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What Is a Fixed Gear Bike? The Complete Fixie Guide [2022]

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about fixed-gear and single-speed bicycles. This is the definitive guide to fixie bikes.

A man standing behind golden fixed gear bicycle. Source: Adobe Stock
A man standing behind golden fixed gear bicycle. Source: Adobe Stock

Fixed gear bikes are some of the most fun bikes on the planet. They are lightweight, easy to maintain, and have many benefits. And the fixed gear scene is supported by a large community of passionate cyclists. But if you’re new to fixed gear cycling, you probably have many questions, like, what is a fixed gear bike?

A fixed-gear bicycle (sometimes called a fixie) is a bike with no freewheel system. On a fixie, you must constantly pedal the bike to move forward or stay upright. Most fixies only include a single front brake because riders lock their legs to slow down or stop the cycle.

If you’re unfamiliar with fixed-gear bikes, you’ve come to the right place. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about fixed-gear and single-speed bicycles, including how they operate, some background history, their benefits and drawbacks, how to buy one, and much more.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know everything there is to know about fixed-gear bikes. So let’s get to it.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 12, 2022, to include additional information about fixed gear bikes.

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What are fixed-geared bicycles?

A fixed-gear bike is a bike with, as the name implies, one single gear. Fixed-gear bikes are also called fixies, and you will often hear the terms used interchangeably.

A fixed-gear bike requires continuous pedaling. Unlike a typical bike, a fixed-gear bike does not allow you to coast. Most bikes have a freewheel cog that allows the wheel to move independently of the pedals. You must pedal (even while riding downhill) with a fixed gear.

Fixed-gears typically include both a front and rear brake. However, fixie purists stick to only a front brake because they tend to stop the bike using the power of their legs.

Black Look Fixed Gear Bike
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Image of a black Look fixed gear bike.

However, riding a fixie without brakes 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.

Many fixed-gear riders prefer the simplicity of these bikes 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.

But what is a fixie? There’s a beautiful quote that goes:

You can always add something to your bike, but you’ll get to a point where you can’t subtract anything else, and that’s a fixed gear.

Graeme Obree

I think this statement perfectly captures the essence of fixed gear and the beauty of its simplicity. 

Below are a few inexpensive single-speed and fixed-gear bikes you can purchase right now.

How does a fixed gear bike work?

As the name indicates, a fixed gear employs a drive train that is “fixed” and cannot be shifted to another gear. Consequently, the rider is limited to a single-speed and can not coast. So, as the back wheel rotates, the pedals also rotate. This is done by directly connecting the rear wheel with the drivetrain chain and, by extension, the pedals. The chain is engaged when the hub rotates, which contacts the front crank wheel, which spins the pedals.

Constant pedaling might sound like a drawback, but it is one of the most alluring parts of a fixie for several reasons. For one thing, it keeps your body engaged, which is great for exercise.

The bike will ride and feel much different from the freewheel version, bringing you in sync with the road. Additionally, the fixed-gear drivetrain provides an alternative stopping technique for people who dislike using hand brakes. 

The Benefits Of A Fixed Gear Bike

Fixed gear bikes provide noticeable features that freewheel bikes do not.

Pedal efficiency – Cycling on a fixed-gear bike provides greater energy transfer from the pedal to the rear wheel.

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Better cardio workout – There is no coasting on a fixed gear bike, so your legs work harder, and that work keeps you fit.

Lightweight – Due to the absence of derailleurs, shifters, levers, a cassette, and brake components, the bike drops a significant amount of weight.

Aesthetics – Fixed gear bikes are sexy bikes. Their modern design and mechanical simplicity make them visually appealing.

Inexpensive – A bike with fewer parts is usually less expensive. The lack of a multi-gear transmission significantly reduces the cost of a fixed gear. Simply put, road and mountain bikes have many additional components that make them very expensive. Fixies do not.

Low maintenance – Because they have fewer components, fixed-gear bikes are easier to maintain and are less expensive when it comes to repairs.

Easy to store – Fixed gear bikes are easier to keep in tight spaces than geared bikes due to their easily removable front and back wheels and handlebars.

Fun and unique riding experience – Most riders will tell you that a fixie is more engaging and fun to ride. Because there aren’t as many gears, there is a more direct link between the rider and the bike.

Check out our article on all the benefits of a fixed-gear bike to learn more.

The disadvantages of a fixed gear bike

While a fixed gear has several advantages, some clear disadvantages may turn some riders off from riding fixed altogether.

It takes some getting used to – The constant pedaling action will initially feel very strange. 

Braking is harder – Braking on a fixed gear can take some getting used to. In addition, riders have to learn to use their legs to stop or slow down.

