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Prompted by a recent question I was pondering the idea of bikes with variable gearing (derailleur or otherwise) but without the ability to freewheel. Have such bikes ever been widely used?

They would appear to share many of the advantages and disadvantages of fixies but be better at handling hills (up and down) while being more complex.

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    A derailleur in its classic sense is not compatible with fixed gear systems because it does not transfer force in the reverse direction, only weakly tensions the chain: the lower part of the chain is not loaded. If something will work for fixies, it has to be either internal gearing mechanism, or multiple chains to multiple cogs. – Grigory Rechistov Apr 10 '18 at 20:08
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    @GrigoryRechistov that's a good point, and one I should have thought of having also been thinking about chain tensioning for a retro-direct – Chris H Apr 10 '18 at 20:43
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    They've never been "common". I don't doubt that a few have been made over the years, but they never attained broad use. Too impractical, from several standpoints. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 10 '18 at 21:55
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    Highly unlikely to survive the first ride. If you try to hold back the pedals as you would you without a freewheel the lower part of the chain would pull the RD forward, overload the jockey pulleys and destroy the derailleur irremediably. – Carel Apr 11 '18 at 18:52
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I read somewhere about a three-speed internal fixed rear hub, the Sturmey-Archer ASC (hmm, here maybe?; now replaced by the Sturmey-Archer S3X), and people were complaining that it had poor reliability. Obviously if something is not used in a big cycling sport (and has access to its R&D budgets), it has little chances for a wider market effort.

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Surly have a "dingle" which will let you change between 2 sets of fixed gears quickly: https://surlybikes.com/parts/drivetrain/dingle_cog

This could be a solution to your problem.

  • Welcome, and +1. It was mainly out of curiosity that I asked, because I live in a hilly area (and if I was riding on flattish roads regularly I'd choose a single-speed over a fixie, having tried the latter). Unfortunately this wouldn't help the author of the duplicate question much, as they were having trouble from a standing start. – Chris H Jun 13 '18 at 12:45
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In the duplicate of the original question I've posted an answer on a solution, i.e. the 3-speed Sturmey-Archer fixed gear hub. It means that such a solution does exist.

Were they widely used? I don't think so, I see it more as a "luxury" (it does exist, it combines some characteristics of more products in one, and if you can afford it, you can have it).

Anyway, the only advantage of a fixed-gear drive in the hilly area I can think of is that it spares the rim/disc brakes on longer descents as you can somewhat control your speed by resisting the pedalling (similar to Jake brake in trucks).

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