This week’s Cycling Weekly magazine fixie fitness special definitely fits into the ‘nothing new’ category. For the urban rider under a certain age, it’s still the only way to be seen on two wheels, but for those of us born before the end of Beatlmania, it’s the way we started our cycling careers.

Innovative or nostalgic, it really doesn’t matter, what’s important are the cycling skills you develop by riding a single gear. Whether you choose city streets or a velodrome, hurtling along without the option to change up a gear or to freewheel certainly teaches you how to pedal. It’s how you accelerate and it’s through track racing that Mark Cavendish developed that bunch-beating jump.

Even if you’ve no ambitions to race, you really would miss out if you never tried riding fixed. It’s not for the faint hearted, particularly that first heart-stopping moment when you try to freewheel, but the force from the back wheel just keeps your legs spinning.

Your initial reaction is that you’re not in control, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with fixed and once the dark art has been mastered it increases skill leaves tenfold.

Riding on icy roads isn’t recommended, but your best chance of staying upright is on fixed when you can slow down using leg speed alone and keep off those brakes.

Of course I can’t mention fixed wheel riding without revealing my ratio of choice. It was always 63-inches. Ah, the good old days…

Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly

  • Joel

    Anyone who says fixed gear is unsafe has simply not persevered with it, I am only 17, and have rode all types of bikes at a more than proficient level and would choose fixed gear over a geared road bike every time. It vastly improves pedal efficiency as your pedal stroke is commenced much earlier, your legs are in constant motion and are used to slow down so if anything are worked more than on a geared road bike and you have nothing to go wrong, simply jump on and ride. I frequently pass cyclists on geared bikes on ascents and your legs hit almost track cadence on the descents. As for saying that you can’t stop fast enough, that is a lie. I run a front brake only and combined with the stopping power of the legs when clipped in, can stop just as fast as anyone on a geared bike. Nicholas, I ride Mavic Aksion tyres, 23c, pumped to 120 psi.

  • paul Lincoln

    Guys guys guys we are all different.I was very dubious when i first got my single speed Cinelli in shocking green but it only took me a couple of rides to fall in love with it. Not only does it look the business (i get so many admiring comments from strangers) but it’s a great ride and the best £900 i have ever spent.I use it for commuting all year round and it really comes into hits own in London traffic. I can get it up most hills on a 48/16 gear and it gives me enough top end flat speed to keep up with most badasses in the chain-gang. But what i like the most is that when i change back to fully loaded Colnago I just love how different it feels. Every serious cyclist should own a single speed they are fun and improve your allround riding ability

  • Keith

    Why anyone would ride a single speed fixed bike – I don’t know?

    Why spend £450 on a fixed, when for a couple of grand more, you can get a carbon bike with gears, have less of a work out each time you go out, spend hours cleaning the mechanics, increase the weight, increase the drag, return 10 mile time trial times slower than you can on a fixed bike and with a freewheel you can descend much quicker, fall off easier and brake collarbones (twice) and get a free ride thrown in with the Kent Air Ambulance!

    Why ride a fixed?

  • Ken Evans

    In Europe some riders ride on indoor velodromes during the winter,
    and they even did when Hoban was racing,
    such as on the track in Ghent.

    Some northern European countries often have snow in winter,
    so any training on the roads can be difficult.

    Some pros have done cross-country skiing to fit,
    and some have played soccer, some have used gyms.

    For people without experience of riding fixed-wheel on the track,
    riding on the road with all the dangerous traffic can be too difficult.

    A single-freewheel is an excellent option for city use,
    and is very practical and less trouble than gears (even hub gears).

    Correct gear select is critical,
    trial-and-error is the only way.
    Unfortunately some mass-produced single-speeds
    are sold with too big a gear for real world use.

    Most people will find a “medium-gear” around 70 inches the best choice.

  • David O

    I think everyone here raise valid points and probably those people who have been around a while, raced enough and actually ride both fixed and freewheel seem to have the best grasp of what fixed gear riding is all about.
    I raced for 3 years around Montreal where I did criteriums every week of the season. The best, fastest riders with best results also rode track. Their control, confidence and sprint in the crits was obvious.
    I ride a fixed gear not to be cool but because I like it and I think it is good for training. Perhaps it gets the legs turning smoother and also offers a different feeling to a freewheel bike so it probably helps develop different muscles – yes, I’m not a scientist. As well as your legs, I would dare say it is also good for your core strength.
    To say fixed is dangerous? It feels dangerous when you first ride it and I wouldn’t recommend it to my mother – you need a certain level of dedication to getting smooth at it.
    It is a great feeling going out for a 60 mile ride in one gear – never thinking about changing up and down. It’s very rewarding.
    If it makes you happy..

