Take the 2-minute tour ×
Bicycles Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I must confess, I don't know much about bikes. Until fairly recently, a bike was just that thing that I rode to work each day. I've been slowly learning more about bikes but I still have some newbie questions. This is one of them.

If I recall correctly and have got the terminology correct, a fixed-gear bike is a bike with only one gear (so you can't change it) and no freewheel (so if the rear wheel is turning, so are the pedals).

Why do people ride fixed-gear bikes? Isn't it either hard to get started (if fixed in a high gear ratio) or hard to get to a good speed (if fixed in a low gear ratio)?

I'm not trying to insult or flame riders of fixed-gear bikes - I'm just curious! :)

share|improve this question
6  
It's also hard to turn sharply (pedal can hit ground). Many don't have brakes and rely on either resisting pedaling or skidding the rear wheel, which means stopping can be hard. –  freiheit Nov 2 '10 at 23:24
5  
+1 and favourite. I never understood why anyone would want to ride a fixie and I'm looking forward to the answers. –  Vache Nov 2 '10 at 23:36
    
Good question! After I started riding three-speed bikes, I can understand the lure of simplicity. I'm looking forward to some answers from fixed-gear riders. –  Neil Fein Nov 3 '10 at 2:25
2  
I've created another question to track the single-speed portion of the question. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/1983 Here we can talk about "why no freewheel?" –  Jay Bazuzi Nov 3 '10 at 2:25
    
Hipster says, "Because yolo. If I'm going to ride a 1000km then I'm going to pedal 1000km." –  ShemSeger Nov 12 at 19:44

20 Answers 20

up vote 75 down vote accepted

Your understanding is correct.

Why do people ride them? Some random answers:

  1. Maintenance is very, very low. You have to keep the tires and chain in good working order and, on a bike you ride on the road, hopefully some form of a brake. That's it.
  2. On most velodromes, you have to ride a fixed gear bike, so if you race track, you have no choice.
  3. There is something to be said for how a fixed gear will force you to develop a smoother pedaling style since you simply cannot stop. Due to this, they are somewhat popular for 'off season' training by serious road cyclists.
  4. (Hesitating to mention this...) There is a certain segment of the population that loves retro and simple things. In addition to being possibly the most efficient people moving device that exists, the fixed gear bicycle can be an important fashion accessory.

Hard to get started/Hard to go fast?

Yes. Generally someone who has a road worthy fixie will have selected a gear that works well for the terrain and speed that they like to ride at. I've only ridden fixed gear bikes on the track, but I'd imagine for a city fixie, you'd optimize for a fairly low speed but someone who takes these more seriously can answer better.

share|improve this answer
    
Also it is hard for most people to steal them, due to "Hard to get started" –  Ian Aug 9 '11 at 11:09
    
For #3, I usually use rollers for that - after you've surged forward over the front roller once or twice you learn good pedaling mechanics (or good first aid). –  lawndartcatcher Sep 13 '11 at 17:32
9  
I wouldn't be too hesitant to mention #4, it's pretty objectively true. The sheer number of brightly coloured/ultra minimalist fixies is enough evidence that form seems to be at least as important as function for a lot of people. –  meagar Sep 27 '11 at 16:53
    
Right. I would imagine that 4 is key. It's the only one that can really explain the lack of brakes, too. one that you missed is that dérailleurs suck - that's partly a maintenance thing, but also a bike without dérailleurs can have a chain guard, and the chain is less likely to slip off while riding. –  naught101 May 11 '12 at 6:09
    
#1 is almost entirely applicable to single-speed with free-wheeling hubs too. Those things take almost no maintenance. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 5:51

Fixed-gear bikes, as compared to single-speed bikes:

Trackstands. The ability to move the bike backwards with the pedals 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 rider.

Brakes are optional. You can apply back-pressure to the pedals to slow the bike gradually. Alternately, you can throw your weight forward (to unweight the back wheel), and apply very strong back pressure. Once the wheel is locked up, you skid to a stop.

This is also a safety issue, as you can't stop nearly as quickly without the benefit of a front brake (where most of braking happens on most bikes), and it depends heavily on the skill level of the rider.

No brakes (or front brake only) simplifies the bike even further, compared to a single-speed bike.

Image and exclusivity. Fixed-gear bikes are unusual, and not everyone can ride them. Heavy people with heavy loads in hilly areas are pretty much excluded. They require unique skills, and have an element of risk that repels most cyclists. In my area, they have been adopted by the "hipster" subculture.

