Debunking Fixed Gear Training Myths

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.[1] This allows a cyclist to stop without using a brake, by resisting the rotation of the cranks, and also to ride in reverse.

Track cycling in a velodrome has always used fixed-gear track bikes, but fixed-gear bicycles are now again used on the road,[2] a trend generally seen as being led by bicycle messengers.[3]

My experience with a Fixed Gear Bike (fixie’):

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 terrain
  • 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.

Get your legs up to speed!

We have an 6 week training plan dedicated to improving your cycling cadence.

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Until Next Time,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob

16 Comments on “Debunking Fixed Gear Training Myths”

  1. I love riding my fixed gear Motobecane, especially during the winter. Couple of reasons:

    1. easy to maintain, no mechs to get salty and jacked up
    2. better feel for traction
    3. it makes me go slower, perfect for active recovery

    and 4. no more granny gear on the hill – either i do it or i’m walkin’

  2. I agree with your comments, but will keep my fixie. It is fun to ride occasionally. Since it won’t accommodate fenders and I have old knees, it doesn’t get a lot of use.

  3. I think fixies are great and much can be learned by riding one from time to time. I am in the same boat you are and want to save my knees. I do really like my newish’ SS MTB and am learning new things on it now.

  4. I think that your summary of a fixie is a little misleading. You say that you did not get faster from riding a fixed gear, where as you should have said that a fixed gear is no better than riding a road bike. Regardless of what bike a person rides they will improve as apposed to not riding at all.
    There is also a small fact that if a rider is prone to wanting to coast a lot, a fixed gear will be better training for them because it will encourage the constant application of force (yes you can let your legs go limp-ish and “coast” but it encourages you to not).

    I do ride road, mountain, and fixed and all I have to say to anyone riding fixed without a break is that they are stupid. No matter your age or physical shape, your knees will deteriorate faster from using them as a break. There a major safety issue when riding in any sort of group. The use of a front break is required by the club I ride for (and probably should be by all).

    I like your little blog here though. Keep spreading the good word.

  5. Hi Greg, I don’t think I was being misleading at all. Riding a fixie didn’t make me faster it helped uncover some other problems but I wouldn’t say it was worth the price of owning a fixie. I train competitive athletes using different methods to improve leg speed that are far more appropriate for road racing and multisport events than riding a fixie’. I would not say that everything done on a bike translates to fitness or skills that will help a competitive cyclist in an opposite discipline. For instance I would not suggest that person wanting to specialize in Criterium Racing ride a Mountain Bike.

    Specificity is KEY to developing skills, good bio mechanics and muscle memory.

    I agree that anyone riding a fixie’ with out a break or a helmet for that matter is just asking for trouble.

    Thanks for reading!

    Coach Rob

  6. I enjoy riding my fixed gear bike around (a heavy steel Raleigh) but I know not to confuse the relaxed miles on that bike as training miles.

    I ride that bike to mix things up and keep cycling fun. So maybe it is a valuable training aid after all 🙂

    I’m approaching 50 years old, and have no problems with my knees, but then I ride with brakes so no undue stress from skid stops.

  7. I love fixed gear (single speed) bikes.

    I bought one with real nice green disc rims and its awesome to ride.

    Its a shame that they seem to have this “hipster” negativity associated with them. I really don’t understand why. They are really great to ride, easy to maintain and just really good bikes.

  8. I am 53 – I drive to the local mall and ride my single speed fixie on fly wheel 7 days a week at 5:00am for 1-1.5 hours round about our local mall in all weather. I LOVE IT. Its a good workout, light weight, 16T works fine.

    For a daily workout its the best beast.

  9. Hi I ride to and from work every day on my custom cinelli carbon frame, rear 90m carbon wheel, front aero spoke and carbon cinell handle bars the bike pretty much all carbon but i ride about 5.4km everyday rain or shine on the fixie and i love it!

    Ive hit up to about 67Kms down some hills in the city at that speeds its kinda hard to stop with out breaks.

    But over all i ride with a mate from the city to palm beach 42.7km we normally do it in about 2 hours ish awesome ride i love fixed geared and am never gonna go back!

    Also thinking about getting clips but im to too sure my track stances is pretty good well see i guess.

  10. I appreciate the information provided in the article and the comments. My goal is to go from single speed to fixed. I plan on using be fixed to improve cadence, Kessler stir and hopefully build up a little more speed by improving these areas. My concern is gearing ( I run a 46 / 18 on my single). I ride in a few centuries a year ( metric and miles). My goal us to begetter without going back to multiple gears, to push myself a little harder (I’m 52) and have fun.
    What type of training routine should I do? I’ve talked to several “coaches” and they all say get gears. Can I improve and meet my objectives without getting all the gears?

  11. One additional concern – claiming hill I have two rides that are nearly2k in ekevation climb and then riding and stopping. With clip less.

  12. Yes it is possible to do more with less gears. There are centuries and ultra distance races that I have coached that have had classes for single speed. However I have never seen a class that allows for fixed gear on a century or ultra race. The only time that I have seen fixed gear being “welcome” at a road based race was a Time Trial. Single Speed has even become a popular choice in Mountain Biking. Its hard to say how to help you get better with out knowing what would mean better to you. Do you want a faster average speed, cadence, lower average HR, improved peak power, improved functional threshold power…

  13. This where the other coaches you spoke to are right. More gears will help especially, if you have ever had knee problems or past knee injuries. Riding the same gear over a long course that does not allow for free wheeling is going to be very hard on knees. I hope you understand I am not trying to “bash” on fixed gear bikes and fixed gear riders but fixed gear drive trains were invented for track cycling. Which of course is done on track in shorter distances.

  14. I’ve been riding fixed gear almost exclusively for over 5 years. I don’t understand all the talk about ” hard on you knees”. You choose the gear ratio! if it is too hard, gear down some. Sheldon Brown has a calculator to make comparisons simple. I ride 40×16 and avg. ~16 mph in a generally flat/ small hills area. I ride 5-6k miles w/ several centuries every year. Ride whatever ya got and have fun.

  15. I’ve been thinking about going fixed. I’m currently riding single speed. I just started riding on September 22, 2020. Before that I was really big into weight lifting but after two shoulder surgeries I needed a change.

    My last 3 days of riding were pretty good considering the cold windy days. It’s pretty flat here where I ride. I rode 25.4mi in 1:22:57 averaging 18.3mph. Then I rode a short 20.05mi in 1:06:04 averaging 18.2mph. Yesterday I managed 30mi in 1:42:19 averaging 17.6mph. I simply could not go faster. It was 28 degrees and I don’t warm up. I just get out there and ride. At 11mi during that 30mi ride I did however crash pretty hard head first bc I was looking at my rear tire checking to see if I had a flat. I rode the next 19mi with a headache and blurred vision. Went to the ER a couple hours later with a mild concussion.

    I’m 37 yrs old. I’m just trying to get faster and go farther. I have a set of clipless pedals and clipless shoes on the way and also a new helmet since I cracked the one I have now. I’ll try going clipless first before I try out fixie for sure

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