Thinking about a fixed gear - some questions?

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Anonymous's picture

A fellow member recently purchased a fixed gear bike and is trying to convince me to do the same. He claims its a great workout, a lot of fun and has helped him improve his regular road riding.

I have some basic questions that I hope some fellow members can answer, as this particular member, while well intentioned, does not have a clue (I know your reading this :) ).

Assuming both front and back brakes, how safe is a fixed gear? In particular, sudden emergency stops?

How punishing is a fixed gear bike on the knees or other body parts (assuming reasonable gearing)?

What gearing should one start out with?

Any particular recommendation for a entry level fixed gear bike?

I am particularly interested in/paranoid about the safety issues.

Any help is greatly appreciated.


Anonymous's picture
i've been fixed (not verified)

just my own opinion but fixies with at least a front brake are just as safe as a roadbike once you acclimate to riding them a bit. You can certainly stop just as fast. Getting used to what you do once you stop takes a bit of time maybe. Until you can trackstand, which could be never, you have to be a bit quicker unclipping and getting your feet onto the ground since you can't coast or rotate the cranks. You don't want to flop over after a stop. Pedal choice is critical IMO.

I just have front brakes on my bike. But if they were drilled for it, I'd probably have rears. Although it's not really necessary since you can stop with the pedals alone.

But I found it really easy to adjust. Fell in love by my 3rd ride. Now i own 2 fixies and rarely ride my road bike.

There are a few quirks when you start out such as forgetting that you can't coast when you're tired. Or when you go too fast down a hill and bounce on the seat. But your butt and nads will help you learn very quickly.

If you have big feet they'll hit the front wheel when you turn sharply. My feet are small but still can hit my wheel. This has never caused a problem for me though. Pedaling through fast turns can be scary but i've never once clipped a pedal on the ground. Track specific frames have higher bottom brackets and usually the cranks have shorter arms for this reason.

Getting your water bottle or holding your line when you look behind you are harder since you can't stop pedaling. But I suppose these kinds of things help develop better handling skills.

As far as gearing, start with what it comes with - probably a 48x16. Odds are you will want to go down a bit to ride on the street or in the park. It takes trial and error to find the right one for you. I ride a 43x16 and a 44x17 lately.

You could try riding laps in the park not changing gears on your road bike to find a gearing you like. Sheldonbrown's website has a handy gear calculator so you can figure out equivalents to your gears. Overall you want gearing that's small enough to get up the hills and big enough not to spin too fast going down. But its fun to change them around.

The actual ride's not punishing but it is harder. You get a decent workout in a shorter time. I've done centuries on mine & can manage a round trip to Piermont. its rewarding knowing you pedaled every inch of the ride. I'm 42 and no great athlete.

as for bikes there are many. you can get them used for super cheap on ebay or locally. the new bikes are quite reasonable. I have a 03 bianchi pista and love it. my other bike's a ~13lb assemblage of fancy parts from ebay and custom made wheels. but there's no need to spend a lot of money.

as for safety. Wear a helmet. use brakes. get clipless pedals you can get out of easily. i love speedplay frogs. They've saved my noggin many times.

there are plenty of good websites for more info. roadbikereview has a good fixed gear forum. (although I don't agree with their no brakes philos) is good. for daily pictures,...

if you don't like it, sell it to someone else in the spring. i highly doubt you will.

Put it this way, i would never stay late at work to write this much about my road bike!

Anonymous's picture
Ron Torok (not verified)

Great insight and some endorsment!! Never thought about the turning part - good point. I was thinking about using baskets for my pedals for a while.

Any thoughts on frame size relative to a road bike (which I ride a 50cm)?

Anonymous's picture
terry (not verified)

come to the club meeting next tuesday at Annie Moores.It's going to be all about these questions: not a memeber join anyway.

Anonymous's picture
i've been fixed (not verified)

as far as sizing, they're pretty much the same. I find myself more stretched out on my fixie. It's not as comfortable for long rides but that's fine.

the feet/turning thing really only comes up at very slow speeds since you don't often turn that sharp when moving faster. So at a crawl, if your foot rubs the tire a bit, its not even a bother. Overall you seem to develop good slow riding skills. I find it fun to creep along sometimes.

all this said, the popularity of these things is a little out of control. In my heart of hearts, I don't really feel as safe on my fixie as on my road bike. It's a tradeoff I accept. But I seem to read about a lot of serious accidents that involve fixies. And when I see young people casually commuting on them, maybe with no helmet, or even brakes, I cross my fingers for em.

