A converted fixie.

Fixed Gear Bicycles or "fixies" are one of the kinds of bicycles you may see on the roads of Davis. Fixed gears are the oldest form of drivetrain on bicycles. They are extremely simple from a mechanical standpoint, and this simplicity tends to be attractive to some riders. The 'fixed' refers to the lack of a freewheeling mechanism on the bike, so whenever the wheel is moving so are the pedals, and vice versa. If you pedal forward, you move forward, and if you pedal backward, you move backward.

They can be used by serious cyclists looking for a different type of training on the bike. Around town, they are most commonly found under people who are just getting from point A to point B.

There is a large discussion of whether the fixed gear mechanism itself constitutes a brake, because it is possible to skid the rear wheel by using the crank and chain. In Davis and Sacramento, the authorities have come down on the side of the bike needing a separate braking mechanism in order to comply with the law. So, if you do decide to ride a fixed gear, be aware that riding without a brake will get you a ticket.

Fixed gear bikes are not commonly understood by those who do not ride them. Common questions and their answers:

How do you stop? A rider may resist the forward motion of the pedals, thereby slowing the rear wheel and ultimately coming to a stop. More advanced stopping techniques include skidding and skipping, though the former is a very inefficient method of stopping. Also note that the ability to skid one's rear wheel in this manner does not satisfy California's requirement of having a brake capable of skidding a wheel. The bike can also have normal brakes (most people leave on at least one traditional brake).

Does it take more energy than a regular geared bike? If you know when to shift on multi-speed bicycle, a fixed gear will almost always use more energy. The rare exception to this is if you're riding your fixed gear at your optimal cadence at all times (no accelerating/decelerating) in which case the decreased weight/friction from the missing derailleur will end up saving you a small amount of energy. However, if you don't know how to use the shifter on a multi-speed bicycle (as many people don't, sadly) then a fixed gear may take less energy.

Why would you choose this type of bike over one with modern features, including multiple gears and the ability to freewheel? Some reasons: For one thing a fixie offers many opportunities for doing tricks not possible in a traditional bike or even a bmx bike, including trackstanding, and riding backwards, to name a couple (these and more can be seen at http://www.bootlegsessions.net). It can also be a fashion statement (watch for hipsters). Mechanical simplicity. Visual simplicity. It can be common ground by which to meet new people. Alternate training style. Feeling "more connected" to the road. Better control on slippery roads. Fewer parts results in less, usually cheaper, maintenance. Lighter than the same frame built with a geared drivetrain.

Aren't they terrible for your knees? In a word, yes. Especially if ridden with a high gear ratio at low speeds, a fixed gear bike puts more pressure on your knees than a geared bike. Using brakes to slow down will help alleviate this problem.

If you're interested in more information, especially local, check out the group DavisFixed. If you want your own fixed-gear bike, great places to check out the selection are local bike stores. If you want to race them on a track, the nearest is Hellyer Park. This is the only place one should ride a fixed gear bike without brakes.


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2009-07-29 17:17:17   I'm aware that fixies have suddenly become very popular (possibly for fashion reasons). But other than that, why would you choose this type of bike over one with modern features such as multiple gears, a freewheel, and...brakes (often not found on these bikes)? —IDoNotExist

2009-07-29 20:28:29   Not that I have one, but I think its because they are simpler to maintain. Maybe the freewheel somewhat insulates the rider from the road also? I will probably setup my own in about 20 years after everybody else forgets about it. —NickSchmalenberger

2009-07-29 22:07:15   An analogy I've used is driving manual vs. automatic. Sure, automatics will do most of the work for you, but driving stick gives you a better feel for how your car handles. And it's fun. Aside from that, I can vouch for the simplicity aspect. I wanted to try to build a bike from parts found through the Davis Bike Collective and I liked how the fixie is a bike at its most basic level. I also wanted a blue chain and I could only find one for a single-speeds. So yeah, guilty on the fashion charge too :) . —KevinChin

2009-07-29 23:33:45   "An analogy I've used is driving manual vs. automatic." Bad analogy. Both manual and automatic transmissions are variable, unlike a fixed gear. This would fit more for an analogy between a typical manually shifted bicycle and one of those rare automatic shifting bicycles. However, if you really want to use the car analogy, you can call a manual transmission a typical multi-speed bicycle, and a direct drive as the single speed / fixie. —aggie1100

  • Hah :) . When I first mentioned my analogy to my wife, she called me on it for this same reason. True, the concept of shifting doesn't fit, but that's not what I was shooting for. I was thinking more about the sensation of riding, and the extra bit of effort you have to take into account with the fixed gear. You learn to drive with an automatic, then when you first try manual it's decidedly different: you need to learn when to shift gears, timing the clutch to get out of first, etc. Similarly when I learned to ride my fixie, suddenly I could stop without using brakes—but I had to take a few minutes to figure out how. Same with coasting (or lack thereof). Track stops at red lights (much easier on a fixed gear). But in the end, whether you're riding a fixed-gear bike or riding a multi-speed bike you are just riding a bike (balance, pedal, turn in the direction you want to go) just like driving either manual or automatic is still. . . well, just driving. —KevinChin

In regard to "the sensation of riding," riding a multi-speed bike can give a riding sensation much closer to driving a manual transmission than a fixed gear. Everything from the sensation of running through the gears when accelerating to the selection of gear for optimizing either power or efficiency, etc. Even shifting your bike under power requires a certain amount of finesse to avoid crunching your gears (lowering torque until the shift is complete and/or timing shifts to release at the top/bottom of your pedal stroke where torque is lowest), much like managing RPM matching and feathering the clutch for a manual car. Also, the power response from a multi-speed bike is much more dynamic, as you can quickly downshift from your usual cruising cadence right before accelerating for extra instant torque at the wheel, while on a fixed gear you don't get to feel that extra "jump" unless you're in a very narrow cadence range. Not to mention you can take turns way more aggressively on a bike with a freewheel, as you can raise one pedal while you lean.

