I ride my fixed gear bike with many of my friends that don’t ride fixie and I always get asked why I’m sliding. They think I’m just doing it to look cool, which in some cases that’s true. Sliding is fun and can make riding your fixed gear more enjoyable, however, the main reason fixed gear riders slide is to stop or slow down.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s what brakes are for”. Many fixed gear riders ride brakeless! They don’t have any brakes on their bike but due to the nature of fixed gears, this doesn’t mean they don’t have a way to slow down or stop it’s just not the same as on normal bikes. On normal bikes, you have brakes, on fixed gears you use the rotation of the back wheel to slow down or stop.
Disclaimer: Riding without brakes can be very dangerous and/or illegal depending on where you live, so do this at your own discretion and make sure to take into account your skill level.
On fixed gear bikes, often called fixies, the rotation of the back wheel is fixed to the rotation of your pedals, so if you suddenly stop pedaling the back wheel will lock up and start sliding. You can also slow the rotation of your pedaling in order to slow down the back wheel. This is how brakeless fixie riders are able to slow down without sliding.
What’s an Emergency Brake On a Fixie?
I personally have a front brake on my fixie, but I never use it. When you just have a front brake on a fixie, it’s typically called an emergency brake. In normal riding, you can just slide or slow your pedaling in order to come to a stop. However, in emergency situations, it’s possible that these methods won’t stop you fast enough.
For example, if a car runs a stop sign and pulls out in front of you, sliding may not keep you from hitting the car. So, in this situation, you may want to use your emergency brake, especially if you aren’t an experienced fixed gear rider. More experienced fixed gear riders might slide and pedal out of a slide in order to make a 90 degree turn to avoid the car. The more experienced you become at riding fixed the better you’ll be able to avoid accidents without using your e-brake.
There are 2 other major reasons why having an e-brake on your fixed gear bike is nice. First, in many places, it’s illegal to ride without brakes. On a fixed gear your pedaling/sliding abilities are considered the back brake but it may also be required to have a front brake. If this is the case where you live, it’s possible that if you get in an accident, you’ll be deemed at fault. So, this is another major reason, I keep a brake on my bike.
Last but not least, an emergency brake provides protection in the case of a bike malfunction. I haven’t been riding for a very long time and due to that, I’m not an expert bike technician yet. Yes, I know how to change a tire and tube, switch out my cogs, and most of the basics. However, I don’t trust myself not to make a mistake yet. So, in the situation where I do make a mistake, having an e-brake to save me from a bike malfunction is ideal. Whether that be a tire blow out while bombing a hill or something being improperly tightened, having a brake as a fail-safe is appealing to me.
So now you know, fixie riders aren’t always just sliding to be cool, it may just be their only way of stopping. To some that may seem insane, why would you want to ride without brakes but to others it’s an aesthetic, style or adrenaline thing.
Riding without brakes makes you have to be more in tune with your bike and more on alert. Since you can’t stop at a moment’s notice like with brakes, you have to be fully aware of your surroundings and almost predict what’s going to happen. You can’t wait for that car to pull out in front of you before reacting, either find an alternative route in case they do cut you off or start slowing down early just in case.