Anonymous's picture
Christophe Jammet (not verified)

fixies with two brakes are actually safer in a way- you have three methods of stopping- two brakes, and slowing your legs. once you get the hang of it, you have much more control.

as for gearing, depends on how hilly you're riding. if oyu're not crunching a huge gear, your knees should be fine (Assuming a good fit)

go to sheldon brown's site- he has a gear calculator. something around 70 gear inches is usually a pretty good medium.

I'm currently running a 46X17.

it's so much fun, a great way to get around (commuting) and a great winter beater- less parts to maintain, less chance for mechanical failure. also, your spin will greatly greatly improve, as will your balance if you try to master track standing.

Anonymous's picture
Ritchie Yu (not verified)
Character Assassination!

"See how I dropped you in the park this morning? How much more information do you need regarding the benefits of riding fixed?

This thread of yours is more insulting than the ""Women and Cycling"" thread. Ahhh, just kidding.

Get the bike! Also on gearing...I found that the low 70's was the perfect combo for spinning and speed."

Anonymous's picture
Josh (not verified)

"So sorry to pop your bubble, but I've tried a fixed and found it totally inappropriate for navigating city traffic. I've seen messengers, years back away, get creamed. Now I know why. Dealing with unanticipated road traffic you are at an extreme disadvantage -- especially for those who bravely go brakeless.

If you go fixed, stay in groups, on long, smooth (potholes just dont make it for fixed riding, one of the reasons I've stopped) roadways. (They were originally made for circular tracks, with clear visibility and no abrupt changes in terrain. They were also originally called ""track bikes."")

So I urge those interested, for your well being and safety, *not* to begin riding one on heavily trafficed streets."

Anonymous's picture
Christophe Jammet (not verified)

i agree when dealing with brakeless fixies. however, i would wager that all things being the same, a fixie with two brakes will stop faster than a regular bike with the same brakes.

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

Fixies are fun, and fixies with two brakes are completely safe (and good commuters).

But tires have a set maximum slip angle for braking. Fixed or not fixed doesn't make any difference. So, assuming the same brake pads and tires, whether a bike is fixed or not doesn't enter into shortest stopping distance at all.


Anonymous's picture
bill vojtech (not verified)
revisionist history

All road bikes were originally fixed gear, going back to the high-wheelers. The ability to coast came about when multi-speed bikes were introduced and could not work with a fixed gear system, (Ever had a freewheel stop freewheeling? Derailuer destruction ensues.)

Track bikes became track bikes when road bikes stopped being fixed gears. Track bikes don't have brakes because brakes are dangerous in close racing situations.

Once a fixed gear bike has brakes, it stops as well as a road bike, if not better, though it may take a bit more coordination to unclip.

As for track racing being predictable, take a trip down to Trexlertown when they have a miss-and-out race. 30 or more riders zipping around jockeying for position. You must be thinking of pursuit races– 2 riders start at opposite sides of the track and chase each other, sometimes stopping to trackstand to force their opponent to go ahead so they can draft them.

Purists will tell you track pedals with straps are the only way to go. I use Look pedals, just like my road bike.

I don't do much traffic riding on a fixed gear, mostly Prospect Park.

As for gear choice, get on your road bike, pick a gear that you think is good and stop shifting– try not to coast. Is it comfortable on hills and flats?

I've had a knee reconstruction following a skiing accident. I've been told that trying to stop using leg power could injure me. I've never tried to stop with my legs, just moderate my speed. I've had no problems.

Anonymous's picture
Ron Torok (not verified)
All good stuff!

I imagine my use to be limited to laps in CP and IF I get comfortable enough, my commute to work, which is 90% on the west side bike path

I will go on Tues to club meeting to learn some more.

Anonymous's picture
Clay Heydorn (not verified)
revisionist history

Hi Bill,

Nice post. Reminded me of my days riding a fixed in Prospect Park (and the adrenalin rush of getting to and from the park in traffic).

Then I moved to Westchester and the hills discouraged me. So I gave the bike away.

I do recall that riding a fixed made me far more aware of what was around me and, more importantly, what was ahead of me.


