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What features are important or of note? What are appropriate prices to pay? Are there specific brands which provide a clear advantage over others?

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You'll want to elaborate on the intended purpose of such a bike. –  Angelo Dec 19 '11 at 16:20
    
To be honest I was trying to provide a better Q&A than this one: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/7350/decent-entry-fixie –  Glenn Dec 19 '11 at 18:05
    
I would say feel free to answer with the typical road bike oriented fixed gear commuter/bar hoping "townie" fixed gear ride in mind. I would hate to preclude relevant fixed gear info that may apply to other styles of riding though. I was hoping for some discussion about gear ratios bottom bracket height in relation to pedal strikes and similar fixed gear concerns. Even potential conversions. –  Glenn Dec 19 '11 at 18:12
    
Take a look at the Surly Steamroller. If you like it (not find it too heavy), you could not go wrong with it! I think you could buy a kit instead of the whole bike, too. –  heltonbiker Dec 19 '11 at 20:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You are likely going to get some opinionated comments and answers in response to this question. There are lots of good brands (frames and complete bikes) from all over the world. There are more and more options showing up in local bike stores, so if you can it will be best to go have a look. Even if you choose to purchase online, having spent some time looking at physical hardware will help you make your decision.

I'm going to make an assumption that you're asking about a fixed gear bicycle for road use as opposed to a track.

If you haven't read Sheldon Brown's detailed article then please do, it's a great place to start. Without reiterating all of the detail in that article I'll simply point out a couple of highlights:

  1. The number one thing that you should look for is a brake. Again, others may offer dissenting opinions on this, but riding a fixed gear bicycle on the road without a brake is extremely dangerous.

  2. Chain tension mechanism. You will have to be able to tension the chain on your fixed gear bike as it lacks the derailleur and pulley mechanism that handles that task on traditional geared bikes. This will likely be accomplished by means of horizontal rear wheel dropouts within which the wheel moves back and forth for adjustment. You may also encounter models with an eccentric bottom bracket mechanism. These typically add some weight and may be of less interest to you unless you happen to go for a rear disk brake (in which case moving the rear wheel to adjust chain tension is not an option)

  3. If you are new to the world of fixed gears then you may be interested in having an option to run a freewheel as well. A flip-flop hub can offer the best of both worlds in that you can ride fixed or flip the wheel around and ride with a freewheel. This adds a small weight penalty and absolutely requires that you install a brake of course.

As for price, brands, geometries, gear ratios, frame materials etc. this is very much personal preference and the rules are the same as for any bicycle. You can typically splurge a little on a fixie because there are far fewer other components that you have to purchase and maintain.

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I've seen adjustable disc-brake compatible dropouts, where there's a sliding mechanism that holds the axle and has the disc brake mount. Paragon Machine Works makes several (for framebuilders), and I saw it on a Spot Brand Bike. Seems like overkill for a fixie, though. –  freiheit Dec 17 '11 at 6:38

I would break it down into the following categories...

  • conversions (road-bike that has been made into a fixed gear, practicable on bikes with horizontal drop-outs). Pros: cheap, Cons: getting chainline right can be a bitch, not worth it for anything better than ghetto.

  • road-like (slack angles more like a road bike, wide-ish tires are possible, front/rear brakes standard, water bottle mounts exist). Example: Surly Steamroller Pros: rideable for long distances, Cons: Comfort of a roadbike with all the disadvantages of a fixed gear, bikesnobNYC will make fun of you.

  • track-like (aggressive angles like track bikes, large drop, usually only front brake, no ammenities, steel or aluminum, sometimes carbon fork). Example: Felt TK3, Bianchi Pista Pros: You can actually takes these on velodrome (w/o brakes) and not be laughed at. Cons: Impractical for non-pristine road conditions.

  • actual track bike (usually sold as frame/fork combo because you already have the wheels and cranks from your previous crash, alu or carbon w/carbon fork, no brake hole on fork, rear wheel is always "shoved under" seatpost). Example: Bianchi Super-pista, blue, etc Pros: This is the real deal, Cons: Really only worth it for a velodrome.

Here's the difference between a track bike and a road bike in terms of geometry. What this translates to in terms of handling will take some writing...

Track bike geom (Bianchi super pista) enter image description here

AS  490     510     530     550     570    590    610
BS  515     525     535     550     560    575    585
B1  523     525     535     550     560    575    585
C   380     383     383     383     383    383    383
E   100     100     115     135     155    170    190
G   76      76      75.5    75.5    75.5   75     74.5
G1  74      74      74      74      74.5   75     75

Road bike geom (Bianchi Vigorelli) enter image description here

AS  490     510     530     550     570     590     610 
Bl  508     525     535     550     560     575     585 
BS  510     515     525     542     553     569     578 
C   408     408     410     415     415     415     415 
D   58      68      68      68      68      68      68 
E   115     125     135     145     160     175     195 
F   580     584     585     591     602     607     612 
G   74.5°   74.5°   74°     73.5°   73.5°   73°     72.5° 
Gl  71°     71°     71.5°   72°     72°     72.5°   72.5° 
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The way you put, you can never go right: or you get a fake-less-than-something-road-bike, or you get a super-rocket-unrideable-except-over-a-snooker-table. Have you heard of street fixies, like the excellent Surly Steamroller, just for an example? I ride a conversion, and have outsmoked a lot of fellow riders from many different "ghettos", 'cause the bike is just fine! –  heltonbiker Dec 19 '11 at 20:15
    
