What Are Fixies? Pros and Cons of Fixed-Gear Bikes

What Are Fixies?

Fixies (AKA fixed-gear bikes) are bikes that don’t have multiple gears. They rear wheel hub is directly connected with the pedals. This means that if the wheel is moving, so are the pedals. Therefore, it’s not possible to freewheel (e.g. roll down a hill without the pedals moving), while the pedals can also be used as brakes to slow down the bike manually.

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.   

Quella-Fixed-Gear-Bike-Orange

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 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.

Fixie

When looking to buy a bike and you ask the opinion of a lot of your friends, chances are you’ll be left with two basic choices: fixed gear or not. If you have a few friends who own a fixie, you’ll find that some of them will have a lot of good things to say about it and a lot of nasty things to say about the geared bikes and vice-versa. Most times, though, the fixed-gear get a lot more hate than their geared counterparts, but this shouldn’t affect the decision of someone who is looking to get into biking. 

The primary reasons why fixies are hated is because most of those who own them are hipsters. It’s a paradox: everybody hates hipsters because not hating them is too mainstream. On the other side of the spectrum, fixies are used in track racing. This is due to the fact that the rider kicking speed directly translates into the bike’s speed.

Those who understand how bikes are built know that the fixie is disadvantageous in a lot more ways. For instance, fixed gear bikes are not ideal for areas where there’s at least a 20-degree in all roads. An uphill climb is virtually impossible with a fixie unless every gym day of yours is leg day. Another thing about fixies is that some of them have no breaks, which is just plain dangerous.

The term fixie is a tricky term, too. Fixies are pretty much single-speed bikes, with the pedal needing to be constantly moving if the wheels are moving. There are single-speed bikes, however, that come with a flip-flop hub. This allows the user to switch to freewheel mode and coast – something that a traditional fixie can’t do.

With its disadvantages, the fixie also has a lot of advantages. For one, there are no complex mechanisms attached to the bike. This results to the bike being a little lighter and easier to maneuver for beginners. Stripped to its basic parts, the fixed-gear bike is also a lot easier to clean, repair, and maintain. Since its speed is directly up to its user, the fixie also makes for a harder exercise. Finally, fixies come quite cheaper than their geared cousins.

Genesis Flyer 2015 Singlespeed Bike - £509.99
Genesis Flyer 2015 Singlespeed Bike – £509.99

Fixies – Pros & Cons

Fixed-gear bikes have a devoted following. But they’re not suitable for every rider. So below we look through the advantages and disadvantages of buying a fixie.

Pros: Fixie Bike Advantages

Fun

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.

Safety

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 saferto ride in rainy conditions.

Go Anywhere

These bikes are designed to handle the rough stuff better than road bikes. But they handle the really rough stuff just as well as a mountain bike. You can go anywhere with a gravel bike.

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.

Beauty

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.

Cons: Fixie Bike Disadvantages

Hills

One of the side effects of having a minimalistic fixie bike is that it doesn’t have gears to help you get up hills. That means you’ll have your work cut out for you when going up hills with these single speed bikes.

Bumpy Terrain

Fixies don’t have any form of suspension, while their wheels are also extremely skinny, this means you really feel every nook and cranny of the surface you’re riding on. If the road is smooth, your ride will be smooth. But if you’re riding on bumpy roads or gravel, you’ll quickly feel it.

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

Fixed gear bikes (fixies) and singlespeed bikes are very similar. However, the main difference is that single speed bikes have a freewheel, while fixies do not. Therefore, on a single speed bicycle, you can stop pedalling without affecting the speed, whereas on fixies the pedals will always when the backwheel moves. If you try to stop pedalling on a fixie, this acts as a brake.

This difference is most noticeable when cycling downhill. With fixed gear bikes you must keep pedalling (or take your feet away from the pedals), while riders on single speed bicycles can coast down without pedalling.

Best Fixed-Gear Bike Brands

There’s no shortage of fixed-gear bike brands out there, so there’s plenty of choice if you’re looking to buy a fixie. We’d recommened the following fixie brands:

Best Fixie Bikes

Critical Cycles Unisex's 2162 Bike with Pursuit Bullhorn Bars, Celeste, 53 cm/Medium
  • Premium handbuilt steel fixed gear single speed track frame with barspin clearance, water bottle mounts, no toe overlap, and horizontal drop outs
  • Super deep-V double wall rims with stainless steel spokes and flip-flop rear wheel hub allows changing from single-speed to fixed gear with ease
  • Low profile VP Platform BMX pedals, sealed bottom bracket, wander tires, KMC chain, Promax brake, 3 PC crank, and lightweight alloy chain wheel
FabricBike-Fixie Bike, Fixed Gear Bike, Single Speed, Hi-Ten Steel Black Frame, 10Kg (Matte Blue & Red, L-58)
  • Fixed gear single speed fixie bicycle with flip-flop rear wheel hub that allows changing from single-speed to fixed gear with ease
  • Lightweight high-tensile, fully Tig-welded steel frame built to last.Total assembled weight: 10 Kg. approx
  • Alloy rims, Double wall, 43mm , 32H. Kenda 700C x 23C (100 psi) nylon race tyres
CHEETAH Unisex's 3.0 Fixed Gear Bicycle, Matt Blue, Size 59
  • Powder coated frame and components
  • Hand spoked wheels
  • Chain adjusters: integrated stainless steel bolts

Fixed-Gear Bikes in Summary

All in all, though, the choice will be up to you. Why would you choose a fixie over the other? Why not? For that, I’ll leave a childhood story of mine.

When I was a kid, I had no knowledge of bikes at all. My friends had them, and I borrowed theirs from time to time. I would just hop on one of their bikes and stroll around town. I didn’t care whether it was fixed-gear or not.

Now, not caring what bike I was using is an attitude I carry to this day. As long as I could ride a bike, I was happy. Why not try this for yourself as well? Instead of hearing people argue about which bikes are good, try to determine which one is good for you. Try out different types of bikes and see which ones you’re most comfortable with.

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: