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Recently the group I ride with has included more fixie riders than I'm used to, and there's a phrase which was initially puzzling but makes perfect sense: the 24-inch gear. I've hidden the meaning under a spoiler so readers get the experience I did.

24 inches is two feet, i.e. walking. (we have lots of hills, some quite steep)

I think we're all familiar with the term "gear inches" to describe the equivalent diameter of a directly driven wheel - this question is specifically about the 24" gear (not low gears in general as you'll see if you look at the spoiler).

Other experienced riders, including those with fixed-gear experience hadn't come across it, and it doesn't seem common on the web (most hits are UK long-distance riders like the ones I ride with, but there are lots of sales of bikes with gears and 24" frames to bury the hits). Is this a universal term, or localised?

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    I hadn’t heard it, but I like it! – Swifty Jan 24 at 18:55
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    First I've heard it, but I don't ride a fixie. – Adam Rice Jan 25 at 1:11
  • My dad has numerous phrases acquired over a near century of being a "good 'ol boy" from the midwest, U.S. When us kids asked about the possibility of a car ride that amounted to a ridiculously short distance of 8-10 blocks, he often told us to, "ride shanks' ponies!" This referred to our feet (as a shank is a butcher's term for the leg/shoulder of an animal), and he meant get to steppin 'cause walking was the only way we were gonna get there. – Jeff Jan 25 at 2:12
  • This sounds like some variation on rhyming slang. A similar interpretation, the average pace for a grown adult is around 80-85 cm. When pushing your bike it will be less, approximately 2 feet per step, or less as it gets really steep. So an alliteration of two feet going two feet at a time. Perhaps someone had too much time on a boring ride and got creative with words? – Criggie Jan 25 at 3:27
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    @Criggie I think it's simpler than that, just using those 2 feet as your drive gear. It also happens to be close enough to a steep hill ratio to be plausible. The use of feet and inches suggests a US or UK use rather than somewhere using modern units, but so far it doesn't seem widespread even there. – Chris H Jan 25 at 6:53
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"Gear inches" is universal enough to have a Wikipedia page:

Gear inches is one of several relative measures of bicycle gearing, giving an indication of the mechanical advantage of different gears. Values for 'gear inches' typically range from 20 (very low gearing) via 70 (medium gearing) to 125 (very high gearing); as in a car, low gearing is for going up hills and high gearing is for going fast.

'Gear inches' is actually the diameter in inches of the drive wheel of a penny-farthing bicycle with equivalent gearing.

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    There's nothing incorrect in this answer, but it makes no reference to the "24 inch" aspect that's the important part of the question – Chris H Jan 24 at 18:00
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    @ChrisH Explain how the "24 inch" aspect is important. – Andrew Henle Jan 25 at 0:07
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    Have you read the spoiler? I understand gear inches but I'm trying to find out whether this particular term is widespread. To put it another way, whatever cogs you put on your single speed, you've always got a 24" gear. Have you ever heard of this? – Chris H Jan 25 at 6:47
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    @AndrewHenle The question is not asking for an explanation of gear-inches. It's asking specifically about whether the phrase "24-inch gear" (which does not mean "a gearing that gives 24 gear-inches") is in use outside the asker's own community. – David Richerby Jan 25 at 14:36
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    @ChrisH - Ok, that is NOT well-established terminology, and it's clearly a "play" on the standard gear-inch terminology. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 25 at 22:34
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24 gear inches would be about the same as a 700c or 26" wheel with a 30 tooth chainring and a 32 tooth rear cog. This combination would never be used on a fixie or singlespeed, it's just impossibly low.

Normally a fixie would be around 70 gear inches, with 60-75 being a reasonable range. More is hard to get started and less will spin out easily.

This phrase does not feature in google's ngram viewer - the nearest is "gear inches"

This phrase also doesn't feature as anything local in New Zealand.


I have a folding bike with 20" wheels and 3x8 gearing, when in a 26:32 gearing that returns a low-low 15 gear inches. This combination cannot be ridden on the flat - my legs spin out and I'm pedalling 100 RPM at 5 km/h. On a steep hill the primary challenge is to keep going upward and stay balanced on the bike. Such low gear-inch values would be only practical on the steep slopes and never on the flat. Even towing heavy trailers on the flat I've never had to drop below 40 gear inches.

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As this seem new to everyone here I've done a little more digging myself. It seems to be an Audax (Randonneuring) thing, maybe with our longer rides we have more time to ponder wordplay. Here are some examples. I've been very careful to select those where the meaning is absolutely certain; as has been pointed out in comments and other answers, 24 gear-inches is a reasonable low gear on a bike with many to choose from (my tourer's lowest gear is 26 gear-inches, while my hybrid's is 22) so I wanted to avoid citing sources that could even possibly mean this more conventional sense.

Most of the unambiguous hits I've found are from the British Audax scene, such as "if you insist on riding fixed there's nothing here that would require the use of a '24 inch gear' (IE 2 feet!)" and "Determined not to be beaten and resorting to the fabled '24 inch gear'" with quite a few relating to Paris-Brest-Paris "Halfway I dismount and change to the 24 inch gear,". One quote that could be referring to some of my club " Even the mental nutter fixie audaxers I know realise there's no shame in utilising the 24 inch gear (2 feet) on a really steep hill - the payoff is gearing that is correct for the rest of the ride."

Some are unambiguously American; these seem more likely to explain the term "I WILL, at a couple points be using my 24 inch gear (a clever way of saying I’ll be using my two feet, aka walking … pretty clever eh?)", "Some folks say "I've got two speeds: riding and walking." Others use the mathematical expression "dropping to the 24-inch gear." Twenty-four inches equals two feet. Sometimes, we get by with our own two feet.". All the American hits I can find are from 2010-11, while definitely British uses found in a simple Google search range from 2008 to 2017.

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