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Which strategy is better for learning to ride fixed gear, if you're already comfortable with clipless pedals:

  1. Flat pedals at first, clipless after you're comfortable with being unable to coast.
  2. Learning to ride clipless from the start, probably with the tension turned way down.

Just got a fixed gear bike, which I plan to practice riding in a park for a while before using it as a commuter. I usually ride with clipless pedals, and I gather from questions on SE as well as other sources, that foot retention is quite important on a fixed gear as well. Thus, eventually, I would want to ride that way.

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No fixed gears without foot retention. Any kind will do, but riding without is asking for trouble. If you're already good with clipless, then it's probably a good option. Start with a brake on the bike. Don't loosen the tension too much. Once you start trying to skid stop or slowing yourself using the fixed drivetrain, you may find yourself popping out of the pedals if the tension is low on the cleat interface. You'll want to crank up the tension a bit once you get to that point. –  Benzo Jun 25 '13 at 12:56
    
if you are used to clipless then go with clipless its not like its hard to ride fixed and there is no reason at not to have breaks. i have front and back duel caliper breaks on my fixie –  Martyn John Ward Sep 8 '13 at 19:12
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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Here's my experience:

The biggest problem in starting to ride fixed is that my brain would forget I was riding fixed, I'd come across a decent stretch of road (or a corner), and would attempt to coast. All totally subconsciously.

With flat pedals, provided I was doing a decent enough speed/cadence, I'd end up having to take my feet off the pedals until such time as I'd slowed the bike enough to get my feet back on and essentially regain control of the bike. Timeframe possibly 10 seconds during which the only real control I had was to steer and brake.

In clipless pedals, however, because my feet are attached to the pedals, as soon as my brain says "coast", my feet say "whoaaaaa". My brain then kicks back in and because I am still attached to the pedals I can just recover, easy as. And the timeframe here is just a fraction of a second.

So for my money, and assuming you do have a traffic-free environment in which to hone your skills, I'd go clipless straight away.

In traffic, I prefer flat pedals, just because I might want to put my foot down, like, now. But this of course is a preference thing rather than a technique thing.

btw, even though I've had a fixie for a couple of years now I still fall into this trap. Right now I'm probably only getting the fixie out once a month (compared to riding geared bikes several times per week), so there's an element of readjustment every time I take it out.

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Thanks! Do you find you still need to adjust if you ride the fixie the majority of the time? My geared commuter was stolen, so I expect to make the majority of my trips on the new bike. –  John Doucette Jun 24 '13 at 18:38
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No not really, I found the more often i rode the fixie the more second nature it became. When I used it to commute I had no problems, but right now I'm not working so its sitting in the garage most of the time and I only take it out occasionally for fun on traffic-free country roads. –  PeteH Jun 24 '13 at 18:54
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I think clipless pedals are definitely the way to go. With the pedals always moving under your feet, it's even more important to have your feet firmly attached as it's too easy to lose contact with the pedals otherwise.

I find the first time I ride it after having ridden freewheels for a while I'll forget once or twice and get a bit of a jolt through my trailing leg to remind me to keep those pedals spinning.

Also from Sheldon Brown's site:

Sometimes, novice fixed-gear riders will try to use plain pedals with no form of retention system. I strongly advise against this. Riding fixed with plain pedals is an advanced fixed-gear skill, only recommended for experienced fixed-gear riders.

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Foot slipping off the pedal unexpectedly can result in a worse experience than the maybe dead stop tip over. Check out PowerGrips or the Fyxation(?) stap system. Conventional clips with loose straps on cleatless shoes are the simple route & allow for quick when needed foot removal. Practice track stands. Outside of practical it's a basic skill. If riding hilly terrain you might just want to consider going flip-flop freewheel side. Longer or steeper pitches can be tough on the knees and/or tires.

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As previously mentioned, foot retention is essential for safe fixed-gear riding. I started off with clips and straps, but after breaking a few during hard climbs, I switched to clipless. But then I ride a long gear and really haul my bike up the steep hills around here. I definitely appreciate the security and efficiency of clipless, but it's by no means a magic bullet. I've sheared cleat bolts on climbs too.

If you're going to ride brakeless, then I would definitely go with clips and straps, or a PowerGrips-type solution. I rode brakeless for about 4 years, using Time ATAC pedals. They were pretty dependable; I wouldn't trust many other pedals for brakeless riding. But I still had a few hairy moments... accidentally unclipping isn't funny. If you get slack with your skidding technique and twist your feet, you may find yourself going over the bars (as happened to me a couple of times), or worse, straight across a junction and under a bus.

Perhaps even more relevant: if you're riding fixed around town on a daily basis, can you really be bothered to lug around two pairs of shoes? If you're on and off the bike a lot, you're going to wear down those cleats pretty quickly!

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