Not too long ago, fixed gear bikes were literally everywhere in the city. Well before Uber Eats, bike messengers delivered office lunches, documents, and other packages atop customised fixies. Bike messenger culture went on to kick off a global craze over inner-city fixed gear riding, culminating in films like Premium Rush.
What is it about fixed gear bikes that caught on not only in the UK but also the rest of Europe, the USA, and Asia?
Fixed Gear Bikes Are Amazing for City Riding
There are plenty of reasons for the rise of fixie bikes, but chief amongst them is how perfect they are for riding in the city. Fixed gear bicycles are elegant in their simplicity. Their drivetrains are made up of nothing more than a chain, a single sprocket attached directly to the rear wheel hub, and nothing else.
Whereas you can normally freewheel on a road, MTB, or single-speed bike (i.e., coast along without pedalling), you canʼt freewheel on a fixie.
When riding fixed, you always have to pedal. So, while such an arrangement as that might be crazy to use when riding up mountain roads, itʼs an insane amount of fun in a flat city.
Major cities tend to be topographically flat, and London is no exception. Riding a fixie in London is a thrill – the force of every pedal stroke directly contributes to a burst of speed. Of course, you donʼt always have to ride fast. You can modulate your speed by pedalling softer, for instance.
Since you donʼt have gears to deal with, the experience of riding through London is quite direct. Steer, pedal, and brake – thatʼs it. Owing to the simplicity of riding them, fixed gear bikes offer a distraction-free way to get around town while seeing things youʼd normally miss from the tube or the back of a black cab.
Maintaining a Fixie Is Simple and Commuter Friendly
Road bikes have their perks, but the ease of maintenance is not amongst them. Beginners, commuters, and those who are not mechanically inclined probably donʼt appreciate the jungle of cables, sensitive settings, and learning curve for shifting.
Additionally, when the majority of your riding is on flat roads, the advantage of having 11 speeds quickly vanishes. So too does the reason for spending time and money maintaining a complicated drivetrain.
Fixed gear bikes are the best in this aspect because you really only deal with a chain and hub-mounted sprocket. Between those two major parts in the fixie drivetrain, the chain is the only one that will need semi-regular maintenance. You should replace your chain every 3,200 km or so – meaning you donʼt have to worry over it too often.
Doing fixed gear bike maintenance apart from chain replacements is mostly a matter of checking in on your tyres here and there, and replacing flatted tubes.
All in all, fixed gear bikes are ideal for commuters because of their low maintenance requirements.
Riding Fixies Is All About Having Fun
When you see road bike riders, theyʼre usually kitted up like professionals and value a more serious appearance. Fixie riders, on the other hand, tend to have a sense of humour.
Their bikes are usually splashed with colour, and they often have decorations like spoke cards in their wheels. Thatʼs owing, in large part, to the fact that the point of fixed gear bikes is having fun.
Back in the day, when bike messengers were the vanguards of fixie life, they often prided themselves in being cyclingʼs counter-culture. They found road cyclists to be too buttoned-up, whereas they held impromptu alleycat races (bike races in the city), used their bikes as both work vehicles and transit, and transformed their water bottle cages into wine bottle holders.
Early bike messenger culture has maintained a firm grip on the fixed gear spirit, but organisation has come to the sport as well. Red Bull fixed gear bike races take place around the globe, using prize money to lure in former alleycat racers.
How to Ride a Fixed Gear Bike
When first clipping into your fixie, the hardest temptation to cast aside will be the one compelling you to freewheel or backpedal. Trying to do so on a fixed gear bike will only bring you to a stop if in motion.
If youʼre riding a brakeless fixie, locking your legs in place by backpedaling will stop the bike, though it will take practice to learn how to do so smoothly. Beginners and those riding fixed gear bikes in the city are advised to always use handbrakes for safety reasons. Relying on backpedaling to stop is a technique generally reserved for experts.
Apart from getting used to foregoing backpedaling, the rest of learning how to ride a fixie is a breeze. Just pedal as you normally would, and have a blast.
5 Fixed Gear Bikes You Should Ride
Fixie bikes are incredibly popular, so as you can imagine, there are tons of options when youʼre looking to buy one. Weʼve helped whittle down the choices with the following five bikes.
Specialized Langster – Aluminum frame comes with 48x17t drivetrain. Awesome for both racing and commuting.
BMC Trackmachine 02 – A race machine built for the velodrome, itʼs a fine choice when taking your fixie riding to the next level.
Jamis Beatnik – If fixed gear riding is all about having fun while riding, then the Beatnik nails it. A 46x16t flipflop hub drivetrain sweetens the deal.
Fuji Feather – Classy, classic, and affordable. A strong contender for the best fixed gear bike for commuting.
Cinelli Vigorelli – Nothing says fixed gear like the name Cinelli does. An Italian standard synonymous with the sport itself.