A manual car will often punish you by stalling or jerking if you do things incorrectly. However, riding a multi-speed bike "incorrectly" doesn't give that kind of disciplining (aside from maybe having to push a large gear ratio from a standstill) so people aren't forced to learn. Most people do not shift frequently enough, ride hard enough, or use a high enough cadence to experience this "sporty" feel. But, once they do, it can be just as exciting and novel as it is learning to ride a fixed gear for the first time! As a sidenote, most of this mainly applies to multi-speed bikes with shifters which are within immediate reach of the hands (or knees for you downtube racers), such as trigger shifters or STI.

As for the "extra bit of effort," I think a quote from Greg LeMond sums it up best: "It never gets easier, you just go faster."

Loose analogies aside, I agree with "whether you're riding a fixed-gear bike or riding a multi-speed bike you are just riding a bike (balance, pedal, turn in the direction you want to go)." Though, learning to consciously use countersteering for snappy turns is another exciting thing to try. —aggie1100

2009-07-30 00:43:16   On the shifting issue - is this equivalent to if I rode my (multispeed) bike with exactly one gear ratio all the time, and never shifted? I know that I'd be pedaling way too fast if I couldn't change gears as I accelerated.

On automatic shifting bicycles: are you referring to a CVT? Those have essentially infinite gear ratios, where you are always using the best ratio for that particular speed. This seems like the opposite of a fixed gear bike to me. —IDoNotExist

2009-07-30 08:13:21   On the shifting issue - is this equivalent to if I rode my (multispeed) bike with exactly one gear ratio all the time, and never shifted? I know that I'd be pedaling way too fast if I couldn't change gears as I accelerated. Your multispeed bike would still be able to freewheel. Take that mechanism away as well, and you have a single speed fixed gear.

On automatic shifting bicycles: are you referring to a CVT? These are two different technologies. Shimano makes a group of components called Coasting, which has a 3-speed automatic transmission with coaster brakes (which I also find pretty sweet). The NuVinci hub is the only CVT I'm aware of in the bike world, and it's very much a manual transmission (also very expensive). —BrettHall

2009-07-30 09:35:47   Keep in mind that when you choose a gear ratio for a fixed gear, you're choosing the highest gear ratio you're going to be comfortable with while riding at cruising speed. In that case, you wouldn't be pedaling really fast during acceleration; instead you'd be pedaling slower (with a bit more force) while getting up to that speed. And though you'd probably learn to stop as BrettHall described (pedals with toe cages help), it's a good idea to have regular brakes installed anyway. —KevinChin

2010-05-31 17:22:07   I personally began riding Fixed Gear bikes about 6 months ago. I wanted the ability to ride quickly and being that Fixies are MUCH lighter then say a Mountain bike and average grade Road bikes(bikes with gears and brakes). i also found skidding and the tricks available with Fixie's appealing. The bikes are very light and maintenance is very low. People say its a fashion statement but in reality, everything we do is a fashion statement. I personally top out with my gear ratio 48/16 at 30MPH. my cruising speed is about 18mph. thesse bikes are practical for anyone. The skidding took me a week to learn and i have had no accidents.

I disagree that it takes more energy. once youve gotten past the first revolution of the crank, pedaling is half your legs and half momentum of the pedals. it kind of works for you in a way. I know this sounds weird, but i recommend trying one for yourself. I ride a Kilo TT with Continental Ultra tires. i have three different types of bars depending on the riding style. You can convert an old road bike or single speed bike with Cog, and a lockring. this will coast you roughly 40 bucks.. Happy and Safe Riding. If you have any other questions- th3belov3d@aol.comFixienthusiast

2010-07-14 15:40:33   um, a conversion will also require a track hub. there's ways around this, but it isn't safe and i don't want to be on the same roads as people gluing cogs to old hubs.

I have a fixed gear bike, I also have many others. the track bike isn't any faster really than my other bikes, it's the rider that makes a bike fast or slow. I got a track bike because davis is so flat changing gears isn't totally necessary. I do prefer a 3 speed for commuting though. I also like the huge tires on my 29er (gearing is way low on that because it's a single speed mountain bike, but still fun). There is just something fun about the fixed drivetrain, I like how it carries your stroke through the deadspot. that said, there's nothing special about a track bike.

borrow a friend's (god knows there are enough in davis now that everyone probably knows at least one guy with one of these). if it feels good, get one. if you don't like how it feels, get a different bike. they aren't faster, they aren't cooler, they're just bikes. I know my girlfriend likes it because she feels the ability to slow down by resisting the pedals is more intuitive than just hand brakes (but coaster brakes don't offer enough modulation)

also, if you get one, put a brake on. I know some people who I'd trust riding brakeless, but the majority of riders really do need it. —EugeneB

2011-04-13 12:58:19   trackstanding can be done on any bike, not just fixed gears. it's just easier fixed. —ChillMurray