How to Ride a Fixed Gear Bike
Fixed gear bikes are one speed bikes with no freewheel - if the bike is moving the pedals are turning. They are hugely popular with bike messengers due to their simplicity, unbreakability and unstealability (you will understand the latter after your first city ride..). They have also become more popular among a wider group of riders due to the above factors, their enhanced aerobic demands and tendency to increase rider "mindfulness".
- Get a fixed gear: The fun way is to build bikes from old "10 speed" bikes, which is generally the least expensive and most "customizable" approach. Make sure the frame has either horizontal dropouts or a track fork-- vertical dropouts don't allow for adjustment or chain flex, and are generally a poor choice for single- or- fixed-gear conversions. Alternatives are new bikes like Giant's "track" or Bianchi's "Pista". If you spend over $500 you may well be missing the point. You will need to make decisions on what size gear to use and whether you wish to add a front or rear brake - "very low 70's gearing" and "front brake only" are typical decisions.
- "Just keep turning the pedals". Sounds obvious but if you do not control the bike, it will control you, with unpleasant consequences. It is not as obvious as it sounds. It will take quite a while for your subconscious mind to learn not to try coasting, and not to feel like a runaway locomotive when you discover you can't.
- Practice random acts of senseless stopping. Depending on whether you have chosen to use brakes, this may require a lot more time and - or mastery of "skip stopping". At the very least it will entail trying to "back-pedal" to slow down, which you may find an interesting challenge.
- Leave the bike computer and heart rate monitor at home. The point is to simplify things to where we can enjoy riding as we did when we were children.
- Learn to pace yourself. Stopping and starting take more work than on a geared bike. If you see that a stale green light ahead, it is better to slow down and hopefully catch the next green without having to stop, than charge the light and then have to stop suddenly when it turns red. You will be faster going uphill and slower going downhill than on a geared bike.
- Practice in a safe remote area. The first several rides are startling in many ways and it is safest to learn in areas where you can safely "recover" without worrying about the cab driver who does not see you coming.
- Pre-ride: Make absolutely sure nothing (shoelaces etc.) is flapping around near the chain. If something gets caught in the crank, the bike will stop instantly, and you will not.
- You might migrate to clipless pedals as soon as you are somewhat comfortable on the bike. Often two-sided pedals are used, which allow for riding with either bike shoes (cleat on bottom) or sneakers (tuck those laces in).
- Fixies generally do not have quick release hubs, so you will need to have a 15mm wrench to loosen up the bolts to be able to get the wheel out when needed.
- Stretch the knees before and after each ride. Long time fixed riders often suffer irreversible knee and lower back problems, as recreational and occupational fixed-gear riding is rough on the knees and lower back. Stretching greatly reduces soreness and injury. It also allows for a better building up of the muscles surrounding the joints.
- Riding with platform pedals and without brakes (optional) is not only a really bad idea, but a great way to get injured. Clipless pedals and toeclips are bound to the rider's foot, allowing the rider to skid easily.
- Having a brake is a good idea, as going brakeless and skidding puts pressure on the kneecaps, increasing the possibility of knee injuries; it also wears out your tires quickly.
- Some towns are ticketing riders with one or no brakes. Please check with your local bike shop for this information.
- Beware of downhills. Coasting is not optional and high speed pedaling (spinning) - perhaps over 120 RPM - requires suppleness, balance and practice. Good luck, have fun!
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