What’s old is new again. Fixed gear road bikes have moved from the track and the time trial course to the catwalk of urban cool. Cities are their natural home because couriers use them and ordinary commuters want a bit of that street cowboy style. They’re everywhere in red-light-ignoring London and presumably in New York too: ‘Bowery’ is a street and surrounding area in Lower Manhattan.
A fixed gear makes good sense in a flattish city for a moderately fit rider. Apart from the chain itself, there’s little to go wrong with the drivetrain. Back-pressure on the pedals lets you slow down gently, which will improve the life of your brake blocks and rims, although it’s only a legal rather than practical substitute for a rear brake. Plus you get a certain purity in your bike and that ineffable ‘oneness’ between wheels and rider that fixie fans bang on about, on account of being chained to one of them.
Budget fixies are cropping up in plenty of mainstream manufacturers’ product ranges – see also the Specialized Langster, Kona Paddy Wagon and Genesis Flyer. Giant’s Bowery is in much the same mould: a basic fixie with a flip-flop hub for commuters. It retails at a lower price than any of them.
Frame: Aluminium compact with horizontal dropouts but no eyelets for rack or mudguards
The Bowery uses a compact aluminium road frame like Giant’s road bikes. The straight-bladed fork is chrome-moly steel. Sizing is generous, with a reach on the 50cm centre-to-seat-tube-top medium that’s a couple of centimetres longer than my non-compact 54cm Genesis Flyer. The front-centres distance (bottom bracket to front wheel axle) is just large enough for someone with UK 8 feet (me) to avoid toe-overlap.
The rear dropouts are track-ends, which look the part and prevent you pulling the wheel out when you really put the power down. It’d be difficult to shift it anyway as there are chain-tugs for aligning the wheel which also help hold it in place. These are a little primitive and fiddlier than some when it comes to slackening them off for wheel removal, but they work okay and it’s better to have them than not.
There are no eyelets on the frame for mudguards, although the fork does have them. For a bike that’s pitched as a commuter, that’s an omission. I guess the argument is that the lack of eyelets gives the bike ‘clean lines’ (or maybe couriers won’t talk to you if you use mudguards on your fixie?), but I don’t buy it. Eyelets weigh basically nothing and mean that you don’t have to have a dirty line of road run-off up your backside on wet days. However, clearance is a bit tight anyway for full-length guards. There’s only 10mm of air between tyre top and brake caliper. So if you want guards you’ll either need to go down to 23mm or 20mm tyres to get more air-space for grit to rattle through – fixing that rear guard on with P-clips – or else use Race Blades.
Ride: like a budget road bike … without gears
I mostly rode the Bowery as a fixie rather than a singlespeed. Instant drivetrain pickup (no pawls to engage) and a low weight mean that, like most fixies, it’s easy to whip up to cruising speed. Once you’re there, it rides like any decent but cheap aluminium road bike. A carbon fork would be nice up front to absorb a bit of road buzz, but it’s a big ask to get that on a £350 bike.
With such a light weight, you can climb hills as steep as about 1 in 7 or 1 in 6 on this kind of gear, with a bit of grunt. It’s coming down that’s harder: that’s another occasion you’ll be glad of that second brake, to keep your speed down to something your legs can spin at. Still, in most cities this isn’t going to be a huge issue.
The bike was a bit on the long side for me. At 5ft 10in, I usually fit fine on medium size bikes. Here I’d go down a size or switch stems.
Equipment: Wider chain would be good, but the kit does the job
The Bowery uses a 120mm flip-flop hub, with 17T fixed and freewheel sprockets supplied. With the 46T chainring, you’ve got a 73in gear either way. That’s bang on for riding briskly around flattish streets, because you can wind it up to speed easily enough from a standing start but won’t find your legs whirring like egg-whisks when you get a bit of a tail-wind or downhill. The chainline is good for both the sprockets. The chain itself is a 3/32in narrow one – as are the chainring and sprockets. I’d prefer 1/8in, which, other things being equal, won’t wear as fast.
Wheels aren’t bad for a 350-quid bike, with double-wall aluminium rims laced with 32 stainless steel spokes to solid axle hubs. You’d expect a bolted wheel at the rear on a fixie, but it’s a bonus up front. While there’s a small weight penalty over a quick-release hub it means you’ve got wheels that Johnny Quickfingers can’t simply walk away with if you leave your bike in town.
Tyres are a reasonable compromise: 26mm. Going up slightly from 23mm gives you that bit more cush when on a fixie when you end up pedaling through that shallow pothole you couldn’t bunnyhop or jink round while freewheeling. I’d replace them with Michelin Krylion Carbons in 700x25C for more zip and better puncture resistance, but that’s obviously going to add a chunk (£50) to the cost of what is a cheap bike.
Brakes are unbranded, medium-drop dual-pivots. They look like Tektro ones and might well come from the same factory. They work okay. Legally you can dispense with the rear brake if you only ride fixed, but it’s well worth having for long hills and sudden stops.
Finishing kit is good enough for a budget bike. The bars are quite wide (44cm centre to centre), but that gives you a bit more flickability when you’re riding on the hoods and someone opens a car door into you path. The stem is 11cm, which with the longish effective top tube made it a stretch for me to ride on the drops, even with the saddle slid forward on its rails.
The Bowery is an entry-level street fixie/singlespeed with a very keen price. It does the same job as Specialized’s Langster for £50 less. It obviously isn’t quite as nice a bike as, say, the Genesis Flyer which is £500 to its £350. But you pays your money…
It’s a shame, given that this bike is a commuter, you can’t fit full mudguards and maybe a rear rack, like you can on an On One Il Pompino or Genesis Skyline. Fakengers won’t mind, but those wanting a fixie as a winter bike or all-weather workhorse might well. I would: a bike like this doesn’t really have chic to spoil. It’s a bread and butter fixie, and a very good value one at that, but a bit more practicality would make it a better, more versatile buy.