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Single-Speed vs Fixed-Gear Bike [DIFFERENCES EXPLAINED]

Riding a bike with only one gear is considered to be the purest version of cycling. Multiple gears only became available commercially after around 30 years of travel via a single gear. Once cycling moved into a sporting sphere on the roads of Europe, derailleurs and gearing added mechanical assistance to leg power.

Olympic cycling events to this day are, however, still dominated by single gear events. Commuting and leisure cycling are the most popular methods of using a single speed bike, as they need not involve multiple gears or thighs of oak.

Thousands of new bicycles sold are single speed, which proves they have a place on today’s roads. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing bikes are single-geared. Let’s examine the two main types of single-geared bikes. 

What is a “Single-Speed” Bike?

A single-speed bike has only one gear. It is simple, essential cycling. You pedal through a crank and single ring at the front to drive a chain around one rear cog only. Speed is regulated by how frequently you turn the pedals. The rear cog has a freewheel which allows you to coast and back-pedal.

What Are Single-Speed Bikes Good For?

Single-speed bikes are good for first-time riding, leisure use and commuting. They are lighter than geared equivalents because they carry fewer components. They are especially good when riding on flat surfaces. If you like to ride with friends or colleagues, single-speed bikes are very sociable.  

Single-speeds are easy to use because they are so simple. With only one gear, you regulate your speed simply by how fast you want to pedal. When you need to climb a hill, you have to pedal harder to keep the same speed. 

The freewheel mechanism at the rear allows you to pause your pedalling action at any time. This is known as coasting. Friction and wind-resistance will slow you down, along with standard braking mechanisms.

Single-speeds are low-maintenance because of their simplicity. The chain does not move up and down a derailleur and faces less strain. Wear and tear will not be as severe. Cleaning and lubricating a normal commuting single-speed drivetrain is a one minute exercise, once a fortnight.

SOURCE: Pexels.com

What is a “Fixed-Gear” Bike?

A fixed-gear bike is single speed too, but has no freewheel mechanism at the rear cog. You cannot coast a fixed-gear bike. When you are in motion, the crank at the front and rear cog are always rotating as you drive the chain. This means your legs will be in constant motion as you touch the pedals.

Fixed-gear bikes allow the rider different forms of control because of this uniquely constant motion. Your legs effectively become your gears and your brakes. If you want to travel faster, you turn the pedals more frequently. This is known as cadence.

You never stop the pedalling motion on a fixed-gear bike. At first, this is odd because the sensation will lift your rear-end off the saddle and requires some practice. You can remove your feet from the pedals of course, but everything keeps turning.

Braking is both novel and unusual on a fixed-gear bike. You use a back-pedal motion to slow the forward momentum and curb your speed. 

Imagine the front chainring and pedals as a clock face and arms. As the pedals move from six o’clock towards 12 o’clock, you apply pressure to resist the motion created by your pedalling and you slow down. 

You do not need traditional lever pull brakes to bring a fixed-gear bike to a halt. However, at least one of these is required in law in most territories. Therefore, a fixed-gear bike will usually have a front lever-pulled brake. 

We consider the legality of fixed gear bikes in more detail here.

SOURCE: Unsplash.com

What Are Fixies Good For?

Fixes are ideal if you want to develop, then perfect, bike handling and control. You get the best ‘feel’ and connectivity with the road on a fixie. They are good for no-nonsense commuting and cruising around urban landscapes. 

They can be ridden up hills but be mindful that you do not stop pedalling. It will become more difficult as the gradient increases. If you can ride uphill on a single speed, you will eventually be able to do so on a fixie. You will want more momentum at the bottom before you begin.

Fixies are good for developing all-round awareness of the spaces and hazards around you. Because you rely more on the back-pedalling motion to slow you down, your eye is drawn further up the road. Your appreciation for the reasons for braking force you to gain a better understanding and your riding style will become smoother and more efficient.

The fixie riding position takes time to master but once you have done this, they are good for some fun tricks and poses. You can ride backwards on a fixie and perform beautiful, eye-catching ‘track stands’. 

This is where you balance on the bike when it is not moving. Tiny, undetectable rocking motions on the pedals and minute shifting of your weight will allow you and the bike to stay upright without your feet touching the ground. It’s not for the faint-hearted and of course, should only be tried when safe to do so.

Fixies are probably the most eye-catching and photogenic bikes around because of their symmetry and simplicity. They are very good for ‘gramming’! At the time of writing there are over 2.75m #fixie posts.

As well as sharing the benefits of a single-speed bike’s lightness, fixies also require less day to day checks when it comes to daily use because they too have fewer moving parts. More of the pros and cons of owning a fixie are found here.

SOURCE: Unsplash.com

What is the Difference Between Fixed-Gear and Single Speed Bikes?

The only time the pedalling motion of a fixed-gear bike ends is when the bike is motionless. When the bike is moving, the pedals are always rotating. You can stop the pedalling motion of a single speed bike when the bike is in motion at any time. 

Fixed gear bikes rely on the rider applying force against the direction of the cranks to slow the bike down. Single speed bikes use traditional lever pull brakes to come to a halt. Fixed gear bikes should have at least one lever pull brake fitted to meet legal requirements.

Single-Speed vs Fixie [DIFFERENCES]

Single-SpeedFixie
Freewheel mechanism at rear cog – you can coast as you move alongRear cog fixed to rear wheel hub – crank arms always rotate when the rear wheel does
Tend to have two traditional lever pull brakesUse of leg power to ‘back-pedal’ and slow momentum may mean only one lever brake needed
Easy for beginnersHard to master and control
Kevin Glenton


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Kevin Glenton

Kevin is a NCTJ qualified sports journalist. He cycles on towpaths, defunct railway lines, national cycle routes and minor roads in order to explore. His home is Manchester, shoehorned in by the Peak District and Pennines. A love for their steep roads remains unrequited. You can read more from Kevin here