RIGA - This summer Riga has undergone something of a fixie revolution, with fixed-gear bicycles now a staple part of Riga’s scenery. At the fore of fixie riding in Latvia are the founding fathers of one of Riga’s hippest brands, Tru Fix Kru, Toms Alsbergs, Ingemars Dzenis and Arturs Pavlovs. The trio caught up with Jared Grellet to help explain the rise of the current fixie phenomena and the simultaneous development of their brand.
Fixie is the shortened term for a fixed-gear bicycle. Unlike traditional bikes, to ride a fixie, one must constantly be peddling in order for the bicycle to move. In order to make it lighter, the bike is also stripped of brakes, gears and anything else that may add weight to the frame. Not unlike a tattoo, a fixie is seen as an expression of its owner with every fixie having its own unique look, chosen and designed by the rider.
The Fixie fad
Pavlovs, Dzenis and Alsbergs first began riding fixie bicycles as a way of life about four years ago when the number of people cruising the streets in Riga on the bikes designed for velodromes could be counted on one hand.
Pavlovs was the first to pick up a fixie, and his two friends soon followed, despite having no background in cycling. “It was something new and we come from this generation that likes trying everything new. We say yes to new ideas,” claims Dzenis, who was impressed by the unique feel of riding a fixie bike and their aesthetically pleasing look.
“Ingemars [Dzenis] was the first guy that gave me a fixie and I made some test runs with it,” says Alsbergs. “For the next two weeks I was sitting at home searching google for everything I could about fixies. For our first fixies, the look of them and how they were painted was very important.”
The beginning of a brand
Riding around Riga as a group and organizing cruises with other fixie enthusiasts, the threesome decided that they needed to come up with a name to recognize themselves by, hence the formation of Tru Fix Kru.
Pavlovs, explains that, “at the start, it [Tru Fix Kru] was nothing. It was just a name for the three of us. But later on, as it usually goes for skateboarders, snowboarders and surfer crews, when you get a name you automatically make a t-shirt and you expand somehow in the directions you like.”
Dzenis further adds to this, saying, “I remember that we wanted to start by tagging the city and our patch. We started to think about how to do it and the current design came into our head with all the Latvian symbolism [in it].” The Latvian symbolism is a key component of the Tru Fix Kru logo, with all three of the founders seeing it as an acknowledgement to their Latvian heritage.
From lifestyle to sport
Aside from the odd unauthorized ‘alley-cat’ run, which resembles a mad dash race amongst bike messengers through the streets of major North American cities, fixies have for the most part been seen as nothing more than a mode of transport.
But with the hipster-culture scene reaching unprecedented levels in the United Kingdom and North American cities such as Portland in the mid-2000s, the number of people riding fixie bikes – which are considered a bi-component of the hipster lifestyle – flourished overnight and it was time for conglomerates to become involved.
Actively sponsoring and coming up with their own competitions that promote living on the edge, Austrian-based energy drink giant Red Bull decided to take fixies back to their roots, starting in New Zealand by designing a portable miniature velodrome that can be transported to different locations, where anyone with a fixie can turn up and test their skills riding round the modified track, 10 times in head-to-head battle.
Similar events began taking place around the world and when the Mini Drome arrived in Tallinn, Estonia in the summer of 2011, the Tru Fix Kru were heading north to test themselves against likeminded local riders.
Prior to traveling north to the Estonian capital, the crew first had a minor detail to figure out – could any of them ride on a velodrome?
“Before [Tallinn] we had no chances to practice or to train,” says Pavlovs, so, “we went to Jurmala and in the middle of the forest there is an outdoor skatepark with a bowl, so we trained for a couple of hours to catch the idea.”
Once in Tallinn, it was 26-year-old Alsbergs who was the standout rider of the trio.
“In Tallinn there were a few Latvian guys who were in the top positions. After the qualification I was first, but when the finals started I made some mistakes and in the quarter-finals I lost the race,” said Alsbergs.
