This June while I was in Philly I happened to have the opportunity to pick up an 80's Schwinn Madison. This being a bike I've wanted for a while I jumped on the chance. After getting it back home, and needing to justify it's existence by differentiating it from my other bikes, I decided to leave the stock track bars on.
It had been about 4 years since I had ridden a fixed gear with drop bars, because initally moving from drops to risers had been a revelation. In my opinion everything is easier with rise bars. The upright position is advantageous for seeing traffic, it's easier to stop/skid, you can go up and down curbs without worry, etc. etc.
After trying risers I figured I'd never go back to drops, whose only advantages I could fathom were style and being able to get out of a headwind. It's not like people actually use the drops very often, take a look at mine, still clean. In fact the only people in Minneapolis I ever see actually using their drops are West Bank women. Next time you're in the hood take a look, there they are, motoring down Franklin with black tights and boots in the drops like Merckx.
What I'm getting at is that while in my opinion there aren't a ton of practical reasons to ride track bars on the streets, through doing so I have been reminded of some of the reasons why I was initially so stoked on learning how to ride fixed.
Namely, that it's hard.
And I don't mean it's hard in the exclusive not everyone can do it sense, but that it has brought me back to the notion that mastering this bike is a personal challenge that I want to step up my game to meet.
I had ridden bikes my entire life, but after getting my first fixed gear (a Viner conversion) I had to look at the terrain entirely differently. Maneuvers that were an afterthought now became something that had to be planned ahead for. Every curb, every pothole had to be accounted for and dealt with. You couldn't ride sloppy, you had to pay attention and be dialed in to the traffic, to the streets, to your bike. I had to learn new skills and it totally changed the way I read and anticipated traffic.
The first step in "dumbing down" (I don't mean that as a diss, but it gets the idea across. I'll continue to ride the shit out of all of my track bikes with rise bars and my FGFS bike) the machine was the addition of riser bars. It was a night and day difference. As I said, they make everything easier. Were my rides more comfortable and safer? Yes. Were they easier? Yes.
For me the return to a classic track bike with drops has been a breath of fresh air and it has returned some of the challenge that initially made me so interested in learning to ride fixed. There are still things I'm trying to learn (like sitting down skids, how the fuck do they work?), and the drop bar setup forces me to focus more on what I'm doing. Of course it has it's tradeoffs in that riding drop bars without hoods is not a super comfortable position for long rides, and you do actually have to pay attention to what's going on. But it has also been a ton of fun and presents the last frontier for me in terms of mastering bikes I am interested in riding.
(I have not yet mastered the recumbent, but then again I have no interest in doing so)
I'm guessing that as a direct response to fixed freestyle and people wishing to distance themselves from it, we'll soon start seeing the return of drop bars and the classic track bike aesthetic and I'm stoked for it. While I hope no one gives up their risers as a nod to fashion or trend, I do hope that I'm not alone in finding a new excitement by equipping them.