A fixed gear bike is a single speed bike with a fixed gear. This means that the pedal is locked to the rotation of the rear wheel. If you pedal forward the bike goes forward, if you pedal backward the bike goes backward. This also means that you can’t stop pedaling while riding the bike unless you understand how to properly do it.
Fixed gear bikes are becoming less common nowadays.
Many people don’t like the fact you can’t stop pedaling, but personally, I love it. It’s a great endurance workout since you can’t coast when you get tired. Also, since there’s only 1 gear, you can’t switch gears to climb hills or when there’s heavy wind. So, you have to work harder instead of just changing gears and letting the lower gears do the work for you. While many people can ride fixies in all weather and through all terrains. I don’t recommend this if you’re new to cycling. It can be really hard and can’t strain your knees and legs.
If you do get into riding fixies, you want to start with a low gear ratio, gradually get into long rides, and work your way up to riding hills. I’ll explain gear ratios later in this article.
Many fixie riders ride with no brakes because they can slow down by slowing down their pedaling and in emergency situations, they can lock up the back wheel and slide to a stop or slide to avoid an accident.
Riding brakeless can be very dangerous and/or illegal in some areas, so make sure you’re allowed to ride without brakes and you’re comfortable riding without brakes before doing this. In most areas, your pedaling can be considered your rear brake but you have to have a front emergency brake to be compliant. However, even if it’s legal in your area, only experienced riders should attempt riding brakeless!
One thing that many fixie riders use to make riding easier is pedal straps. Pedal straps or clipless pedals are necessary if you want to be able to slide to a stop. When you want to slide, you have to use a lot of force to stop the back wheel from spinning, it’s not like normal back brakes where you can push down softly in order to lock up the back wheel. You have to forcefully stop the momentum of the back wheel.
In order to create enough force you have to use both legs at the same time. The foot in front has to pull up on the pedal while the foot in the back pushes down. Since you need to pull up on the pedal, pedal straps or clipless pedals are necessary.
Another benefit to pedal straps or clipless pedals is you are more connected to the bike, when you’re pedaling normally, you can pull up and push down, so cycling gets a bit easier.
Your gear ratio is what determines how hard/fast you have to pedal to go a certain speed. Your gear ratio is determined by the number of teeth on your chainring and your cog.
On bikes that aren’t single speeds, they have multiple gearing ratios so when you come up to a hill you can change gears to make climbing the hill easier or when you get on flat ground, you can shift up gears to go faster.
However, with single speed bikes and fixed gears, you only have one gear, so you have to find a good balance between a fast gear and an easy enough gear that you can climb hills with it. The gear ratio that I currently ride on is a 48×15 which is a 3.2 gear ratio. You can find the gear ratio by dividing the chainring teeth by the cog teeth. My chainring is 48 teeth and my cog is 15 teeth. So, 48/15 is 3.2.
For many this gearing ratio will be too high to start, if you’re just getting into riding fixed, I’d recommend starting at around 48×18 or 48×17 unless you’ve been cycling for a while. These will be easier to ride but will be harder to ride at fast speeds. When riding at fast speeds, you’ll have to pedal very fast to keep up with the rotation of the wheels. With my gear ratio, 48×15, I can casually ride at 20-25 mph. When I start getting into the 30+ mph range, I start having to pedal too fast and it becomes uncomfortable.
Why Do People Ride Fixed?
Riding fixed is a dying trend. Fixed gear bikes are looked at as the hipster riding style unless being used as a track bike for racing. Many people don’t see the appeal of riding fixed.
Although it’s not the most popular riding style anymore, it is one of the simplest in terms of bike functionality. So, it can be a great place to start when you want to learn about cycling. You can do most maintenance on a fixed gear or single speed bike yourself with very limited bike knowledge. Although, you may need a few new tools here and there.
Owning a fixed gear has taught me a ton about cycling because I’ve done work on the bike myself. If I had a 1, 2, or 3+ thousand dollar road bike as my first bike like many of my friends, I would be way more hesitant to just start taking stuff apart and attempting to fix it myself. I do have a road bike too, but I tend to ride my fixie way more than my road bike. Now, I’m way more confident working on my road bike and I’m confident I can figure out what’s necessary on my road bike.
Overall, riding fixed is a ton of fun! It may not be for everyone but fixies are a great way to get into the cycling community. Fixed gear bikes are typically going to be cheaper than an equivalent level road bike. Although they’re cheaper you can still find fixies that cost in the thousands if you’re looking for a top of the line fixed gear bike but typically a decent fixed gear runs a few hundred to several hundred dollars while a decent road bike is $1,000+.
If you’re interested in riding fixed, check out our list of the best fixies by clicking the button below.