Anonymous's picture
chris o (not verified)

I think they make good commuter bikes and are effective for running errands around the city - presuming you get a cheap one. They don't have parts to steal and seem to be a less attractive theft target. They tend to be a lot less expensive than comparable road or mountain bikes - no cassettes, derailleurs, cables, shifters, etc that make a bike expensive. They have become quite the rage so maybe they will become more of a target for theft, I don't know. I got a new Bianchi Pista (it was a couple of years old but new) on eBay for $420.

If you learn to do trackstands, you will demonstrate great balance on the bike and this skill will be transferable to regular bikes.

I don't think you should have a rear brake - if you are insistent on a rear brake, you may want to consider a single-speed freewheel model.

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)

"""I don't think you should have a rear brake""

Why not?

I had a fixie crash once that _might_possibly_ have been avoided had I had two brakes. Now I wouldn't ride with only one brake despite the rear wheel getting weird (skip-skidding)under hard braking while pedaling.

""if you are insistent on a rear brake, you may want to consider a single-speed freewheel model.""


Anonymous's picture
Christophe Jammet (not verified)

there's no reason not to have a rear brake. i've never had my rear wheel go funny from braking with it. no skip skidding or anything (i've only skidded when i forced it to skid)

Anonymous's picture
chris o (not verified)
Give me a (rear) brake - not

This is just my sensibility - I am not claiming it makes sense, though. I probably should not even have a fixed because as far as I am concerned, gears are akin to plumbing and electricity as far as human advancements go.

I suppose it is about the aesthetics. From my perspective, the idea of a fixed is to strip a bicycle down to its most basic form, with no accoutrements, if possible. Living in the city, with the potholes and the inconsiderateness and the taxi-driven traffic chaos, discretion is the better part of valor so a front brake is reasonable and reasonably required. But a rear brake is not necessary. If you have one, then you have to add another lever, which probably means hoods all around instead of a rigged and hardly visible front brake lever. And a cable running the length of the bike. And rear calipers.

Why have a fixed gear bike and 2 brakes would be my question? (Although I say to each their own so I am not trying to criticize people that do this, but I am just turning the question around now that I have answered yours.)

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)

I already answered that question - the crash that might have been avoided. Avoidance of future aeronautic events as well.

But aesthetics, well, now we're discussing art, and your preference vs mine. Off topic, lol.

Anonymous's picture
Christophe (not verified)

"I think mine looks dandy with two brakes- adds balance. form and function=beauty on a bike


Anonymous's picture
don montalvo (not verified)
angles wrong...'s obviously a converted road bike. for max control, need steeper angles, shorter rake, etc...whether you're planning on track racing or not. :)


Anonymous's picture
Christophe (not verified)

it absolutely is a converted road bike- i found it in my basement, about to be thrown out. does the job as a beater/commuter, and handles pretty well (at least i think so)

Anonymous's picture
don montalvo (not verified)
looks like a great bike

"i used to ride a fixie...a converted road frame. worked great. then i bought a cannondale track bike. i found the more upright geometry made it easier to to track stands, to stop quickly, etc.

your setup looks fine for city trips and maybe even trips to piermont/nyack. we rode to nyack a few times on track bikes. going downhill is harder than going uphill since you're fighting to regulate speed. if you think that's bad, imagine going to nyack on speedskates. :)


Anonymous's picture
christophe (not verified)

i found that spinning out on a downhill was great for my spinning technique. i have yet to take the fixie out to nyack, but i should next time. i'll keep my eye out for a fixed ride up there w/ the NYCC

Anonymous's picture
don montalvo (not verified)
yeah, but you have brakes :)


Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Hear, hear


Anonymous's picture
Ron (not verified)
Front brake only risks?

Isn't there a greater risk of going over the handlebars with emergency braking with just a front break - even if you put your weight back behind the seat while braking?

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

A rear brake does not keep the back end down, overuse of the front will send you over the bars.

Rear brakes add a little to your stopping ability. Pushing your weight way back, keeps the back end down in extreme situations.

As for why 2 brakes on a fixed gear bike: Aethetics be damned. Better stopping. Two brake hoods so you feel normal holding the bars and can brake from the position you are most used to.

Anonymous's picture
Christophe (not verified)
exactly (nm)
cycling trips