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Single speed & fixed-gear bikes: why the hype?

Single speed & fixed-gear bikes: why the hype?

July 31, 2017

There’s nothing better than carving through rush-hour traffic on a bike. You get to take gaps too tight for a Vespa, exploit shortcuts invisible to pavement pounders, and claim the high moral ground – reducing your footprint on an increasingly crowded planet. And let’s not forget that you’re getting to your destination before anyone else, and on your own steam. Respec! Yup, there’s nothing for it. There’s no better way to get around than by pedal power. But, here we need to draw a distinction: There’s pedalling and then there’s pedalling. If you’re riding a geared bike, you’re pedalling. But if you’re riding a fixie you’re pedalling, you’re shredding, you’re frikkin’ flying. Let me elaborate.

A question of balance

Like single speeds, fixed gear bikes have only one gear, but unlike single speeds, which can freewheel, the drivetrain on a fixie is… well, fixed. If you want the pedals to stop turning, you have to use your legs to slow them down. Otherwise, your feet just carry on spinning. You might think that this would make a fixie ungainly, but it doesn’t. It does just the opposite.

Because your feet turn with the wheels, you get a sense of being connected to the bike and road. That connectedness is everything. It gives you poise, it gives you confidence, and it gives you a sense of balance that you’ll never experience riding a geared bike. And that planted feeling is important because you’re going to do things on a fixie that you’d never dream of doing on a regular bike.

Street slayers supreme

If you’ve watched Premium Rush, you might remember the scene in which the hero rides backwards away from campus security. Such a feat would’ve been impossible with a regular bike, but with a fixie you can push the drive train in reverse. That makes it easier to track stand – balancing the bike in a stationary positioning by gently rocking it back and forth – and makes it possible to skid stop and ride backwards. But these aren’t just party tricks. These techniques allow fixie riders to negotiate the urban jungle with a deftness unsurpassed by their freewheeling brethren.

Pull up to a red light on a regular bike, and you’re probably going to put your feet down. Not so on a fixie, the king of track stands. You balance it out and then smoke the gear-churners when the light goes green.

Better benefits than a sexy bedfellow

And that, of course, is one of the other advantages of a fixie. Being a thoroughbred, it’s fast. With fewer components than geared bikes, they can be even lighter than a carbon fibre road bike. And their drivetrains are more efficient. With no extra cogs to create unwanted resistance or necessitate gear changes, all power goes straight to the rear wheel, making this the lightest and most efficient type of bike to ever take to the streets. But here, a caveat – to go fast on a fixie or single speed, you really have to spin those pedals. But that’s okay, because that’s exactly what you’re going to want to do. Why? Because thrashing it on a fixie is fun. This kind of bike just begs to sped to the party, and you’re going to acquire ninja-like fitness if you regularly saddle up this pony.

Next level minimalism

By now you might be thinking, so what about single speed bikes? Where’s the fun there? Surely a single speed is like a geared bike but without the gears. Nope. They might be tamer than fixies – which require a certain level of skill – but single speeds are still a lot more fun than a regular bike. And in some ways they’re also more practical. First, let’s consider looks. Single speeds and fixies are stylish for the same reason that an Apple watch or Zippo is: they’re simple. There’s less clutter to detract from these bikes’ svelte lines, and even a plain black model is a looker. But that’s not to say that simplicity isn’t also functional. Single speeds, like fixies, have minimal moving parts, making them incredibly reliable. In the US, fixies and single speeds are the prefered choice of bicycle messengers precisely because there is so little that can go wrong with them.

The best of both worlds

Luckily, you don’t have to choose between a single speed and a fixie. The chances are your new single speed will come with a flip-flop hub that allows you to convert it into a fixie by just flipping the rear wheel over. Featuring a fixed cog on one side and a free cog on the other, these two-in-one wheels make it possible to decide pre-ride whether you’re going to coast and cruise or engage the streets in tire-to-tar combat. To experience the difference in setups yourself, you can come around to our workshop for a test ride. 

 Check out our next post in the series Bicycle commuting: how to beat the traffic

Words by Jean Paul de Villiers


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