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Solo Velo - Fixed Gear Bikes

Why on earth would anyone want to ride a fixed gear bicycle on the road ?

If you've never done it, that needs a long answer!

Riding with a fixed gear is a different experience compared to a multi-speed freewheel bike, and I'll try to describe some of the enjoyment that I get from doing it. The contrast is almost like a different sport.

Riding a fixed gear bike is just fun!   In a way, it's like learning to ride a bike all over again and experiencing the subtle joys of discovering an efficient way to get from here to there with a lot less energy than walking or running.  The simplicity of a fixed gear bike adds to the aesthetics of the machine and enhances our awareness of what a magnificent invention this really is.

It is distinct surprise to realize that you don't always need a gazillion gears to ride a bike!  A fixed gear continually reminds you what you are doing, and keeps you involved with the bike and the road.  Climbing and descending your favorite hills becomes a new challenge, and the fixed gear adds a new dimension to your familiar terrain.  And with a lightweight bike that is designed for the task, you will rediscover cycling.

Beyond the basic pleasures of using of a fixed gear, numerous articles by respected coaches and professional cyclists recommend the benefits of using a fixed gear not only for enhanced training and efficient use of your training time, but also for the added variety to a rigorous road training regimen.

Here's a few quotes from the


Increase your pedaling efficiency with higher cadence
by Joe Friel, VELONEWS, Vol. 31/No. 18, October 21, 2002

Fixed Gear Training


Riding a fixed gear is another great way to improve your pedal stroke and cadence. The bike will force you to keep a constantly smooth, even pedal stroke at all cadences. Use a light gear that will allow you to spin a high cadence (90+ rpm) without too much effort. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to concentrate on the stroke because the gear is fixed. Be sure to work on the entire circle, concentrating especially on the top and bottom of the stroke. If your legs relax too much on the upstroke, letting the wheel push them around, you will not be achieving the full benefit of the workout.


On the flats, pedal with a cadence greater than 90 rpm while you maintain low heart rates (zones 1-2). Concentrate on applying power all the way around the pedal stroke. While riding a rolling course, work on being comfortable with a very high cadence on the downhills and keep your heart rate in check on the climbs.


Optimum pedaling cadence is different for every rider. However, everyone will benefit from high-cadence drills and isolated leg training. Spend some time on these drills during your preparation and base periods and you will be rewarded with increased efficiency and, possibly, slightly higher power outputs all season long.”

Off-Season Cycle Training with a Fixed Gear
by Steve Pells


In the Olden Days, before Spinning and workout videos, European professional cyclists used to train in the winter using a fixed gear bike, and only switch to their derrailleur-geared mounts in the spring. The fixed gear is a machine pretty similar to those used for track racing - a single-speed bike with no freewheel, and just a single, front, brake.

Because there's no freewheel, as long as you're moving you have to pedal-no coasting downhill-and no back brake. (Use your feet to brake at the back-in fact, if you pedal backwards, the bike will go backwards!) So why do such a bizarre thing anyway? There are good reasons, not least that you can get outside rather than stay stuck indoors sweating over a hot turbo. In the winter of 1998-1999 I experimented with the old-fashioned winter training described above, and didn't ride a bike with gears at all between early December and the end of March. To my surprise and delight, I found that once I finally dusted off the Trek and took her for her first spin since the previous season's final race, I was the fittest and fastest on the bike I had ever been in my life, at least at that time of the year.

So how does it work?  First, pick a gear. For most people, something between 60-something and 70-something inches is probably about right*.  Mine is set up with a 72 inch gear. This means that a comfortable spin of 90-100 revs/minute gives me a speed of 18-20 mph on the road, and provides a good, basal level one-type training level, ideal for pre-season preparation. However, when climbing a hill there is no option-you have to get up and hammer. This is like a built-in interval training session, and definitely makes you stronger as you can't give in to the temptation to downshift on the climb. It's amazing how often one would have eased up just a cog or two if the choice had been there. (A nice side-effect of this though, is that one can climb nearly all hills faster than usual, being in a higher gear.) On the other hand, going down the other side of the hill now means that one must pedal very fast indeed, since the bike is directly-driven. This has the twin good effects of keeping the legs supple, and also develops a very efficient, fluid pedalling style as you want to avoid shaking the bike by bobbing up and down when spinning at 150+rpm on a 30 mph downhill. Thus not being able to coast is actually a good thing.

