Fixed gear bikes are fun, efficient, and trendy. They represent simplicity. Your legs are your gas, brakes, and gears. Your body and technique replace the missing parts. Fixed gear bikes are probably the purest form of cycling. Here’s the lowdown on the fixed gear bike.
Fixed Gear Bikes are Freedom
Fixed gear bikes were popularized by bike messengers and bike messenger movies. One reason messengers prefer fixed gear bikes is because they provide increased control in gridlock conditions. The absence of brakes makes them seem dangerous — though it’s less dangerous than it sounds. Fixed gear bikes represent freedom — darting past everybody stuck in cars. Fixed gear bikes represent the hardcore cyclist at his or her best. Skeptics see fixed-gear bikes as antiquated or dangerous but gears and brakes have become standard for a reason — right?
Sheldon Liked Fixed Gear Bikes
Riding a Fixed Gear Bike
Authentic fixed gear bikes have no brakes but not all fixed gear bikes are brakeless. Brakeless bikes are actually safe in the hands of an experienced rider. You slow down by slowing and locking the pedals with your legs.
Front Brake or Not
Some riders add front brakes to their fixed gear bikes which makes them a little more practical and depending on where you live — legal. But adding brakes to a fixed gear bike is considered a direct insult to conformity and functionality. Trying to make it more like a traditional bike seems self-defeating.
You can ride a fixed gear bike safely without brakes once you’re used to it. Putting back-pressure on spinning cranks slows you effectively, just like a brake handle does. But in perspective, or to look at it strictly from a safety standpoint, if you break a chain, a front break can really come in handy.
While the absence of gears might seem impractical, it’s not that bad. Riding a fixed gear bike promotes better pedaling technique and strength. Road racers like them for improving form and a strong rider on a fixed gear can often out-climb a geared bike.
Effort Equals Distance
Fixed Gear Bike Advantages
- Climbing hills without having to think about gears forces you to optimize your effort.
- The constant spinning control translates to a smoother, rhythmic cadence.
- You can feel the road when riding a fixed gear bike. There is no slack going forward or backward before the “catch” on the chain. The subtle lag of the chain on geared bikes is absent.
- Because there are fewer components, the bike is lighter and more responsive, which means you’re able to maintain speed easier.
- No derailleur maintenance or clicking. No wait on gear shifts. No finding the right gear.
- Fewer people know how to ride them so they are less attractive to thieves.
- You can stop more easily in wet weather. Braking with a fixed wheel drive train is not impeded as much by wet conditions.
- Maintenance is low with fewer components — tires and chain, that’s all.
- On velodromes, you have to ride a fixed gear bike, so if you race track, you have no choice.
- Good for ‘off season’ training by serious road cyclists.
- Defines simple machines. In addition to being the most efficient human-powered device, the fixed gear bicycle is an important fashion accessory. Trendy.
- Fixed gear bikes are silent.
- Riding a fixed gear bike adds fun and variety to your routine. For someone who rides a traditional road bike, the contrasting experience of riding a fixed gear bike can rev things up, keeping bikes interesting.
Fixed Gear Bike Disadvantages
- Fixed gear bikes are harder work than a normal bike with a free hub that spins. Your legs are constantly moving so there’s no rest.
- Going down hills is hard too. You have to keep spinning your legs to keep up with the speed of the cranks.
- You can’t stop as quickly without the benefit of a front brake and braking on a fixed gear bike depends on the skill of the rider.
- Brakes are not optional in some jurisdictions. Some states have laws that require brakes. You should have at least one brake on a fixed gear bike in case your chain breaks.
- Not good for longer rides.
- Not as fast as a geared bike.
- Not the best at climbing unless you’re fit.
- Fixed gear bikes can be hard on your knees. If you ride in hills and you push big gears, it can cause more wear and tear on your knees and hip joints than if you were able to switch to lower gears and keep spinning.
- They require unique skills and have an element of risk that discourages many cyclists.
The Trackstand Maneuver
Trackstands are the ability to stabilize a bike without moving forward. Since the bike can pedal backwards under force, it makes it possible to keep balanced while stopped. This is useful while waiting for cross traffic for example, and is a demonstration of the skill of the cyclist. It is impressive. Nothing performs better trackstands than a fixed gear bike.
Types of Fixed Gear Bikes
Fixed gear track bikes are designed for the velodrome. Horizontal rear-facing drop-outs, no quick release on wheels, no brakes, drop bars for most events. Steeper geometry than road bikes and handling is twitchy. Tires no wider than 25mm.
Street fixed gear bikes are designed for riding on street surfaces. Horizontal drop outs, front brake, drop-bars, bullhorns or flat bars, gears typically lower. Geometry more like a road bike and can accommodate tires wider than 25mm.
Trick fixies are intended for stunts that involve pedaling backwards, climbing walls, ramps, jumps, and other crazy stuff. Lots of back-pedalling. Geometry like a big BMX bike, very low gears.
Road bike conversion fixie. You can always tell a conversion because the drop outs are not rear-facing. Everything else is much the same as a street fixed gear. This is a good way to experiment with a fixed gear bike if you don’t want to shell out $700-$1000 for a dedicated fixed gear. You can’t race one of these in the velodrome because of the dropouts however.
Curious About Fixed Gear Bikes
The benefits of owning a fixed gear bike are undeniable. If you love bikes, no matter what kind, then add one to your stable. You won’t regret it.