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Buyers' Guide To "Fixie" Bicycles!
What's a "fixie?" “Fixie" is short for “fixed gear,” which is a slang term for bicycles that have drivetrains with one gear that's fixed to the rear wheel so that you cannot coast and must continue pedaling whenever the bike's moving. Fixies are among the most simple of bicycles because they don't require derailleurs, shifters, double- or triple-chainring cranksets, or, in some circumstances, even brakes.
For example, some skilled riders capable of stopping simply by holding back on the pedals with their feet, eschew brakes. And, even more advanced — though the most common fixies are road models — there are also individuals who enjoy mountain-bike fixies, too. (Not to be confused with singlespeeds, which allow coasting.)
Fixies are fun! Due to their uniqueness (riders often paint and decorate their fixies and add unusual components and accessories) and elegant simplicity both in appearance and operation (fixies require significantly less maintenance, too), the fixed-gear phenomenon has become a thriving and fascinating fringe element of cycling.
You've probably seen fixie riders darting about town in traffic because they look so different than standard roadies or mountain bikers. And, maybe you've wondered why these unusual bikes are so popular and how it is that people can bike around with only one gear, and one that doesn't allow coasting, either. To answer these questions and to help you join the fixie fun, here are some insights into these wonderful machines. Keep in mind that we're always happy to show you our selection of fixed-gear bicycles, discuss options and help you with all your fixie projects. We have the experts, bicycles and accessories you need! That smooth fixie feeling Fixies offer simplicity that harkens back to the earliest days of cycling when one gear was common. Because your feet are directly connected to the rear wheel, which drives the pedals around, your pedal stroke becomes nearly perfect and with no dead spot in the stroke, you are more efficient. Also, you learn to spin more efficiently because you have to pedal constantly and you must pedal faster on every downhill. No mental energy is wasted fiddling with shifting mechanisms, either.
Ultimately, the connection between the rider and the machine is almost perfect. Some, like this rider are so skilled they can balance in place and slow and stop even without brakes. What's more, because fixed-gear bicycles, and those who ride them, tend to be quirky and unique, this trendy type of cycling has taken on a fun countercultural aspect. But remember, anyone can have fun on a fixie. You don't have to be a tattooed bike messenger to enjoy and appreciate the ride (though, if you are, so much the better)!
Track versus road fixies Many people think of fixed-gear bikes and track bikes as the same, but they aren't. Track bicycles (image, left) are designed for use on velodromes (indoor and outdoor oval bicycle tracks designed for racing). They do not have brakes because they aren't necessary due to the uniform direction of travel, lack of corners and the fact that no one can stop any faster than you can. In fact, most velodromes forbid the use of brakes for safety. Because velodrome surfaces are usually super smooth and uniform and because the racing events are usually fast and demanding, track bicycles boast frames that are built quite stiff for maximum efficiency. Plus, to promote better high-speed handling, the track bike's frame geometry is tighter and more race-oriented.
While some fixie fanatics prefer to ride track bikes on the street, especially those who are or were into track racing, it's generally not the best option for real-world fixed-gear riding due to the unforgiving stiff ride and lightning-quick handling, which respectively, beats you up a bit and forces you to pay close attention when riding. A better choice for most riders are fixies designed for the street, such as the ones we sell (keep in mind that we can easily convert any fixie to allow coasting should you prefer that option).
It's also possible to build your own fixie starting with a bike with standard road geometry and clearance for wide tires and even fenders. These rigs are available complete and can be built from older road bikes, too. We carry a full assortment of components and accessories and can help you with advice and the right parts should you want to take this approach.
Only one gear? Which one?! Since there's only one gear on a fixie, choosing the best one is important. You'll need to weigh how you like to pedal (how fast you pedal), where you enjoy riding (the hills or flats, or both), and have a feeling for how fit you are (stronger riders can handle higher gears and vice versa). One tip is that with a fixie you can get away with a slightly higher gear than you’re used to, thanks to the added efficiency and momentum of the rear wheel and fixed gear that keep the pedals turning around. Another way to determine which gear to use is to select one that is easy enough to get you up the hills you need to climb yet one not so easy that you lose control on the way down.
When you buy a new fixie we can help you choose the perfect gear. And, you'll have the opportunity to ride the bike and feel if it's right for your fitness, terrain and needs.
Hub hubbub One of the most important parts of any fixie is the rear hub. It's a bit of a special animal that incorporates two opposing sets of threads on the right side, one for the fixed cog and one for the lockring. The lockring threads on in the opposite direction, flush against the cog so that backpedaling forces don’t cause the cog to come off.
Some hubs have two sets of these opposing threads or standard freewheel threads on the left side so that you can install a different-size cog on the other side, or a one-speed freewheel to that side. This allows flipping the wheel around in the frame to change the gear or allow the bike to coast.
An interesting detail of fixie rear hubs is that they usually feature threaded axles and high-quality threaded axle nuts rather than the quick releases you see on standard road and mountain bikes. This is because most fixies feature horizontal dropouts on the frame, which make chain tensioning possible, but also don't lock the rear wheel in one position. The threaded axle and nuts are necessary to prevent the wheel from changing positions under the additional torque on the rear wheel and drivetrain of fixed-gear riding.
Do I need a special chain? There are two common bicycle chain types, referred to by their widths, which are 1/8 inch and 3/32 inch. Most track fixies use the wider, heavier 1/8-inch chain (also used by BMX bicycles and old-fashioned roadsters). However, 3/32-inch chains and chainrings are much more common, because they're the same type used on 8-, 9-, and 10-speed road and mountain bikes. So, these are more frequently used on fixies.
Plus, if you're building a fixie out of an old 10-speed, using a 3/32-inch chain means being able to use the crankset it came with originally. Another benefit is that these chains are usually more flexible than 1/8-inch models, which translates to smoother and quieter pedaling. They're lighter, too.
What frame to use? You can convert any frame to fixed-gear use providing that it has horizontal dropouts because these are essential for tensioning the chain. These adjustable dropouts were common on steel road bicycles built around 10 to 20 years ago and more.
And, as a bonus, these stalwart steeds of yore were typically hand brazed of great-riding quality steel tubing and used attractive lugs to join the tubes. If you can find a fine second-hand road frame or bicycle like this, it's a great place to start your fixie project. You might want to double check that old 10-speed in the garage (or your neighbor's shed) — chances are, it'll work great!
Get cranky On these older 10-speeds, the original crankset will work fine, though you may need to change the small chainring if it's not a 42-tooth model (which results in a reasonably easy all-around gear). If you have several cranksets to choose from, pick one with slightly shorter crankarms than you normally use (the length is usually printed on the back, or measure from the center of the pedal hole to the center of the crank-bolt hole). Shorter crankarms make higher cadences easier to handle on fast downhills.
Make it your own One of the best things about fixies is that you can add custom touches to make yours unique. We're talking about more than the requisite personalized sticker, bell or cards in the spokes; that's just the beginning. How about flat bars, motorcycle grips, disc wheels and deep-dish color-matched rims and hubs? Or, maybe you'd like to install vintage bicycle parts that you've always wanted, such as cottered cranks, leather saddles and ornate quill stems. Let your imagination take your fixie project where no bike has gone before! And, don't forget the home-brew paint job to make your fixie unmistakably yours.
We hope you find this guide to fixies informative and helpful and we look forward to showing you our fixies and helping you with all your cycling projects!