Fun and variety. For someone who rides a conventional multi-speed bike the contrasting experience of riding a fixie can spice things up, keeping bikes interesting.

share|improve this answer
4  
A fixed gear makes track-standing a lot easier, but isn't really necessary -- there are certainly people who can trackstand on freewheel equipped-bikes as well. –  Jerry Coffin Nov 5 '10 at 15:44
    
I can trackstand for a short time facing up a hill, but how do you do it on the flats? –  Jay Bazuzi Nov 5 '10 at 23:40
    
Trackstand with a free wheel on flat ground: use your brakes and use different body parts as counter weights. If you start falling to the right you throw your left leg out and vice versa. –  Per Wiklander Nov 9 '10 at 19:25
3  
I can trackstand downhill without a fixed hub (even with a kiddie trailer on the back). You basically have to synchronise pushing forward and squeezing your front brakes to bounce off the flex in the wheel. Helps to be in the right gear though. Oh, wait.. –  stib Dec 15 '10 at 10:55
6  
I think riding without brakes is a pretty much irresponsible thing to do. Locking rear wheel WON'T STOP the bike on an emergency. You coul plan ahead, but emergencies are always unplanned. –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 15:54

Reasons I ride:

  1. There is a direct feel of the road. There is no slack going forward or backward before the "catch" on the chain.
  2. No derailleur maintenance. No clicking. No wait on gear shifts. No finding the right gear.
  3. Where I ride, it is completely flat, in and out of neighborhoods, constant speed changes. I could shift gears all the time, or I could just ride one gear and absorb it with my legs.
  4. It puts me out of my comfort zone. When I ride a regular road bike for fitness, the temptation is to pick the most efficient gear and go at the heart rate I can sustain for the distance I want to travel. All efforts are pretty much identical. With a fixie, the gear is picked and I must choose the effort expended to match the distance I'll travel. I don't really ride it for fitness but I've found it puts me through paces I never went through on a regular road bike.
share|improve this answer
    
I like your point #4 - very interesting. –  Cosmic Flame Nov 3 '10 at 9:03
1  
Along the same lines as #4, I find myself putting more effort in throughout the stroke. –  LanceH Nov 4 '10 at 14:36
4  
#2 could be achieved by never changing gears. It does not solve the problem. It's like saying you will never write because you don't like when pencil points breaks. –  gcb Aug 10 '11 at 21:57
1  
@heltonbiker: 1. My last bike was 30 years old and had not worn out it's cassette or chainrings. (It did go though several sets of bearings though) In any case, I see no reason why the metal on cassettes or chainrings would be any thinner than that on a fixed gear bike. (Frankly, if you're riding enough that it becomes a problem, you're riding enough that the investment is probably worth it) 2. Did I say anything about staying in one gear? All I'm saying is that if there's clicking or rubbing going on, or it takes a long time to shift, something needs adjusted or oiled. –  Billy ONeal Oct 8 '11 at 20:02
1  
If you want to derail the chain, it needs to be able to flex sideways a bit. If you want to fit multiple sprockets between the dropout and spokes, it limits their maximum thickness and the spacing between them. Fixed, singlespeed and hub-gear chains don't need that flex and are thicker and stronger. –  Useless Jul 27 '13 at 16:53
  • It's harder work than a normal free hub, your legs are constantly moving so there's no rest.
  • Going up hills without having to think about gear selection just forces you to think about optimisation of effort
  • Going down hills is hard, too - spinning your legs in a why you can rarely achieve on a free hub
  • This constant movement translates to a much smoother rhythmic style of pedalling, which will have a beneficial effect on your free hub cadence
  • There are fewer components to maintain
  • As a consequence of the fewer components, the machine is lighter, so the experience is more responsive, which means you're able to maintain speed more easily.
  • Traditionally fewer people knew how to ride them, so they were alleged to be less attractive to thieves.
  • In wet weather you can stop much more easily, brakes/rims are obviously variable, but braking using the fixed wheel drive train is not impeded by wet conditions

If I had to summarise in a single word: work. It's harder work, I expend more energy, I get more benefit from my training/commuting miles.