They may be Illegal – In certain regions, riding without brakes is prohibited.

Not great for hilly terrain –Fixed gear bikes are best on flat ground due to the lack of gears.

It may hurt your knees over time – Fixed gear cycling requires constant pedaling, which may accelerate joint wear. However, all physical activity contributes to joint wear, and riding a fixed-gear bike casually with proper technique should not do too much harm to your knees in the long run. Skidstopping, however, can do long-term damage.

Are fixed gear bikes street legal?

Fixed gear bikes are 100% legal. However, riding brakeless can land you in hot water. Remember that a fixed-gear bike does not necessarily need to be brakeless. You can have a fixie with both front and rear brakes. Of course, you will lose “fixie points”, but you will be on the safe side. Check out our article on NYC cycling laws to learn more.

Parts of a fixed gear bike

Compared to most bikes, a fixie has few components, making them easy to clean and maintain. The components that make up a fixed gear bike include:

Frame – The frame is the body of the bike.

Fork – The fork will sweep slightly forward, positioning the front wheel optimally. Forks are made of steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber.

Handlebars – Steering the bike is accomplished through the handlebars. Almost all off-the-shelf fixed gear bikes will come with riser bars, but there are many different types of handlebars you can choose from, including

  • Riser bars
  • Bullhorn bars
  • Flat bars
  • Drop bars
  • Pursuit bars

Stem – The stem is the metal portion of the handlebar that attaches to the headset.

Headset – The headset is the component that connects the fork and stem to the handlebar.

Saddle – The saddle is the bike’s seat. Most fixed-gear saddles are similar to road bike saddles in that they have minimal padding.

Wheelset – The wheelset will typically include the whole wheel assembly, including the tire, tube, spokes, rims, and hubs.

Seat post – The seat post connects the saddle to the frame.

Crankset  The crankset is the component that connects the pedals to the body. It’s a large cog that keeps the chain in place.

Rear cog  The rear cog is what keeps the rear wheel attached to the hub on a fixie. Rara hubs affect your gear ratio.

Pedals – Pedals power the crankset, propelling the bike forward. 

Hubs – The hubs are the center of the wheel. They come in pairs; a front hub and a rear hub. A flip-flop hub allows you to switch between fixed and single speed.

Pedal straps and toe clips – Pedal straps and toe cages are pedal accessories. They attach to your foot, giving you more control over your pedal’s upstroke.

Brakes  – Most fixie riders skid to stop. But you should always use at least one front brake.

Fixed gear culture

Fixed gear cycling is a passionate subculture. There is no shortage of Facebook groups and Instagram accounts dedicated to sharing the passion of riding fixed. Fixed gear cyclists swear by their bikes and see them as the optimal mode of transportation, particularly for navigating densely populated places. 

Man with blue jacket and shorts riding a white fixed gear bike.
Man with blue jacket and shorts riding a white fixed gear bike.

Fixed gear cyclists are also big into aesthetics. These bikes are ideal for people who want to show off their creativity, as they allow many customization options—more so than on any other kind of bike. 

And they are often revered for their visual simplicity and minimalist design. Nevertheless, there are an infinite number of customization options out there for fixed-gear bikes. These are some of the most customized bikes in the world, so much so that there’s a massive subculture of manufacturers who make parts specifically for people who want to fully customize their fixies.

Unfortunately, while their culture started underground, fixies have found a place in the daily marketing of huge corporations. And at some point, fixies became synonymous with hipster culture. And with “hipster” being a derogatory term, nobody wants to be labeled a hipster these days. 

However, the scene is alive and well. Now that the fixie hype of the mid and late-2000s has passed, the posers have disappeared. Fixed gear bikes are not around like they once were, but this has led to a tighter community of truly passionate cyclists. And new manufacturers are springing up to serve this niche community. 

What is a single-speed bike? 

single-speed bike is much like a fixed-gear bike. However, they use a freewheel cog to keep the wheels moving when you stop pedaling. A freewheel cog is similar to a ratchet. It will easily allow movement in one direction but will halt the movement if it reverses.

The ability to coast or cruise is an obvious benefit of single-speed bikes. Coasting makes riding down slopes and hills more comfortable and safer overall. It’s particularly advantageous when you want to rest your legs on long journeys.

Single-speed bikes are easy to maintain due to fewer moving components that may get damaged and need to be replaced. They are also usually less expensive and lighter than a conventional multi-geared bike.

Handbrakes are the only way single-speed bikes can stop, which is why every bike manufacturer must legally supply hand brakes with their bikes.

It’s natural to mistake fixed-gear bikes for single-speed bikes. After all, they look very similar. However, there is a significant distinction in the way they operate. All fixed gear bikes (fixies) are single-speed bikes. But not all single-speed bikes are fixed-gear bikes. 

