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For hard-core biking, try one gear, no brakes

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Jack Curry's bicycle is missing a few pieces, but he likes it that way.

It's a gorgeous vintage Poglioghi, matte gray, outfitted with handcrafted parts imported from Italy and painstakingly pieced together by Mr. Curry himself. The cost: a whopping $1,500.

But he saved money by leaving out a few key components. Like brakes - there aren't any. And gears - there's just one. And there's no free wheel, either, so he can't coast - as long as the bike is moving, he has to keep pedaling.

"It's chopped down, super sleek, and fast," says Curry, a junior at Colby College in Maine, who's been riding it every day since July.

Curry's bike is one of a fleet of practically weightless, difficult to stop, extremely speedy rolling bullets that make up the newest trend in the two-wheeled world: highly specialized velodrome sprint bicycles being ridden on city streets. Designed for Olympic-style banked oval racing, they're called "track" or "fixed-gear" bikes, and almost overnight they've rolled out of their niche and into America's rush-hour traffic, generally ridden by people who have far more tattoos than you.

"These things are a lawsuit just waiting to happen," says Sky Yaeger, vice president of product development and marketing at bicyclemaker Bianchi USA, in Hayward, Calif. "But, you know, there's just nothing more beautiful than a fixed-gear bike."

She should know: she designed the Bianchi Pista, a $550 eye-catching, all-chrome track bike that has played a big role in bringing fixed-gear into the mainstream. Although Bianchi had been selling entry-level track bikes for several years (competition-quality ones can cost thousands), the first chrome model, in 2004, sold like gangbusters. Bianchi is expected to roll out its third chrome Pista at a trade show in Las Vegas next weekend.

Now more than a dozen bicycle manufacturers are making track bikes for the general public. The industry is close-lipped about sales figures, but insiders estimate that close to 10,000 track bikes will be sold this year - a tiny fraction of the 18 million total bicycles sold in the US every year. But, they say, the segment is rapidly growing - sales have tripled in the past few years, according to industry observers.


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