Candy-colored fixed-gear bikes are the latest craze to hit Jakarta’s streets. It’s impossible to step outside without seeing trend-conscious cyclists pedaling through traffic on a streamlined Day-Glo bike.
But with so many bikes on the road, how can future fixie enthusiasts ensure that their bicycle looks unique?
Meet Mas Mono, a 40-year-old mechanic who crafts customized bikes from his East Jakarta workshop. Mono’s bikes are one-of-a-kind creations made with the latest parts. But he got his start building Onthel, one of Indonesia’s oldest bicycles.
How long have you been in the fixed-gear bike business?
I used to work with vintage Onthel bikes. I still love those bicycles, but one day I heard about fixed-gear bikes from some fellow Onthel riders. They told me people were looking for a mechanic who could build these bare-bones bicycles. Suddenly, I saw fixed-gear bikes all over Jakarta. I figured it was time to learn how to build them. I started by learning about the mechanics of the bike — there’s no freewheel so the bike can’t coast — before moving on to designing the bikes from the wheels up.
What, exactly, is a fixed-gear bike?
Fixed-gear bikes are all about minimalism. The bike’s design is stripped down to the bare necessities; it’s just wheels, cranks, bars and a seat. There are no gears and, typically, no brakes. A rider has to kick their pedals backwards, locking their legs to stop the bike. Pedicabs actually use the same concept, but they are still a member of the Onthel family.
So, the name, I’ve heard fixed gear, fixie, which one is it?
The name doesn’t really mean all that much. People call them fixies, fixed gear or just doltrap. Javanese call the bikes doltrap, which actually comes from the Dutch word doortrappen, which means ‘to keep on peddling.’
Where did fixed-gear bikes come from?
Fixed-gear bikes have been around for a long time. But here, in Indonesia, we really didn’t have a bike like this. I guess the closest thing we had were doltraps used in the circus. But as time went on, people got hooked on these simple bikes because they are so easy to modify. You see so many beautiful bikes on the streets of Jakarta.
How many bikes have you built?
In the past six months, I’ve built some 300 bikes. I still do all the work by myself. I’m the only mechanic at my shop. It takes a lot of long hours in my workshop, assembling the bikes by hand. But sometimes, if I need a some extra help, I get some of the local kids to lend a hand. They love helping out.
So, business has been good?
Business has been great. In the past six months, I made Rp 60 million [$7,000].
Was it hard to learn how to build a fixed-gear bike?
It was pretty easy to learn. Honestly, I could make a dozen fixies in the time it took to build one Onthel bike. Those old bikes are just so complicated. I once spent two months assembling an Onthel for a customer. No one makes authentic Onthel parts anymore. I have to scour the city for spare parts, which are getting pretty rare. An Onthel mechanic has to be really active in the local Onthel community to find parts. In Jakarta, there are a lot of fake Onthel parts. The real ones come from the Netherlands. I get most of my parts from Kendiri [East Java].
That seems really complicated. Do you have a background in engineering?
No, I just have a high school diploma. I came to Jakarta in the 1990s and worked in everything from flower gardens to the aviation industry. I once sold ornamental plants, crossbreeding croton trees [a type of flowering bush]. I had long, bushy hair back then and was known as ‘Mono Gondrong’ [long-haired Mono] around the city. But my love of Onthel bikes is what got me into building bikes. I think I’m a pretty good mechanic, even though I am self-taught.
Tell me about your workshop?
The shop is called Bamboo Bike Shop, it’s in Bambu Apus in East Jakarta. We have three people working here, Sakti, Dondit and myself. I’m the shop’s mechanic, while my two friends deal with the logistics of keeping the place stocked with parts. It takes a lot of money to keep this business running. The parts for fixed-gear bikes are often expensive and produced in limited quantities. I can’t just make my own. People in Jakarta are really curious when they see these bikes. But there is no guarantee that what they see in my store today will still be around tomorrow. That’s what makes the fix-gear bikes so expensive. It can be quite challenging to afford a top-of-the-line fixie. When I’m building the bikes, I just have to block the price out of my mind because it is ridiculously expensive for a bicycle.
Have you thought about selling your bikes abroad?
I was once approached by man who wanted to sell my bikes in Malaysia. I was really excited about the idea and made a bike to his exact specifications. But when I was finished, he asked me for a detailed list of all the materials I used, and the prices of every part. I didn’t feel like sharing my secrets with him, so I canceled the plan. I think it’s better for me to develop my business here in Indonesia than let my secrets be stolen by people from other countries.
Mas Mono was talking to Maria Yuniar.