It’s been over a year since I started working on this article. Situations have changed in the meantime, but I will publish it anyway hoping it will still serve its purpose under the current circumstance in Japan.
There has been a fad of fixed-gear track racers in the bicycle industry in the last few years. Originally, very limited number of competitive or peculiar frame manufacturers were in this field. Suddenly, major MTB and BMX makers jumped in, and the bikes have been sold and ridden widely. As a result, as you may remember, there was a huge social bashing for riding these bikes on the street without brakes which are not originally equipped as long as the bikes stayed on the track.
Enough intro, and what I’d like to question here is the name, the alphabetical words used to describe these bikes which go like “pist bike”.
Some people (in Japan) may think these are legitimate English words or something because you see them all the time in magazines and whatnot. But these are Japanese Katakana words that can’t convey the meaning overseas, as the English speaker’s way of hearing it can be, “pissed (as in drunk or peed) bicycle”.
Certainly, the French word “piste” has been used widely in Japan to refer to track bikes and track competition. “Vélo de piste” is the french term for track bike, meaning the same thing as vélo is bike and piste is track. The pronunciation is like, if written in alphabets, [velo d pist].
So, the question is, how did the word “pist” emerge, not to describe the pronunciation but to actually appear on magazine pages as some kind of alphabetical word?
So far as I’ve found, the Turkish language is the only one that actually has the word “pist” to mean track. Hmm, that can’t be the source of this major phenomenon all over Japan. So my guess is, some trend setting media folks either created the word by hearing the French word and magically turning it into a English-like word while retaining the phonetic properties, or started using it after seeing someone write it somewhere, without any background check for the legitimacy of the word. Then the word was sometimes mixed with the English word “bike”, and was spread wide like an outbreak. Boy, where are the respect for the history of bikes, seriousness about weaving threads of words, and recognition of responsibility that must accompany the power of media to spread information?
Another wonder to me is that the word “pista” is often used in Japan to refer to track bike riders. Is it because the “a” sound at the end reminds you of English words ending with “er”, which, farther out on the same legitimate track, can be spelled as “a”, ight? Like, yo man, you muthafucka me pista? That’s got to be too much listening to gangster raps. Mind you, “pista” is just “track” in Italian and Spanish, and there is no such word as “pist” in English, so it just doesn’t work like that.
If by any chance this confusion about this term can settle down for the better in the future, I think the word “fixie” can be where it should settle. This word has been used in peculiar fields such as riding in town or in the mountain with fixed gears than in tracks. Why not just “piste” in French or “track bike” in English, you may ask? The reason is that most post-fad fixed gear bikes are not even track bikes anymore. With flat handlebars instead of drops for daily convenience, fat 26″ tires instead of the skinny for tricks, the only identity they’ve got left is the fact that they have fixed gears.
Oh if you’ve never tried fixies, I’d recommend you give it a shot. I love the directness and simplicity like no other. You can also enjoy riding the same kind of bike as they were in memorable Keirin races and great hour-record attempts. Fixed gear has been around longer than freewheels, so let the history add to the joy.