  • Nicholas

    Phil you really should have persevered with fixed! It reallly is a skill that takes a few rides to master and then it is as safe (feeling) as any other bike – even in town. My advice is to use a decent wide saddle (Rolls/Regal/Turbo) and bigger 25/28 tyres at slightly lower pressure than the geared bike as you will be sitting down a lot more on fixed. On winter roads riding fixed is big big fun and super low maintenance, how about the thrill of powering along muddy gritty lanes with abandon whilst companions gear trains grind/graunch in protest 🙂 Blasting off from traffic lights with no gear changing to think about, approaching roundabouts and just launching through with precision, the lovely way climbs can be attacked with the flywheel effect really catapulting you along. Downhills can be tricky – you have to look ahead and plan lines. Try riding your geared bike after all this and it will feel strangely disconnected but you will be a faster and better rider.

  • phil tregear

    I agree with stephen above. I have read several biographies of famous road riders and none seem to mention the fixed wheel as part of any training regime. Doubtless they are suitable for training for track riding as this is the bike used for that sport. Couriers use them and I guess they hold some advantage for them, perhaps being able to stand on the pedals in a stationary position more easily than if there is a ratchet. For the rest of the cycling fraternity it is a silly and potentially dangerous fad.
    I have been cycling for the past 45 years. Only once did I try a fixed wheel. Although I avoided falling, I found the bike unsafe and unsuitable for riding in town or anywhere you may need to slow down quickly. Unless you are an experienced courier or have a velodrome nearby, avoid the fixed wheel and stay safe.

  • Don Sutherland

    “Stephens” comments have some validity as did Barry Hoban’s. But like many things there are two sides. In my days in the 50s as an “indie” in Northern France and Belgium, most of the locals, Pro and amateur rode fixed for the first 600km or so. The theory was it improved pedalling reaction. It certainly improved negative and positive traction on dicey roads. It also saved the destruction of precious summer equipment from the ravages of salt and other detritus on the roads. The idea it improved “ankling” is a myth since it permitted straight up and down stomping without the need to pedal past dead centre. Most coaches of my era subscribed to this concept and I still use it in the late seventies in my dotage in the New England Spring.

  • Chris

    Yep what Barry said about pro fashion “some years ago” must remain gospel forever, lol! Fair enough, cheeky of the club rider to tell the pros what to do, nevertheless on our winter evening chaingangs fixed gear is increasing each year and we often see 6 or more of the strongest riders turn out on fixed out of a couple dozen total, including a local champ who is top ten nationally in TTs and hilllclimbs. Sure fashions come and go, life would be boring without change. I think there are tons of real world benefits for most club riders who don’t have a mechanic to clean their bike, or unlimited time to train. First of all its fun, cheap if you crash, easy to maintain, more of a workout in a shorter time – legs never stop, & absolutely develops great pedalling skills – 120 rpm down hills- similar to riding track, witness Cav’s acceleration.

  • Mark

    I ride fixed to work everyday once the weather starts to turn.

    I find it helps with pedalling technique which I believe is partly down to the fact that when you aren’t pushing on the pedals, you need a smooth action to maintain your speed and relax your legs.
    Also, it removes the thought process required for deciding which gear to use – you just get on with it. You stop thinking I can’t get up this climb and concentrate on doing it.
    Then there’s the braking (or simply slowing down) aspect which gives you more control in slippy conditions.

    Finally, there’s the simplicity of it all. Climb on & ride…

  • Stephen

    Fixed wheel riding seems to be a British obsession, if it is so beneficial why aren’t the top professional riders training on fixed wheel bikes? Because the real world benefits are non-existent. I was at a question and answer session with Barry Hoban some years ago when a club rider had the cheek to tell Mr Hoban that the best way to train in the winter was on fixed wheel with a saddle bag. Mr Hoban threw it back at him asking him why the top pros weren’t doing so. I rest my case.