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The Pros and Cons of Riding Fixed Gear

BY: DAN DELAGRANGE | 7.31.2015 |
The Pros and Cons of Riding Fixed Gear

With no gears, shifters, or even brakes, fixed-gear bicycles (“fixies” in common parlance) are bikes at their most basic. Riding fixed-gear bikes can be both rewarding and practical, though you’ll have to get used to being without some of the comforts that normally come standard on road and mountain bikes. 

To help you figure out if a fixie might be right for you, we spoke with Luis Iñiguez and Lesley Tweedie of Chicago’s Kozy’s Cyclery and Roscoe Village Bikes, respectively. These two seasoned pros explained some of the benefits and drawbacks of riding fixed-gear bikes. Spoiler alert: they’re not just for hipsters.

Riding Experience

PRO: Fixies are arguably the “purest” form of bike out there. 

No gears or shifters means a simple, no-nonsense riding style. Pedal forward to go forward; pedal backward to slow down or go in reverse. This engaged riding experience is part of what makes fixies so unique. As Tweedie puts it, fixies help riders “feel at one with the bike” and achieve a better sense of control. 

CON: Mastering a fixie takes time and patience. 

Iñiguez and Tweedie have the same advice for anyone looking to start riding a fixed-gear bike: practice, practice, practice. Getting used to starting and stopping without the comforts of shifting and braking takes time, especially in an urban riding environment. “For city riding, it’s definitely something to get used to,” Iñiguez says. If you’re just starting to get comfortable with riding a bike, adds Tweedie, “fixed might not be your best option.”

Fitness

PRO: You’re constantly moving and using your muscles. 

Since riders need to start and stop their momentum without the gradual, easy buildup afforded by a set of gears, pedaling a fixie can quickly turn into a challenging lower-body workout. “It forces you to spin the whole time you’re riding,” Tweedie explains. 

CON: There are better options out there. 

If you’re looking to use your bike solely for fitness, Tweedie suggests looking beyond fixies. “I wouldn’t recommend fixed [if your goal is getting in shape],” she says. Instead, she recommends something like a hybrid road/mountain bike, which can better handle hills and longer rides.

Terrain

PRO: For flatland commuters, fixies get you there quickly. 

If you plan on using your bike for short trips or commutes in mostly flatland areas, a fixie can be great. Its light weight means that it can build some serious speed—fixies have roots in track racing, after all. “Lots of messengers ride fixed-gears,” Tweedie notes, though she stresses the importance of practicing on a fixie before taking it to the street. 

CON: Hills can be tough to power through. 

“There are no gears, so the kind of terrain you can ride on is more limited,” Tweedie says of fixies’ versatility. “You need to be strong to go uphill,” Iñiguez adds, so if you know your commute is a hilly one, a fixie might not be for you.

Maintenance

PRO: Fewer parts means there’s less to fix. 

Since a fixie lacks the moving parts typically found on other bikes, there’s naturally less to repair. “It’s a low-maintenance type of bike,” Iñiguez says. That minimal upkeep is what compels some riders to swear by fixies. 

CON: You’ll have to keep an eye on your chain and wheels. 

Fixie riders should, however, keep an eye on a few potential trouble areas. The bikes’ lack of derailleurs, specifically, can lead to issues with their chains. “Derailleurs help maintain chain tension … there’s nothing to maintain [chain tension] on a fixed gear,” Tweedie explains, adding that without the derailleurs, a fixie’s chain is susceptible to going slack. 

A fixie’s wheels can undergo a good amount of strain, too. “There’s lots of torque on a fixed rear wheel,” Tweedie adds, noting that all that manual slowing and braking can put a lot of stress on the back wheel. In any case, as long as you’re diligent about maintaining your bike, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Now, ride on and prosper.

Photo: Damon’s new ride by Stephanie Sicore under CC BY 2.0.