Single-speed bikes are equipped with a freewheel, while fixed-gear bikes are not. On a fixed gear bike, the rear cog is connected to the rear hub, so as the wheel rotates, the cog will also rotate. So when you stop pedaling on a single-speed bike, the rear wheel will continue to spin, but the cranks (drive train arms) won’t.

Check out this video on single-speed bikes vs. fixies from the Shifter YouTube Channel.

A video called ”Single-speed vs fixie | Why fixed-gear bikes are ridiculous, except for these three things from the Shifter YouTube channel.

What is a track bike?

A track bike is essentially a fixed-gear bike made specifically for racing. Track bikes were designed for use on indoor track racing tracks called velodromes. They are built for efficiency and speed. They look great and are about as fast as any bike can get. So if you want to ride a bike at a velodrome, this bike is for you.

Track bike racing, which is often held in a specially constructed arena and track for racing called a velodrome, utilizes fixed-gear bikes modified for maximum speed. Racers make their way around the circular track, which often has very steep curves, sometimes as steep as 45 degrees.

In velodrome racing, the rider has no time to change gears or use the brakes; it’s an all-out sprint that depends on raw pedaling force and the ability to avoid wind resistance while maneuvering. Additionally, the bike’s weight plays a significant role in the bike’s speed.

At the velodrome, all the participants are moving in the same direction; one person suddenly braking could be dangerous. With a brakeless configuration, all the participants stop at the same rate, which is why they have no brakes. 

You may hear a fixed-gear bike referred to as a “track bike.” However, they are not necessarily the same thing. While track bikes are fixed-gear bikes, they are not often referred to as such. The main difference between a fixed geared bike and a track bike is that track bikes are specially designed for racing. On the other hand, fixed-gear bikes are primarily for casual use, enjoyment, and transportation.

Four cyclists on track bike at velodrome race.
Four cyclists on track bike at velodrome race. Source: Simon Connellan, Unsplash

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some commonly asked questions regarding fixed gear and single speed bikes.

What is a fixed-gear bike good for?

A fixed-gear bike is primarily used for commuting and local cycling. Fixies are also popular among mountain bikers who desire a stationary bike that won’t get stolen or destroyed. Because the chain does not need to be rotated, this style of bike is less prone to becoming tangled up on uneven terrain.

What is the purpose of a fixie bike?

Fixies can be fun to ride if you’re looking for an exercise alternative or want to explore new neighborhoods without worrying about changing gears. They are also great for city living and commuting, where you might need to carry the bike up and downstairs.

Are fixed gear bikes hard to ride?

Fixed-gear bikes can be challenging to get the hang of at first.

Is riding a fixed-gear bike hard?

Riding a fixed-gear bike can be tricky, but it’s also a unique experience. Fixed gear is all about control and balance, both of which are essential for any cyclist.

Can you stop pedaling on a fixed-gear bike?

The simple answer is no. The pedals and rear wheel on a fixed-gear bicycle are directly connected, which means that when the rear wheel spins, so do the pedals. As a result, you cannot coast on a fixed-gear bicycle and must pedal every time the bike moves.

Can I convert a single-speed bike to a fixie?

You can convert a single-speed bike to fixed gear with a flip-flop hub. This will allow you to flip your wheel around, switch from fixed to single speed, and back again if you so desire. This is very common, and most single-speed bikes already come with two cogs in the rear hub—one fixed and one freewheel.

Can you coast on a fixed-gear bike?

You can’t coast on a fixed gear. The pedals will be moving if the bike is moving.

Can you ride up a hill on a fixie?

Yes. However, In order to ride a fixie uphill, you must possess the requisite physical endurance as well as mental fortitude. And you will probably want some pedal straps.

Conclusion

Fixed gear bicycles have outlived their trendy status. What began as a fad has evolved into a legitimate bike category that is gaining popularity as more people become aware of its advantages. 

I genuinely hope that this guide inspires you to grab a fixie today.

So, are you riding fixed right now? Or are you 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. Stay safe, and stay fixed.

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This article covered what a fixed gear bike is and some dos and don’ts of fixed gear cycling. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A fixie is a bike with only one gear that requires constant pedaling.
  • Fixies have many advantages, but they also have a few disadvantages.
  • Fixed gear bikes are some of the most fun bikes.
  • The fixed gear culture is very strong and ever-growing.
  • Single-speed bikes are not the same as fixies. They look similar but function differently.
  • Track bikes are similar to fixies but are faster and lighter.
  • Cycling on a fixed-gear bike provides greater efficiency.
  • Fixed gear bikes are 100% legal, so long as your bike has a brake.

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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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