Finally, without getting too Zen about it, riding a fix is a very different experience in a hard-to-describe way. With no interface like a freewheel between rider and road, one feels a very direct sense of the road and the momentum of the machine that is hard to describe, but once you give it a go you'll know what I mean. It's fun, in a way that is totally unexpected for such a basic, single speed bike. Man (or woman) and machine really are in perfect harmony. So give it a go: a couple of brisk, gently undulating 1-2 hour rides a week on a fix in the winter or early spring will put a smile on your face and put you in great shape for the start of the season-guaranteed!

*To calculate the gear in inches, divide the number of teeth on the chainring by the number of teeth on the rear sprocket, and multiply the result by the diameter of your wheel in inches. So for me: 52 front / 19 back = 2.7 x 26.25 = 72 inch.

Training with the Roadies

Last October the derailleur on my road bike broke, and I didn't get around to replacing it until about February. During those 4 months, the weekend training rides with the local gang were "interesting," with mine being the only fixed gear. The rides are typically about 50-65 miles, with between 2000 to 4000 feet of climbing, with several current or former Cat. 1/2 racing-types who enjoy punishing each other, between 10-25 riders. I used a 44x16 gear, which was OK on the climbs and fine at moderate speeds on the flats. But when the pace line accelerated and everybody else was pushing their big gears, I usually dangled off the back praying for a few stop lights at the intersections so that I could get back on. I could sustain 130-150 rpm for extended periods, but when I got over 150 rpm, I knew it was only temporary. I think the highest I ever saw was 181 rpm. But with the fixed gear, I had a much easier time of it when I could spin at about 125 rpm while most of the others were doing 90-100. I don't think I won any of the sprints, but I could generally open up a gap with an early jump and at least wake them up.
Next winter, I think I'll try it again with a slightly bigger gear - 45x16 or 46x16. It will be tougher on the long climbs, but it will be a bit easier to hang in there when the boys start to hammer.

Dick DiGennaro - March 2002

Well, the past couple years, I've been training (and racing) almost exclusively with a fixed gear, doing the same Saturday morning rides with the boys. But I've gradually increased my gearing so that I could maintain their pace. I'm usually using a 50x15 gear, which definitely provides all the resistance training that I need when I'm climbing the hills. And I can generally stay with the leaders even on the long descents. It isn't easy, but it's a great way to train. And I've been using a power meter since last spring, and it keeps me honest for my interval training, too. It seems to be doing what it should - I've been able to get a couple State Championships for Masters track events in the past couple years, and last August I managed to place 4th in my age category at the Master Track Natz in T-Town. That's tantalizingly close to the top three, so it looks like I'll have to keep at it for at least another year to see what happens at the Masters Track Natz in 2008 at my home track in San Jose.
Dick DiGennaro

Training for Racing

Fixed gear is great for most riders in the late fall and winter...  Gears for fixed riding should be in the area of 63 to 75 inches depending on terrain. You should try to maintain 110-125 rpm's on your rides. Fixed gear rides will generally be 60-70% of distance of your normal roads rides. Try to ride fixed at least twice a week Nov. through Jan. Riding in a small group where
everyone is on fixed is a great workout and real fun. Try to get your buddies on fixed too. The only workout I would suggest is either alone or with friends, try to have rpm races. Using a 70 inch (or whatever) gear, see who can get to the bottom of the hill first, who can win the town limit sprints, etc. You will gain suppleness and learn leg speed by having fun.
- Mark Tyson