share|improve this answer
    
Good answer, thanks –  Cosmic Flame Nov 3 '10 at 9:26
7  
"In wet weather you can stop much more easily, brakes/rims are obviously variable, but braking using the fixed wheel drive train is not impeded by wet conditions". At least I would disagree with the last point and I can't see how this is true. Braking with the rear wheel is always less efficient than with the front wheel, and applying the correct amount of "brake" on a fixed gear is much harder. –  Kai Inkinen Aug 3 '11 at 7:37
1  
@Quinn: So braking is so bad to start with, that wet weather does not make it significantly worse? ;) –  Kai Inkinen Aug 11 '11 at 10:37
3  
@Quinn having two kids <5y old I don't think planning ahead is always possible. E.g. in traffic kids might do things without giving people very much time to react. Skidding the back tire, with the drive train or breaks, is an inferior way of stopping the bike compared to the front brake. If anyone claims anything else, I like proof, lots of it. Anyway, if someone likes to break "without brakes", sure go ahead, but claiming that it's as good or better than breaks is just wrong. And I don't say this to offend anyone or anything like that. –  Kai Inkinen Aug 11 '11 at 12:06
4  
@QuinnCulver: Sudden braking is only certainly unnecessary on a track. But anywhere on a road, you're eventually going to have idiot drivers, animals, or kids kicking balls out in front of you. Then sudden braking is necessary, and what do you do? I mean, in Syndey, there are car drivers who actively try to maim cyclists. Yes, riding on roads without using brakes is good, but riding without brakes is just stupid. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 6:12

It gives you something to do at stop lights; standing on the pedals and trying to keep your balance also gives you some nice torque when it turns green.

share|improve this answer
1  
you can also do a trackstand without a fixed gear, easiset if you can point your front tire uphill or resting against something like the white raised lines –  David Dec 2 '10 at 5:53

Ride nothing but a fixed-gear bike for 3 months, then get back on a standard geared/freewheel'd bike. After you get over the initial shock of being able to coast and backpedal, you'll feel like friggin' Superman. Riding a fixie turns your legs into tree trunks.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for the "shock" of being able to coast. Actually, when I ride freewheel now, it's like some important feature of the bike is missing, because I have to brake (with hands) to control speed... –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 16:04

Some people ride a fixed-gear bike to play Cycleball, the most awesome of all competitive cycling sports.

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 and don't forget bicycle polo –  David Dec 2 '10 at 6:17

Stunts and street cred.

(And what everyone else said too.)

share|improve this answer

I like my fixed gear bike for a few reasons:

  1. It is light and easy to pick up when I face stairs. I love having a bike I can move all by myself.
  2. It is simple and I'm able to repair it on my own without any trouble. In fact, I made the bike myself. (With some help.)
  3. I like the way it looks. I think it is very fashionable, and that just makes me want to ride more!
  4. I enjoy being able to stop with my legs. I enjoy the way that the speed is always very consistent.
share|improve this answer
    
You can ride geared and braked bikes down stairs. Some people can even ride them up (it's a bit beyond me though). Lightness is very nice though. –  naught101 May 11 '12 at 6:22
1  
regarding #1, you must really be little, don. –  Andrew Heath Sep 9 '13 at 9:17

To the many excellent answers, I wish to add a few:

  1. Number one advantage to a fixed gear is that it will make you a better rider. Not only does it give a smoother pedal stroke, but the fact that it is slower to start and stop forces a smoother overall style. It also forces the rider to ride more safely and to look out for upcoming dangers in the road.

    note: Although it does encourage the rider to adopt a generally more cautious riding style, a bike without brakes is not as safe as one with brakes. Even if you can stop by skidding, it is wasteful to ruin a tire.

  2. It not only promotes a more even pedal stroke,

  3. facilitates development of a more powerful pedal stroke since riding uphill in a gear that is difficult to turn, or trying to slow down by putting backward pressure provides a load bearing exercise similar to weight lifting.

  4. I find that I get a better workout per minute or per mile on a fixed gear than on a freewheel bike.

  5. bicycle ballet

  6. Riding a fixed gear bike is fun.

share|improve this answer

Another thing not yet mentioned is that it forces you to pedal in winter, which keeps your knees warm. It helps you feel the energy you have accumulated -- you can ride a fixie on slicks through snow and ice.

The number one reason for me (already mentioned) is the maintenance cost. For the last year I changed 4 spokes and that's it. The chain was half the price of the 8 gear one and it lasts since I bought it almost 2 years ago. The tires wear off more slowly too.

And more subjective:

It gives you some extra understanding and a bit more control in the curves. You get more conscious about yourself. You learn to notice the position of the pedals, when you attack an obstacle, places where you need to use brakes. It teaches you new ways to avoid collision, new ways of standing, better balance.

