Separating the men from the boys' bikes on Queen St. W.
September 26, 2008 10:01 PM   Subscribe

For approximately the last ten years, whenever I have been down on Toronto's Queen Street West, I notice a number of very young men (age 18 to 21 give or take) riding boys' bicycles, sometimes with the seat jacked way up, but just as often not. Is there some reason why these young men are riding bicycles more suitably sized for a ten-year-old? I mean, any practical reason other than it being some sort of "Queen St. thing" and a trend? Perhaps such bicyles are cheaper, or easier to store, or there's some advantage when one is riding them? Or they've had some kind of freakish overnight growth spurt and just haven't got around to replacing their bikes?
posted by orange swan to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in my thirties and ride a mountain bike to work.(in TO) one of the younger guys at work (21?) rides a trac bike, which is a mountain bike/bmx/low rider cross.. there is some sort of low-riding bike thing that I think some of us missed.
posted by Frasermoo at 10:21 PM on September 26, 2008

i have seen this in other places than toronto. I figure

1. they are doing stunts


2. they have just stolen the bike from some poor little kid.


3. they enjoy looking like douchbags
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:21 PM on September 26, 2008

i'd would have to guess 2 and 3, most likely 2. no definite answer though
posted by docmccoy at 10:25 PM on September 26, 2008

I see these at UIUC all the time, but never with the seat up. I just figured it's some hip-hop/rap trend I don't understand.
posted by sbutler at 10:45 PM on September 26, 2008

i have seen this in other places than toronto. I figure

1. they are doing stunts


2. they have just stolen the bike from some poor little kid.


3. they enjoy looking like douchbags
posted by silkygreenbelly at 12:21 AM

I select number 1 from silkygreenbellys post -- these bitty bikes are (from what I hear) really good for jumping around things or over things or whatever; I suspect that is what these guys are doing. But, by default, they are also doing number 3.

Who knows, maybe these bikes really are cool to ride, but to me it'd be like riding a moped -- yeah, it might be fun but I couldn't bear it if anyone saw me on the thing. Plus I'm tall, and I look like a big gork on most bikes anyways; on one of these I'd look like a circus clown, or the village idiot, on my way to a church rally supporting McCain/Palin.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:54 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I see this all the time in LA, and I have wondered what the crap they're doing, myself. I don't know the answer, but I Googled "grown men riding kids' bikes" and all I can say is that it would appear that we're not alone in our wondering.
posted by katillathehun at 11:30 PM on September 26, 2008

Sounds like Zoobomb in Portland.
posted by xil at 11:35 PM on September 26, 2008

Your description sounds a bit like scraper bikes.
posted by PY at 11:51 PM on September 26, 2008

Actually maybe not...unless the bikes you see also have large wheels attached to their small frames. ("Stevenson and his friends took those aesthetics and applied them to bicycles, fitting large wheels on small frames. ")
posted by PY at 11:58 PM on September 26, 2008

I'd a friend who'd ride a bmx. Doing stunts and jumps and such. I thought he looked pretty comical, with his big body on the tiny bike. Perhaps it's some sort of BMX scene?
posted by alexei at 12:30 AM on September 27, 2008

The problem is that your description is very sparse and not clear on details... so it's generating a lot of "probably" and anecdotal answers which aren't of much use...

What would help us answer your question would be details about both the riders in question and their bicycles.

"Small" bicycles isn't good enough. For some people mountain bikes with their smaller 26" wheels are considered "small" - for others (and myself) what it sounds like is that you're talking about 20" wheeled bicycles - which in and of itself includes several styles of bikes, notably BMX and low rider bikes - two types of rides which attract distinct types of riders.

Also, you're not clear on what these riders look like. "very young men (age 18 to 21 give" isn't a useful description. Are these urban types? White kids? Latinos? Blacks? Are the riding with purposeful direction, doing tricks, hanging out?

Lastly, why don't you just go up and ask them? Don't be intimidated. At worse you're going to get a smart ass answers, at best you may meet someone in your community who can explain their entire subculture.

a trac bike, which is a mountain bike/bmx/low rider cross

Uh... yeah...
posted by wfrgms at 1:06 AM on September 27, 2008

How do you ride a bike with the "seat up"? Sitting on the end of the tube?
posted by A189Nut at 1:33 AM on September 27, 2008

A189Nut, my assumption is that it's referring to the seat post being raised, fully extended, so it's high enough for a taller person to ride the bike intended for a shorter person.
posted by empyrean at 2:25 AM on September 27, 2008

Here in Greece most of the local stunt-bicycle scene has been using small BMXs for years and the bikes do look too small for the riders. That's probably it.
posted by ersatz at 3:40 AM on September 27, 2008

What would help us answer your question would be details about both the riders in question and their bicycles.

