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Fixed Gear Vs. Single Speed Bikes (What’s the Difference?)

Blue Tsunami SNM100 single speed bike with drop bars on city streets. Source: Arif Maulana, Unsplash
Blue Tsunami SNM100 single speed bike with drop bars on city streets. Source: Arif Maulana, Unsplash

Fixed-gear and single-speed bikes seem similar at first glance. Both are simple, and their designs only have one gear and turn heads with their ridiculously good looks.

But if you’re new to the world of fixed-gear cycling, you might be using the terms “single speed” and “fixed-gear” interchangeably. That is a user-noob mistake that can be pretty embarrassing. 

So let’s take a moment and answer the question: what’s the difference between a fixed-gear and single-speed bike?

All fixies are single-speed bikes, but not all single-speed bikes are fixies. While both bikes look similar and have a single gear, a single-speed bike has a freewheel hub, allowing it to coast. A fixed-gear can not coast.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. So, in this article, you will learn the difference between fixed gear and single-speed bikes, their similarities, and the pros and cons of both, so you can avoid looking like a total noob at the bike shop.

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Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 23, 2022, to include more information about fixed gear cycling.

Before getting into the difference between fixed gear and single-speed bikes, let’s first understand what fixed gear and single-speed bikes are in the first place.

What is a fixed gear bike?

A fixed-gear bike (often referred to as a fixie) is a type of single-speed bike.

A fixed-gear requires continuous pedaling. Unlike a regular single-speed bike, a fixie does not enable you to coast. The rear wheel sprocket on most bikes has a freewheel cog* that allows the wheel to move independently of the pedals. But with a fixie, you must pedal even while riding downhill to keep moving.

Fixed gears typically include a front and rear brake, though most fixie purists stick to only a front brake. The fixed wheel may be considered a brake since you can lock the rear wheel while riding.

Fixed-gear bikes are the most basic configuration of bicycles. They also offer a level of control and oneness with the bike that a freewheeling bike cannot.

Many bikers like the simplicity of a single-speed bike because they are easy to maintain due to the fewer moving components that may get damaged and need to be replaced. They are often cheaper and lighter than a regular multi-geared bike, making them great for commuting.

What is a single-speed bike?

Black Look Fixed Gear Bike
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Black LOOK fixed gear bike. Source: Arif Maulana, Unsplash.

Much like a fixie, a single-speed bike is a bicycle with a single gear and has no shifters or derailleurs. However, the bike uses a freewheel cog to keep the wheels moving while you stop pedaling. A freewheel is similar to a ratchet. This implies it will easily allow movement in one direction but will halt the movement if it reverses.

Many bikers like the simplicity of a single-speed bike because they are easy to maintain due to the fewer moving components that may get damaged and need to be replaced. They are often cheaper and lighter than a regular multi-geared bike, which makes them great for commuting.

Single-speed bikes allow coasting. The ability to coast or cruise is an obvious benefit of single-speed bikes. This may make bombing down slopes more comfortable and safer overall. It’s particularly beneficial when you want to rest your legs on long rides.

For safety, single-speed bikes come equipped with brakes. Handbrakes are the only way single-speed bikes can stop, so every bike manufacturer must legally supply hand brakes with their bikes.

If you are in the market for a new bike, take a look that the single-speed bikes below.

What’s the difference between a fixie and a single-speed bike?

Single-speed bikes are equipped with a freewheel, while fixed-gear bikes are not. On a fixie, the rear cog is connected to the rear hub, so as the wheel rotates, the cog will turn too.

This implies that when you stop pedaling on a single-speed bike, the rear wheel will continue to spin, but the cranks (pedal arms) will not.

On a fixie, if you stop pedaling the bike will stop moving. So, you must constantly cycle on a fixed-gear bike; you can’t coast. This also allows the rider to slow down or stop the bike by reducing their pedaling cadence or by licking their legs, effectively halting the motion of the rear wheels. This is called “skid stopping.” Check out our guide to skid stopping here to learn more about skid stopping.

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Single-speed bikes will feature brakes, as you would find on any regular geared bike. This is because, on a single-speed bike, the only way to slow down is with a hand brake.

Most fixed-gear bikes are equipped with only a single brake, typically on the front, as the rear brake is the wheel itself. It must be pointed out that riding a fixie without a front brake on the road is illegal in New York City and many other municipalities. This is why you will always see bike manufacturers ship a front brake along with a bike.

Single speeds are excellent for commuting or winter biking since the absence of complicated gearing makes them much simpler to maintain. In contrast, the most frequent usage of fixed-gear bikes is on track. Most of the bikes you see racing around the velodromes have fixed gears with no brakes. They have also been widely used as city bikes but are seldom seen on roads.

Is a single-speed bike better than a fixie?

A single-speed bike is good for most terrain, while a fixie is better for racing and track riding. If you’re just starting, I’d recommend a single-speed until you gain confidence and expertise.

Is it possible to convert a single-speed bike to a fixie?

Yes, this is very common and simple to do. For example, on the back wheel of many single-speed bikes is a device known as a flip-flop hub. This enables the rear wheel to be removed and flipped over, allowing the coasting mechanism to be changed.

Most flip-flop hubs feature two distinct mechanisms that provide a varied riding experience depending on which side you utilize. They usually have a fixed gear on one side and a freewheel mechanism on the other, so you can switch between “fixie” and “single speed.”

There is also the possibility of having two sprockets with varying numbers of teeth on them, resulting in various size gears. For example, on the single-speed side, you may desire more teeth.

Are you looking for more advice? Look at this video called “Single-speed vs. Fixie” from the Shifter YouTube Channel.

A video called Single-speed vs. Fixie from the Shifter YouTube Channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about fixed gears and single-speed bikes.

Is a single-speed bike the same as a fixie?

Fixed gear bikes are usually more costly than single-speed bikes, but they are worth the investment if you want a bike made exclusively for fixed gear riding. A single-speed bike can be utilized for fixed-gear riding, but it will require some modifications.

Do single-speed bikes have gears?

Single-speed bicycles are simple bicycles with only one gear. They do not have additional gears that alter your bike’s gear ratio.

Are single-speed bikes harder to ride than fixed-gear bikes?

It is entirely dependent on your riding style. For example, a single-speed bike may be a better option for a beginner still learning how to ride a bike. On the other hand, a fixed-gear bike may be a better choice if you are more experienced and seeking a more strenuous ride.

Are single-speed bikes better than fixies for hills?

A fixie with a good set of pedal straps will be better suited for climbing hills than a single-speed bike.

Are single-speed bikes better than fixies for long distances?

Single-speed bikes are better suited for long distances because you can rest your legs and coast down hills. This is not possible on a fixed-gear bike.

Conclusion

I’d like to stress that there is no one-bike-fits-all solution out there. Some people like single-speed bikes, and some like fixed-gear bikes. Try not to be a scumbag elitist and judge People negatively based on how much physical effort they want to exert on their bikes. As far as I’m concerned, as long as they are riding with a single gear, they are one of us.

Hopefully, now that you know the difference between these types of bikes, you’ll be able to choose one that’s right for you.

This article covered the differences and similarities between fixed gear, single-speed, and track bikes and discussed how to convert a single-speed to a fixie. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A fixed-gear bike has no freewheel mechanism.
  • A single-speed bike has a freewheel. It can only be stopped with hand brakes.
  • Track bikes are fast and expensive. Velodrome fixed-gear bikes that don’t use hand brakes.
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So, what are you riding? Fixed or Single Speed? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

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Written by Bradly Knight

As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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