Recently someone in the #cycling group on twitter had posted a blog entry on the Myths of Fixed Gear Training. I tried to comment on the article but my weak iPhone twitter client decided to not let me submit my comments.
The gist of the blog post is that investing training time on a fixed gear is not helpful to a competitive cyclist. I wish I could post a URL and a ping back because I am for the most part in agreement. However fixed gear training is not with out its merits. Below I will post the pros and cons based on my own personal experiences.
From Wikipedia: “A fixed-gear bicycle (or fixed wheel bicycle) is a bicycle that has no freewheel, meaning it cannot coast — the pedals are always in motion when the bicycle is moving. The sprocket is screwed directly onto the hub. When the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn in the same direction. This allows a cyclist to stop without using a brake, by resisting the rotation of the cranks, and also to ride in reverse.
Fixies’ are relatively inexpensive to own. I had an old steel Raleigh 12 speed that was no longer in use so I had a LBS convert it for me. I must admit I did this on a lark and riding a fixie’ is a recommended practice by Joe Friel the author of The Cyclists Training Bible. I vividly remember the first time I took my newly minted fixie on a test ride. The start was tricky because I had a hard time getting my left shoe clipped in once I got started. Think a comedy routine and one legged trainer intervals and you will have a good mental picture. Once I got started my mind strayed to how do I stop, get unclipped and not fall off! I decided to try and do some start and stops before my fixie journey went much further. After a while I decided I could ride on with worrying about falling over when stopping and continued down my 10 mile out and back from my home. This 10 mile out an back has a little bit of everything on it so it made for a great test ride.
While on my ride I was remembering everything the LBS mechanic had told me about riding a fixie on an open road. I became ultra focused and was watching for every dog, squirrel and car like a sniper. Every time I rode through a corner I was planning on how I might need to bale off the bike. Needless to say I was bit nervous. Why? Well as the Wikipedia snippet covers the wheel has no freewheel so you cannot coast when you feel like it. The bike will propel you along on the slightest force of the pedals once you are up and moving. Feels a bit like perpetual motion.
I discovered two interesting things about my riding style during that maiden voyage. I had a bad habit of coasting once cresting a hill. Not all hills mind you but usually the 3rd hill after a series of rollers. If you do this on a fixie’ guess what happens? If you are not careful it can throw you over your handle bars! I did not go over, but man that woke me up.
After the hill I completely understood what other coaches had told me about managing my momentum clearing the top of a hill climb. The other item I learned was that my pedal stroke was not as efficient as I thought it was. Once I got comfortable riding my fixie I found that I did not need to work so hard to maintain my cadence and speed. I was able to better judge what RPM and levels of leg pressure were really necessary to get up an over hills and around corners with ease. Pedal efficiency is the Achilles heel of most cyclist I have ridden with. They either mash the pedals or maintain the RPM of a rabid squirrel in an easy gear.
I no longer have the fixie. I decided I had learned some valuable lessons and I thought that my 40 something year old knees would thank me if I would get rid of it. Did the fixie’ make me a faster cyclist? No. It made me a smarter cyclist.
Pros of training on a fixie:
- Cheap to build up an old road bike to try it out
- Will show you the errors you are making in your pedal stroke
- Will show you focus by keeping you mentally alert
- Will make you more efficient on rolling terain
- Will give you something new to experience as a cyclist
Cons of training on a fixie':
- Fixies’ are starting to get a bad reputation in urban areas because of the Hipsters that ride them
- Braking is more of an art than a reality for some fixie’ riders
- Some cities are starting to regulate the use of fixed gear bikes especially the requirement of having brakes.
- Knee damage due to trying to back pedal to stop
- Coasting is impossible (this could also be considered a pro to some)
- Do you really want to explain to your spouse why you “need” this bike
The usual claim I see with riding a fixie is that it will help you develop leg speed. I can think of several other ways to do this with out the use of a fixie’. My favorite would be to train on rollers in the off season as well as neuro-muscular focused intervals on a trainer or the open road.
If the person who I was following and disagreeing with, thanks for the inspiration and helping to remember my first fixie’ experience. Oh and those who are curious about what I replaced that fixie with, I purchased a Single Speed Mountain Bike! Its a blast to ride.
Until Next Time,
Train Smarter Not Harder,