November 9, 1999  New York Times
Return to the Basics: Single-Speed Bikes

At this year's international bike show, manufacturers introduced new bikes made of ultralight aerospace materials like titanium, aluminum and other metals. Many come equipped with front-suspension forks, rear suspension, hydraulic disc brakes and 27 gears.  These high-end road and mountain rigs with all the bells and whistles can cost $1,000 to more than $5,000.
As a backlash to all the technology, bike manufacturers like Bianchi and Voodoo [and Solo Velo] are bringing back one-geared bikes that resemble those of generations past.
Single-speed bikes do away with gears, and fans say it's liberating.
These bikes, called single-speeds, are simpler versions of the traditional mountain or road bike. While the frames are made out of the lightweight metals used in geared bikes, the single-speeds lack the extra chain rings, front and rear derailleurs, derailleur cables, shift levers and multiple cogs on the rear wheel. Without all the fancy extras, the single-speeds are lighter, cost well under $1,000 and require little maintenance ...
Serious road cyclists and mountain bikers are turning to single-speeds as a training aid because, they say, the bikes help improve fitness, efficiency, pedal stroke and bike handling skills. Chris Carmichael, who coaches Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France champion, and was named the United States Olympic Committee's 1999 Coach of the Year, recommends single-speed riding for all of his cyclists during the off-season.
Carmichael recommends training on a variant of the single-speed road bike, a track, or fixed-gear bike. Such bikes do not allow coasting, so the only way to rest is to pedal slower. In addition, most fixed-gear bikes lack brakes, so the only way to stop is to pedal slower and apply pressure backward to the pedals until the rear wheel stops.

"Because your legs are constantly in motion, this type of riding provides much more aerobic benefit than geared-bike riding," Carmichael said. "An hour and a half to two hours of fixed-gear riding is equivalent to four hours of regular riding."
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

Why ride a fixed gear?

This is a difficult question to answer on as impersonal a medium as the Web. The best analogy I've been able to come up with is that riding a multi-speed bike -- and especially one with index shifting -- is like driving a car with an automatic transmission. Riding a fixed-gear bike (or a single speed, to a lesser extent) is like driving a sports car with a manual transmission. Other than on a freeway during rush hour.... Riding fixed puts you closer to the pavement. You know when the road turns up or down. Simple maneuvers like turning require that you concentrate fully on your relationship with the bike. Riding fixed is an incredible workout. Think for a minute how often you coast during a ride. On a fixed gear, you can't coast. Ever. If you don't use your brakes (a strategy I no longer advocate: it's pretty hard on the knees), downhills become the toughest part of your rides. The first time I rode fixed, I was hooked. Maybe that's why I believe that experiencing it is the only way to really understand. Try borrowing a fixed gear bike from a friend if you can. You'll have a hard time giving it back.
- www.fixed

But ... why?!

As Sheldon Brown says in his excellent fixed-gear pages, every enthusiastic cyclist should have a go at riding a fixed-gear machine at some point - you don't have to be a full-on `trackie' to enjoy it. My main reason for going back to riding a `fixie' was to improve my pedalling technique. I do a lot of touring and tend to freewheel far more than I should, so this is an ideal way to `train' myself not to freewheel. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to freewheel on a fixed gear, just not for very long!.
Riding fixed is also a great way to improve the souplesse (suppleness) of your legs and also allows you to learn to spin effectively (very useful when attacking steep climbs on geared bikes). Fixed gear (not fixed wheel, that's different) bikes have a certain amount of mystique attached to them, notably because a large number of cycle couriers use them, be it for reasons of efficiency or just because having one gear and no ability to freewheel is a good theft deterrent. It's also widely believed that people who ride fixed away from the track are speed-mad adrenalin junkies. Not so!