Could you define which angles are more or less aggressive? You touched on rider position being more or less upright as well as the wheel being "shoved under" the seat post. Are these the only two significant differences or are there others. –  Glenn Dec 19 '11 at 20:35
    
@heltonbiker, well yeah, a fixed bike simply isn't good as a "general purpose" bike. Whatever makes a bike good on the road for commuting or carrying groceries makes it very suboptimal in a race lasting less than a few minutes in a velodrome. The converse is also true! Comprising a few things here and there helps (like with the steamroller) but IMHO, you're left with something that is lacking in doing any one thing. –  Angelo Dec 19 '11 at 22:03
    
@Glenn, in a track bike the handlebars are relatively low because you're expected to be aero. Your hands will always be on the drops because you'll need to accelerate unexpectedly will need to pull back on them very hard in order to thrust the pedals properly. –  Angelo Dec 19 '11 at 22:18
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@Angelo the reasons you brought are valid, but you are, IMO, "punishing" a general-purpose candidate based on specialized performance (racing, cargo-hauling). For an all-rounder and commuter, a fixie is very very fine (fast and non-tiring) if you travel light on fair weather, even on hilly terrain, but perhaps I wouldn't think so or even believe so If I hadn't one. –  heltonbiker Dec 19 '11 at 23:25

From my riding style and my delightful experience with my converted old steel 10 speed, what I like most in my bike is:

  • Relatively lightweight;
  • Narrow straight handlebars with always-ready-to-reach brake lever;
  • Very "crunching" dual-pivot front brake caliper (generic brand);
  • Very nice fit for my body-size;
  • Decent crankset with steel chainring (very important to me!);
  • No rear brake;
  • 23mm tires.

Now the explanation: I use this bike for training and fair-weather commuting. I prefer it over my heavier bike (with fenders, lights, internal-geared-hub, rack) because it is so much faster (for being lighter), efficient (for having a simpler drivetrain and skinny tires) and nimble (for having a narrow handlebar and a trusty front brake). Being all-steel drivetrain (chainring, chain and sprocket), the chain oil keeps clean for much longer than with aluminum chainring, which makes the oil black too soon (and it stains the clothes a lot more!).

What I don't like in this bike:

  • Headset bearing has a little play, very annoying and worrysome noises under full braking;
  • Fork is of unknown origin. It seems fine, but the fork is for sure the most demanded mechanical part on this bike, since I don't skid, so all my braking goes on it;
  • Front hub has quick-release skewer. I would rather not, because the ability to lock the bike away is more important, I think, than the ease of wheel removal (and fixies are very good for errands);
  • Rear sprocket is low quality, so not perfectly centered. It is a pain down there, because I have to be sure the chain is not overtight, and even then there is one position where there is a small slack. It bothers while doing trackstands.

Well, I talked a lot, but I avoided to mention brands, I prefer to mention features, many good and pricey bikes might not have your desired features, and many apparently crappy bikes might have just what you need.

I bought one used and immediately spent 20% of paid price to replace some parts (crankset because of quality, stem and handlebars because of fit). That's the good part of fixies: you never need to spend a lot, since there is not so many parts to swap.

Hope it helps!

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Installing and using a rear brake in addition to your front brake will you stop faster and reduce your likelihood of flying off your bike in an emergency. Also, if a cyclist rides a bike with no rear brake, and the front brake cable snaps on a downhill, what happens? –  unforgettableid Jan 16 '13 at 0:25
    
@unforgettableid Some comments: 1) A LOT of people use the front-only setup with no problems; 2) There are some more or less well founded considerations here: sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html 3) The brake conduite actually failed me once, fortunately I was not at speed. That taught me that a front-only bike should have more quality and quality-control for it, including preventive maintenance. If the worst happens, it's theoretically possible to skid via the pedals, although I'm not particularly good at it as some brakeless folks are... –  heltonbiker Jan 16 '13 at 1:36
    
1: There are people who have used the front-only setup and have died premature deaths, devastating the people closest to them. 2: I believe Sheldon Brown is wrong there. Both John Forester (Effective Cycling) and John S. Allen disagree with Sheldon Brown on that point. If you request it, and if I have time, I can marshal you more evidence from various users at forum.ctc.org.uk. 3: Skidding isn't a good way to slow your bike down. Also, while skidding, you lack steering control. (cont'd...) –  unforgettableid Jan 17 '13 at 1:53
    
(...cont'd) In summary: The pros of installing a second brake far outweigh the cons. –  unforgettableid Jan 17 '13 at 1:54
    
@unforgettableid This has become purely an argument. There are people who died doing every kind of stuff, dangerous or not, including cycling or not. One should do whatever makes him feel safe, preferrably backed up by logic and informed decisions. In the end, rear brakes don't prevent accidents as much as alert and responsible riding does. –  heltonbiker Jan 17 '13 at 12:26

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