It is different, so that when you go back to riding MTB afterwards -- with two strong brakes, suspension, big tires and studded pedals -- that's another thing you gonna appreciate.

share|improve this answer
2  
After some rides with my fixie, I feel my MTB like it is a bullet-proof couch on wheels –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 16:09

Um, elephant in the room I'll address the answer to you: because it's trendy. C'mon, you can't tell me that fashion is not a major factor.

No that that's a bad thing, anything that gets people into cycling is a good idea if you ask me.

share|improve this answer
1  
I completely agree, more bicycles is better than more cars, no matter what's the reason. –  Simone Dec 19 '10 at 13:14
1  
I ride fixed and it's got nothing to do with being trendy. So maybe that's a factor to some people but it's most certainly not a major factor. –  Mac Jul 25 '11 at 3:52
    
Fashion is indeed high, but for me it is not only a perfect training machine, but also a perfect replacement for a motorcycle in fair weather heavy traffic (just as my trekking/touring/commuter is a replacement for a car) –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 15:53
    
+1 For daring to say the truth. One shouldn't dare: people won't like it. –  astabada Oct 25 '12 at 10:19
    
I suspect that the person who rides fixed is not going to be the same person who just decided to start cycling. –  PeteH Dec 29 '12 at 20:07

Reasons I ride fixed-gear most of the time:

  1. I have to work hard to get what I want. A fixed gear forces constant peddling, which means no lazy coasting. When I ride, I want to work.
  2. Simplicity. Repairs are much easier as there are fewer fail points in the drive train.
  3. I can feel the road. Next time it's raining out, ride a fixed gear and compare it to a freewheeled bike. On the fixie, you feel your traction at all times.

That said, I hate the trend (note that "clean lines" was not in my list), mostly because I hate watching idiots with no brakes drop their chain and crash into pedestrians or traffic.

share|improve this answer

Adding to the many excellent answers, riding a fixie is fun!

I didn't get one for a long time because I thought I wouldn't ride it. But then once I got one I didn't ride anything else for 3 months. It is that much fun. Even on longer rides (up to 80km) I'd ride the fixie. You're so connected to the riding experience on a light, nimble bike.

There's no need to be monitoring which gear you're in and which gear you need to select next to go up/down the next hill. There's never noise from the drivetrain. You're never between gears. You're always in the right gear and it's always rock solid!

As a commuting bike a fixie is ideal (assuming you can manage any hills).

  • They're cheap to buy
  • They're cheap and easy to maintain
  • The workout is much harder (making the weekend rides so much more enjoyable)
  • The position is closer to a road bike, again making the weekend rides better.

For plenty more ideas, expressed more eloquently than I am capable of, see Sheldon Brown

share|improve this answer
    
I feel less tired commuting with my fixie (11kg) than with my full-featured commuting bike (18kg), even going uphill with the 44x16, just because the bike is so much lighter. –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 16:14

To throw a spanner in the works (this was a huge religious debate in some fixie communities.) Brakes are not "optional". And in some states (MN & WI iirc) are required by law.

You should have at least one brake on a fixed gear bike in case your chain breaks (they can and will if you don't keep up on maintenance.)

Otherwise as others have mentioned better/smoother peddle stroke, better understanding of your body & endurance since you can't change gears to accommodate hills, simpler mechanics.

share|improve this answer
1  
Riding no-brakes is irresponsible. It is not possible to stop in an emergency, there's no magic. I think it's ok to skid metal sparks off a tire if one wants, since the front brake is at least installed on the bike and available to use. –  heltonbiker Oct 8 '11 at 16:12
6  
I experienced this on my fixie just a few weeks ago: pedaling (on flat, level terrain thankfully) at a pretty high cadence, going quite fast, and thunk chain snapped completely off the bike. There was a curve coming up and if I'd not had a front brake to hit I'd have caromed right into a Dutch countryside canal (or "stopped" by falling off the bike). So yeah, if you ride fixed, have a front brake. Seriously. –  Scottie Jan 11 '13 at 13:10

It's a trend, that's all. Give it a few more years and all that will remain are a bunch of vandalised classic frames that we will look at sadly, wishing those lugged and brazed steel beauties had not been modified for some hipster's vanity.

There's one actual reason which is lower maintenance - less complexity does mean less to adjust. Get your chain tension right, keep it lubricated, things should stay smooth for a long time.

Against the fixie there are so many more - being in the right gear only 10% of the time is the big one. A fixie is for the track where the gradient is zero and the road is always smooth. (You go up the embankments of course but race tactics is a whole separate, big discussion.)

