Fixed Gear Bike Riding Tips

Young women pushing her bike in the city
Fixed gear bikes are popular commuting bikes because they require little maintenance. (Image: vau902/iStock/Getty Images)

A fixed gear bicycle (also called a “fixie” or a “track bike”) is a single-speed machine with a fixed drive train, meaning the pedals move at the same rate as the rear wheel. It is impossible to coast on a fixed gear bike, leading to a different style of riding from traditional free wheel-equipped bikes. Additionally, many fixies do not come with brakes, requiring you to learn how to stop the bike through other methods. Riding a fixed gear bike develops leg strength, pedaling technique and overall riding efficiency as the rider pedals through all kinds of terrain.

Gear Selection

Choose a gear that suits the terrain. For hilly routes, select a gear easy enough to get up a hill, but heavy enough that you can safely pedal down the other side, otherwise you must pedal uncomfortably quickly as the rear wheel speeds up on steep descents. Because you can't coast on a fixie, simply coasting down the hill is not an option, and on many models, braking is also not an option. On flat roads, use heavier gears to improve power or lighter gears to improve pedaling cadence.

Bike Handling

Make wider arcs and avoid leaning through corners to prevent scraping your pedals on the ground as you pedal through a turn. To reduce the impact of rough roads and debris on your bike and yourself, hover an inch above the saddle and absorb the impact with your knees.

Stopping

You can stop a fixed gear bike without a brake by “locking up” the rear wheel and skidding to a stop. To do this, press down on the back pedal (or "pedal backward") so that the rear wheel can’t move. You can balance at a standstill without removing your feet from the pedals (called a “track stand”) by applying even downward pressure to both the front and back pedals. Track stands avoid the hassle of repositioning the pedals to the top of the pedal stroke and “clipping in” when it is time to begin rolling again. To reposition the pedals when stopped, lift the rear wheel off the ground and use one foot to move the pedals to the desired starting position.

Safety

Although it is possible to ride a fixie without a brake, it is very dangerous to do so on the road. Install a front brake so you can stop short in an emergency. Make sure your frame uses horizontal dropouts (the groove into which the rear axle is seated). This allows you to adjust the chain tension properly and prevents the wheel from coming off the bike altogether during a skid. Always wear shorts or tight pants on a fixed gear bike. Loose pant legs can become tangled in the chain and cause a crash or injury. Use toe clips or clip-in (“clipless”) pedals to secure your feet to the pedals. If your feet come off during a fast descent, the pedals could smack into your legs and cause an injury. Reaction time can be slowed on a fixed gear bike, so look up the road to anticipate obstacles.

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