I'm not at all knowledgeable about the different kinds of bicycles, but these look like ordinary kids' bikes to me. They don't have outsize wheels or any other distinguishing features. The young men who ride them always seem to be white and, if I recall correctly, are dressed in a grungy Queen street sort of way. Picture the kind of guy who works in a used record store and you'll get an idea of the look. They are riding purposefully and swiftly, and not doing stunts, but then Queen St. W. is no place to be doing stunts. There's a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians, so you'd get killed or hurt someone if you tried it.
posted by orange swan at 4:38 AM on September 27, 2008

I've seen teenagers who live in my suburban (practically rural) town ride what appear to be kids' bike around big empty parking lots and do tricks on them. I always figured they were cheap bikes that even high school kids could afford, and they're maneuverable for tricks - almost like a skateboard, but a bike instead. I also think there are some urban trends associated with little trick bikes, but I'm out of touch with all of that.
posted by katie at 4:38 AM on September 27, 2008

I live in a rural town in the US, and I see it here, too. Definitely a cultural thing, like low-riding pants, in my opinion. To me it looks stupid. Maybe it gets the girls of that age to swoon.
posted by yclipse at 5:11 AM on September 27, 2008

When I lived in Nottingham (UK) a couple of years ago quite a lot of the boys at the local art school were riding BMX bikes (despite the bikes being way too small for them). I suspect that this was at least in part because of the whole 80's cool thing of BMX, as youth fashions tend (sometimes) to go back 20 or so years to 'grab' stuff... I was hunting out 60's gear in the 80's so I saw the whole 80's revival thing coming a mile off...
posted by Chairboy at 6:17 AM on September 27, 2008

If you do a google search for "BMX Trick Bike", you'll see that they all have 20" wheels and a 19" top tube. They will often have steel pegs projecting from the front and rear axles for grinding and standing on while doing tricks. These'll look pretty small if you're used to standard size machines.

I suspect you are looking at trick bikes or at cheaper kid's bikes that have been modified to be similar to them.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:19 AM on September 27, 2008

There are a number of 18- to 22-year-old male students at the university where I teach who ride BMX bikes around, though they are outnumbered by those of us who ride road bikes, commuters, mountain bikes, and stripped-down fixies (OK, there might be about the same number of BMX and fixie riders). My guess is that it looks cool to them. If I get a chance, I'll ask, but usually I see them dashing across traffic, riding way too fast on campus paths, or otherwise doing things where I can't catch them if I'm foot and I won't want to catch them if I'm on a bike.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:25 AM on September 27, 2008

Are you talking about adult sized people riding BMX bikes with 20" wheels? It's pretty common around here - Phildelphia, PA - and my guess is they just grew up riding BMX bikes and never stopped. They are not interested in MTBs, road bikes, fixies, scrapers, tallbikes, etc. It's not really very strange or even super noteworthy.
posted by fixedgear at 6:38 AM on September 27, 2008

Are we talking about bikes with 20" wheels, or 16" wheels? There was a BMX style called a "pit bike", which had 16" wheels, sometimes with mags, and they would usually have a long seat post tube and sometimes an extended neck. Here are a couple of examples from Gary Littlejohn 16", GT 16".

I had a friend who had a Torker pit bike when we were young (1982?), and it was the coolest thing ever. I've recently been wanting to get one, just because they're cool. So yeah... you say douchebag, I say neat bike. I didn't know they were coming back into style.

They're not the same as the ramp trick bikes with the really short seat posts and smooth tread. Pit bikes didn't have trick pegs, back in the day, because they weren't invented yet, but maybe the kids are putting them on now. These are built for riding in dirt pits or dirt tracks. Why small is good, I have no idea. "Pit bike" is a term used for smaller motorcycles that are ridden similar ways, as well, so I always thought that maybe it's because it was easier to ride a small bike when doing tricks in a dirt pit, like riding a skateboard in a pool.
posted by dammitjim at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2008

BMX bikes, if that is indeed what they are (I know more about bikes than I do about hipsters in Toronto), are sized in terms of top-tube length (well, aside from 16" kids BMX bikes and 24" cruisers, but let's not complicate this any more than we have to), not seat-tube length. They've all got small frames, which, when designed right, are lighter and stiffer, as well as offering better clearance for tricks and, generally, moving the bike around underneath you. Flatland freestyle bikes take these design principles about as far as they can go, with extra-short wheelbases and curved frame tubes designed for crazy clearance.

Trials bikes also have small frames and, sometimes, small wheels. But trials riders very rarely run fully extended seatposts and, often, don't use seats at all.

(The Wikipedia pages for these kinds of things aren't great--I think you'd get a better impression of the various styles of cycling by either visiting manufacturer/reseller pages or by watching Youtube clips.)

