cycling habit. Karl Tranberg, the designer committed to transforming his bikes into works of art, talks about it. We take you inside his world, exploring his portraits and his words. Enjoy the reading.
How did you come into contact with the fixed gear bike and why did you choose to use it?
Riding fixed-gear was popular in Copenhagen from the mid ’00s to around ’13. Like so many others, I was inspired by the MASH SF films and found the idea of building a bike myself and mastering the brakeless, fixed-gear drivetrain, intriguing. I already rode mtb – a 26″ Cannondale Caffeine hardtail, that I still enjoy to this day – so it felt like a natural leap to try it out. During a trip to New York City in 2012, I scoured countless bike shops in the search of a track bike or a frameset to bring home. I finally found my Masi Speciale Sprint frameset in the backroom of Continuum Cycles, a cozy bike shop on Avenue B in Alphabet City.
What role does this type of bicycle play in the urban context of Copenhagen and what kind of community is there?
Copenhagen has an incredible cycling-culture. The infrastructure of the city is largely designed around cyclists, and in many places the bike lanes are wider than the actual road. As a result, everyone owns a bike and the bike lanes are often crowded with commuters and tourists alike. This means, riding without brakes, you have a great responsibility, preventing anyone from getting in harm’s way because of your choices. It also means bombing down hills (we have very few by the way) in the middle of the road like you see everywhere, is difficult. Drivers are not used to sharing the road with cyclists – and the result is often a chaotic mix of honking, braking and swearing…
Except for some of the local messengers and a few stubborn nerds (myself included), the fixed-gear scene in Copenhagen has pretty much been in hibernation for almost a decade. At the moment we’re experiencing a local growing interest in fixed-gear, though, and I’m hoping it could mean the community is slowly returning. It’s a very different scene now, however. It used to be about mixing colourful frames and wheels in fun combinations whereas now people seem to focus on higher quality components and simpler builds.
Is there also a sporty side linked to the fixed gear, or is it just a way of life?
My interest in fixed-gear has primarily revolved around building and photographing. My daily beater (an old steel track frame, built up brakeless of course) sure sees some miles, but I rarely ride in lycra. I have done a couple of fixed-gear touring trips with an old friend – both to Skagen, the northernmost part of Denmark, via the Swedish west-coast, and to Amsterdam. I’m fascinated about the idea of building something with your own hands, that can carry you across borders and into new territories. On our trip to Amsterdam, we set a hard pace – an average of more than 200km daily on heavily loaded track bikes – I was on my friend’s wheel for most of the trip. Nonetheless it was a fantastic experience – next time I’d like to go for 120 a day tops, though.
What does this type of bike represent for you? Do you think that this object also has an artistic soul?
A track bike represents the most minimalistic bicycle – you can’t remove a single component without critically compromising the function of the bike. I study Furniture and Object design in CPH and my inspiration is rooted in the Scandinavian and Japanese functionalism and minimalism. I love crafted, visually light design – and appreciate when form follows function. I don’t think a design can be beautiful if made with the sole purpose of “looking the part”. On the other hand I just love the simple and clean lines of old steel and aluminium frames, before everything was about weight reduction, aerodynamics, and comfortable geometry. The track bike makes so much sense to me as it is by far the easiest bike to maintain. As the chain-line is straight and the drivetrain is built bulkier to withstand an enormous power-transfer, the drivetrain lasts longer as well. The only part I replace more often than my roadie-friends, are my rear tyres.
What role does photography play in your relationship with bikes?
My passion for bikes is the reason I started veering into photography in the first place. As my Instagram feed reveals, I knew absolutely nothing (about photography, nor building bikes) when I started out – And I have so much to learn, still. But it’s been an interesting discovery, realising how much you’ll get to know an object seeing it through a camera lens; Which angles work and which ones don’t – what components are worth shooting, and how beautiful a detail like a chainring logo can look, up close. I believe I’ve noticed countless details on my bikes that I wouldn’t otherwise have come to appreciate.
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