"trackstands" - many skilled cyclists and even a lot of plain old commuters can balance indefinitely on mountain bikes, cyclocross, road bikes or whatever.

"direct connection" - huh? There's no slack in my drivetrain, nor on any properly adjusted bike. There is the direct link that keeps your pedals rotating any time the wheels are rotating of course, which can be very dangerous if you lean into a corner and find your inside pedal lifting the back wheel off the ground as it comes around...

"lighter" - modern frames and group sets are so light anyway. The UCI (governing body for the world road championships etc.) has set a minimum weight of 6.8kg because it is easily possible to make a lighter geared bike than this. There's a point beyond which it just doesn't matter any more, and both geared and fixies are there already.

"efficiency/fitness" - there are two sides to this. A fixie can help you learn to keep constant pressure on the pedals I guess. But gears are there for a reason. Lance Armstrong doesn't have the cadence of a hummingbird because it's more fun that way, it is more efficient. When you're travelling downhill fast and your legs are spinning to keep up with your pedals that's awesome, but it's the time you least need efficiency. You need it going uphill, but that's when you're standing up in the saddle pumping slowly. Which leads to a warning - fixies may be bad for your knees. If you ride in hills and you tough it out with a tall gear you will cause more wear to your knee and hip joints than if you were able to change down and keep your legs spinning. 20-somethings, you think you're invincible now but you may well regret that attitude once you turn 40.

Brakes don't enter into the debate because a fixie can have them or not.

Take your fixie shopping on weekends. For riding with an actual purpose, accept that technology has advanced a bit. As per Lance Armstrong's cadence, they don't ride bikes with gears in the Tour just because it's more fun or they like to tinker.

share|improve this answer
2  
I don't think "that's all", even though fashion is a significant component. I hope in the near future there will be a lot of good offers on eBay and such! –  heltonbiker Sep 13 '11 at 2:37
    
+1 for the knees bit. I've torn both my ACLs and at 30 years old must keep a cadence of at least 60 pedals per minute or else there is too much pressure on my knees. Coming out of a dead start on a fixie is just not possible. –  Andrew Heath Sep 9 '13 at 9:22

Fixed gear bikes can be very silent. All you hear is the tire on the road. I don't think you can get that with any other type of bike.

share|improve this answer
2  
What makes them quieter then other bikes? –  Ambo100 Nov 27 '11 at 21:42
1  
My bike is every bit as quiet as a fixed-gear bike while I'm pedaling. It's only more noisy than a fixed-gear while I'm coasting, which I think is a pretty fair trade. –  meagar Jul 17 '12 at 19:01
    
My single speed makes no more noise than a fixie. The free-wheeling is absolutely silent. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 6:01

Fixed gear riding will help you develop a steady and consistent cadence.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to Bicycles Stack Exchange! How is this different than the "smoother pedaling style" mentioned in the top-voted and accepted answer on this question? Maybe edit that answer with a little more details instead? –  freiheit Aug 10 '11 at 19:56

There are multiple kinds of "fixed gear" bikes, each appropriate for different purposes:

Track bike Intended for the velodrome. Horizontal rear-facing drop-outs, no quick release on wheels, no brakes, drop bars for most events, 1/8 chain, gear-inches no less than 81" (48x16) and as high as 100+, riders frequently change cogs/chainrings during workouts. Geometry is steeper than road bikes and handling is twitchy, tires no wider than 25mm. Example: Bianchi Super-Pista.

Street fixed gear Intended for riding/training on street surfaces. Horizontal drop outs, front brake, drop-bars or bullhorns or flat bars, gear-inches typically lower. Geometry like a road bike, accommodation for tires wider than 25mm. Typically has a flip-flop hub with a freewheel on one side. Example: Surly Steamroller

Fixed Trick bike Intended for doing stunts that involve pedaling backwards, walls, ramps, hops and other wild stuff. Lots of back-pedalling. Geometry like a big BMX bike, very low gear-inches. Example: see prolly is not probably blog.

Conversion fixie Road bike frame that has been converted. You can tell because the drop outs are not rear-facing. Everything else same as "street" fixed gear. This is a good way to experiment with fixed gear if you don't want to shell out $700-$1000 for a dedicated bike. You're not going to be allowed to race one of these on the velodrome because of the drop outs. Examples: See fixed gear gallery blog.

share|improve this answer

It is the perfect way to get a very light bike without going bankrupt.

share|improve this answer

protected by freiheit Sep 13 '11 at 3:25

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.