In my opinion, fixed-gear riding is cycling in its purest form - nearly all your effort goes into making the bike move, no larking around with derailleurs and the like, the linkage between rider and machine is almost perfect.  Although I'm not a track rider (and don't plan to become one) riding fixed is the most exhilirating cycling experience imaginable, plus your cycling friends will either view you with added respect or (more than likely) with the sort of look that says `this guy is a lunatic!' .... either way, it's worth it!
- Simon Ward

Fixed for Fitness and Form

Riding a fixed gear on the road is excellent exercise. When you need to climb, you don't need to think about when to change gears, because you don't have that option. Instead, you know that you must just stand up and pedal, even though the gear is too high for maximum climbing efficiency. This makes you stronger. If you have the option of gearing down and taking a hill at a slow pace, it is easy to yield to the temptation. When you ride a fixed gear, the need to push hard to get up the hills forces you to ride at a higher intensity than you otherwise might. Really steep hills may make you get off and walk, but the hills you are able to climb, you will climb  substantially faster than you would on a geared bicycle.
When you descend, you can't coast, but the gear is too low. This forces you to pedal at a faster cadence than you would choose on a multi-speed bicycle. High-cadence pedaling improves the suppleness of you legs. High rpm's force you to learn to pedal in a smooth manner--if you don't, you will bounce up and down in the saddle.
Most cyclists coast far too much. Riding a fixed-gear bike will break this pernicious habit. Coasting breaks up your rhythm and allows your legs to stiffen up. Keeping your legs in motion keeps the muscles supple, and promotes good circulation.
- Sheldon Brown


...I ride basically everything on my fixed. For example, the BOB ride that you almost made it to a few weeks ago I rode on my recumbent that day. A few days later, I rode the same route on my fixie. This ride is the Issaquah Salmon Cycle 100 KM loop, going up and over the plateau, out to Ames Lake road and then to Carnation, down to Fall City, up to Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend and then bombs back to Issaquah on the shoulder of I-90. Now there are some horribly steep short hills that I can't climb on the fixie from a dead stop, but they are steep enough that I can walk up them faster than I could pedal up them anyway and no matter what bike I'm on I usually don't go looking for the absolute worst stuff.
So really I've just gotten so I think of my fixed gear bike as my bike. I've just recently gotten the bars, lights, fenders, etc just the way I like 'em and it's the bike I'm riding everywhere. You'll see it on the solstice ride. And if you pick REALLY wicked hills, you'll get to see me walk! But probably not.
-- Kent Peterson, Issaquah, WA USA

So what's the attraction of singlespeed [MTB]? Is it just a fashion retro thing (valid in its own right), or is there a certain technical advantage?
Both and more.  It's similar to fixed gear riding on the road. There is a purity and simplicity that adds to the flow(see Cszikzhentmihaly's books) of the experience...  You don't realize how much your brain thinks about shifting. It seems automatic until you remove the stimulis. When there are no gear choices, I pay more attention the the feel of the bike (no suspension either), the terrain, etc. There seems to be more of a connection between rider and bike.
The other aspect that you did not address concerns reasons for racing. Most of us are not trying to go pro. Most racers I race against are slow (by pro racer standards) so why do we need the latest techno advantage? Will I place higher if I have nine gears or eight or one? Does it matter? When racing at the top pro level, slight technical advantages can be difference between a podium spot or pack finish, when split seconds separate the top 15 racers finish times. In the world of Wisconsin comp class 38-year old racers, does it add to the experience to be caught up in the technology race?(though some people truly enjoy the weight wienie techno geekgame (ie MTB Action subscribers). Not for me.  At my level it is the fun of the competition, the shared experience, the chance to go fast without worrying about running down a hiker, etc.
And of course there is the fashion thing.  Riding a single speed mtb has the punk rock/bike messenger seal of approval so important to those of us aging idealists trying to extend our youth.
--  Dave Schlabowske

Bikes are fixed or broken.
--Dave Perry, Bike Works NYC

I  still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer. We are getting soft... As for me, give me a fixed gear!
--Henri Desgrange, L'Équipe article of 1902

Richard DiGennaro, framebuilder
e-mail: FixedGear @ SoloVelo . com