However, two weeks later, Alsbergs was on a bus traveling to Warsaw, Poland by himself, looking to right the wrong of a fortnight previous. Against a much stronger field, Alsbergs came out on top, winning his maiden Red Bull Mini Drome event.
“We tend to think of the loss [in Tallinn] as a good thing,” explains Dzenis. “If he had won he would not have gone to Poland. Toms [Alsbergs] is such a guy who thinks of second place as being the first loser, so when he did not get to taste the win in Tallinn, he had to go to Warsaw.”
Poland was the catalyst for more success and by the end of 2011, Toms had a world title to his name, as well as the world record for the fastest lap around a red bull Mini Drome, which was achieved in Great Britain.
Riding on Toms’ success
It was on the back of the win in Poland that the Tru Fix Kru began to realize the potential for their brand, and the wider community in Riga began to wake up to the potential of fixie riding.
Within a month of Alsbergs’ win in Poland, Riga had their own Mini Drome thanks to the generosity of local bar Piens, who built a track behind their bar, and word about Tru Fix Kru was quickly spreading beyond the local cycling scene.
“I believe that as he won; we began developing this as another thing in our lives. Prior to this we had just been riding for fun in the evenings,” says Dzenis.
With the local press picking up on Alsbergs’ achievements, the floodgates were opened. “The press made a buzz [about Alsbergs] because it was on the radio and on TV and you started to hear about it every day. It just got into people’s heads” says Pavlovs.
At the beginning of this summer, Tru Fix Kru worked in conjunction with Red Bull to bring Riga its own unique fixie event. Held in Kronvalds Parks, the event attracted over 70 riders who had to navigate their way through an obstacle-laden course which included cars, ramps and scarecrow pedestrians. The event gained invaluable exposure for Tru Fix Kru and Riga as a whole.
By the end of summer, Tru Fix Kru’s self-designed locally made t-shirts and singlets, which depict the group’s logo, were some of the hottest fashion items in Riga, with the local Latvian shops selling them struggling to keep up with demand. With tourists also impressed by the t-shirts, Tru Fix Kru began to go global.
It is not just Tru Fix Kru that has been enjoying more exposure as a fashion brand recently in Latvia, with more and more local designers beginning to make a name for themselves, including brands such as Blankblank, who co-operate with Tru Fix Kru in producing their t-shirts, and Qooqoo, whose funky, original tights are gaining international recognition.
“We love the current scene here. So many creative people are doing so many creative things. We are proud to be part of it,” says Dzenis, believing the crisis may have played a role in unveiling Latvian people’s creative sides. “We had this bubble here and when it burst, everybody was devastated and began to think more creatively in order to survive.”
Despite the rapid success of Tru Fix Kru as a brand and Alsbergs’ rise to world champion, the trio remain with their feet firmly fixed on their pedals. All three continue to hold full time jobs with Dzenis working as the chief barista at Innocent Cafe on Blaumana Iela; Alsbergs is selling mobiles phones, whilst Pavlovs works as a liquor wholesaler.
In terms of brand development, Tru Fix Kru is now looking to provide more equipment for fixie riders. “We started the t-shirts because we had nothing to wear that we liked,” claims Dzenis. “Now we want to bring more things for fixie riders that Latvia does not have. Things such as bike lights and locks for everybody to be safe.”
There are also plans to develop on the success of this year’s Tru Fix Event in Kronvalda Park with something bigger planned for next year in Riga, as well as potential for similar events further abroad.
As for Alsbergs, the new continent beckons with a desire to cross the Atlantic and take on the best riders in North America. But like so many things, money will dictate the plans.
“I have been chatting on Facebook with a top North American rider and the challenge has been thrown down,” says Alsbergs with a half-jokingly plea from Red Bull to come on board financially to make it happen: “Please Red Bull, pleeeaase!”.
More can be found out about Tru Fix Kru and their mantra at: https://www.facebook.com/trufixkru