Guest post by bicycle manufacturers Quella Bicycle.
The diamond-frame fixed-gear bikes (not to be confused with single-speed bicycles) ridden today are fundamentally the same as those built in the nineteenth century. They are a tangible link to cycling roots; our point of contact with the formidable cyclists, the Olympic athletes and the Keirin races of today. They are also an aesthetic reference point shared with the designers and artists who have helped shape fashion and street culture.
Here on the outskirts of Cambridge at our Quella workshop, we hand-build high quality fixed-gear bicycles and are often asked, why ride fixed-gear? People are clearly still left wondering what it’s all about. In this post, an attempt will be made to answer some of the most frequently asked questions concerning fixed-gear riding.
What’s a Fixed-Gear bike?
Mechanically speaking, the difference between a fixed-gear and a geared bike is the fixed rear cog. This means that when the rear wheel is in motion, so are the pedals, which means the rider is unable to free-wheel.
Today most fixies, including our Quella One, are fitted with a ‘flip-flop’ hub meaning you can easily switch between fixed-gear and freewheel sprockets (so you can coast like an ordinary bike) by simply flipping the wheel around.
Why have fixed-gear bikes become so popular?
Although taking a few attempts to get used to, the inability to coast combined with the ability to decelerate using the pedals results in better control and manoeuvrability. The direct connection between cyclist and rear wheels means that you really feel the response of the road in your feet, which some say creates a ‘closer communion’ between man and machine – a truly seductive and fun way to cycle.
It is worth noting that the improved feel, connection and the aforementioned ‘closer communion’ with the road results in far less falls and braking using the fixed wheel drive train is unaffected by wet weather, thus making it much safer to ride in rainy conditions.
3) Cycling Technique
Along with being the staple on most velodromes, fixed-gear has become a popular option for ‘off-season’ serious cyclists and leisure cyclists alike. The reason being is that the lack of freewheeling capabilities encourages a much smoother, rhythmic, and therefore, improved pedalling technique.
4) Low Maintenance
Obviously, being short of any gears means that the bikes are also short of many of the components that are found on a geared bike such as the rear brake, derailleurs, shift levers and extra sprockets. Consequently, besides being much lighter, it also requires significantly less maintenance.
Being able to pick the colour of the frame, seat, tyres, rim and almost all other components of the bike; customisation and the ability to really create a bespoke model that best fits the taste of an individual is an attractive lure. Beyond that however, rid of all unnecessary components, the ‘fixie’ is a simple, minimalist and streamlined instrument that is, in its own right, a piece of art.
Not only is having just the one gear a disadvantage on mountainous terrain, that can really wear out the knees of riders; to many, adopting the tuck position and coasting down a steep hill is one of the great joys of cycling – a luxury not afforded on fixed gear cycles. Unless, that is, your fixed gear bike has a flip-flop hub that enables single-speed riding as-well.
What’s more, the fixed mechanism means there is more stress put upon the system resulting in faster deterioration of drive train components.
The fixed-gear has returned simplicity to cycling, leaving you to concentrate on cadence and speed, and allowing the rider to enjoy the real connection with the road that comes with it. There is always a time and a place for everything, and if you live in a relatively flat urban area then the fixed-gear bike is most likely for you! Eloquently summarised by Edwards and Leonard:
“A fixed-gear is the most efficient way a person can travel around a track or through the city streets. Fixed-gear bikes have long been used by club riders looking as a shortcut to maintaining form through the dark, wet winter months. Now, in cities around the world, thousands are following the example of bike messengers and are using track bikes and road conversions as a means of transport, escape and release… simply riding because a fixed-gear is so fun. The bike is a blank canvas upon which riders express individuality, or a community. It’s simplicity and purity are expressed both in the clean lines of its design and its ride.”