On preview: my experience differs slightly from fixedgear's, in that I know more than a few ex-BMX types who are now into fixed-gear freestyle. Apart from that, though, he's right on.
posted by box at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2008

If you look at the Zoobombers -- not only are most of those bikes kids' bike but they are like little girls' bikes! I think the primary reason is to do tricks. Going fast down the West hills of Portland, though, I imagine the low center of gravity has something to do with it. I also think that for some kids that they look cool. Whether or not they actually know how to do tricks is secondary to the coolness of hanging with their friends that do. The reason why older folks aren't doing that is because our knees and backs don't work that way no more.

Now, what's with the little clown-style motorcycles that people ride? I saw a kid do a pretty awesome wipeout on one of those. It was hilarious. Especially after, when he was all bent over pushing his tiny bike up the hill.
posted by amanda at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2008

I think it's supposed to send a message like, "This is my turf. I only use this bike to fart around and take up space on the sidewalk. I ride it to the variety store and the liquor store and to buy or sell drugs. I never need to ride any great distance because I don't have a job".
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:52 PM on September 27, 2008

So you're sure it isn't a Strida or something?

I know that it surprised me when I first saw teens riding 1970s banana bikes -- in the 1990s. I thought they looked cool when I was 13 but not much longer after that. But it seems like the retro bike, bmx bike, stunt bike, and custom bike things have spread really widely and overlap quite a bit nowadays.
posted by dhartung at 2:05 PM on September 27, 2008

So you're sure it isn't a Strida or something?

That's what I thought - not Stridas, which are too striking to be mistaken for a kid's bike, but they could be Brompton/Bike Friday/Dahon/Moulton/&c folders, which all look like little bikes with 'the seat jacked way up'. I know plenty of used record store types who ride folders (but I'm not in Toronto).
posted by jack_mo at 3:44 PM on September 27, 2008

Definitely not a Strida, a Brompton or a Moulton. They are not distinctive bikes in any way, and they do not look expensive.
posted by orange swan at 3:59 PM on September 27, 2008

There's also an interesting quirk in the law here with regards to riding bikes on the sidewalk. They want a law that says kids are allowed to ride bikes on the sidewalk but not adults. Except kids don't carry ID that proves their age, so how do you make an enforceable law based on criteria that a cop can actually assess at the scene? You make the criterion the diameter of the bike's wheel, rather than the age of the rider.
posted by winston at 6:44 PM on September 27, 2008

They are not distinctive bikes in any way, and they do not look expensive.

Intriguing. Do they look like the sort of little bike that 'self-facilitating media node' Nathan Barley rides (skip to 1:30 or 3:15 for bike action)? Maybe riding undersized bikes is just one of those things that becomes cool from time to time, like really tight trousers, and since London had its time in the late 90s, it's now Toronto's turn to suffer? Either that or it's currently hip to ironically adopt markers of hip idiocy from a 'retro' satire.
posted by jack_mo at 2:16 AM on September 28, 2008

Are they 20" folding bikes like those sold by birdy? These use small wheels to enable them to be folded up smaller, but actually place the handlebars, seat and pedals in the same position as for a full sized bike.

Some people commute on them because they can be stored under a desk at work.
posted by markr at 2:29 AM on September 28, 2008

They are bigger than the bike Nathan Barley rides. That one looks like a bike for a six-year-old; the ones I see look like bikes sized for a ten to twelve-year-old. And they aren't folding bikes.
posted by orange swan at 6:34 AM on September 28, 2008

I don't think anyone really rode bikes as tiny as Barley's - the programme makers were exaggerating for effect. So, I'm going with the 'strange trend' explanation.
posted by jack_mo at 6:47 AM on September 28, 2008

very young men (age 18 to 21 give" isn't a useful description

As the OP has described, they're white, urban, hipster types. If you're from Toronto you merely have to say "Queen St West" and you know who these guys are which is why the OP was not more descriptive. There are no significant numbers of black or Latino people on Queen St West and there are certainly not gangs in that part of the city, at least not in daylight hours.
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 AM on September 29, 2008

This is just a guess but given the high rate of bike theft in that part of the city, these are bikes that could be left unlocked with little chance of being stolen.
posted by GuyZero at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2008

My seventeen-year-old neighbor Molly and some of her friends (who live on the SF peninsula, but look like they'd fit in just fine on Queen Street in Toronto) sometimes ride kids' bikes. These are literally kids' bikes, bmx style but nothing fancy.

Molly at least has a regular road bike, but uses her little bike around the neighborhood because it's cheap and cute and she's painted stripes on it and glued silly things to it and nobody's going to steal it.
posted by tangerine at 11:48 AM on September 29, 2008

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