Are Fixed Gear Bikes More Efficient Than Other Bikes?

grey fixie on road

Being known as “The Bike Guy” I am often asked about the efficiency of fixed gear bikes. A fixed-gear bike or ‘fixie’ as they are commonly called, refers to bicycles that have only one gear and no freewheel. The absence of a freewheel means when you are moving the pedals must turn. So, does this fixed gear make pedaling more efficient?

Are fixed gear bikes more efficient than other bikes? Fixed gear bikes are more efficient than other bikes. Due to they fixed gear drivetrain and the lack of derailleur pulleys, they require less energy to move than a geared bicycle in the same gear, making them mechanically more efficient than other bikes. 

I decided it was time to explain and explore in detail why fixed gear bikes are more efficient than other bikes. For some extra fun, I will explain some advantages and disadvantages that come with owning such bikes.

According to Sheldon Brown, a fixed gear is more efficient because its drivetrain is kinetically superior to other bikes. There is a better and more direct transmission of energy from the rider to the wheel in a fixed-gear drivetrain. 

Fixed-gear bikes are more efficient in transferring energy from pedals to the wheel, and it’s due to several factors such as:

  • A straight-chain line
  • Presence of short-chain length
  • The absence of the derailleur pulleys
  • Backward and forward riding
  • Less weight to control

Due to these efficiencies, you will find that fixed gear bikes are preferred in track racing.

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Cyclists also prefer fixies in slippery and wet conditions because they continually receive feedback on traction and tire grip on the back tire. However, there is an increased risk of accidents in such situations. The reason for this is that your fixie is brakeless.

What Is Gear Ratio?

The term gear ratio refers to the ratio of the rear sprocket size to the size of the chainring. This ratio also translates to the ratio of the rear wheel’s revolutions to revolutions of the cranks.

Typically, the gear ratio affects how far you move each time you pedal. A smaller rear sprocket, for example, has fewer teeth, which means it can revolve many times when pedaling one full rotation. The result is that you will move farther.

Changing the sprocket size will also change the amount of effort needed to make your bike move. Ideally, if you revolve the pedals while riding on a smaller sprocket, it causes the wheels to rotate more times per revolution. The amount of energy needed for pedaling is therefore spread out across more revolutions.

More about Gear Ratio: https://cyclingtips.com/2017/11/understanding-bicycle-gear-ratios-why-they-matter/

Advantages of a Fixed Gear Bike

Speed

While riding a fixed gear bike, the efficient power transfer from your legs to the wheels also translates to greater speeds. That’s why you’ll find most track bike riders opt for the fixed gear. Apart from efficiency, a fixed gear bike also gives you a feeling of connection with your bike and track/road. To slow down, you can pedal slower.

Simple and Easy to Maintain

A fixed-gear has fewer moving parts compared to other bikes, and therefore they are more sturdy and straightforward. A fixie’s drivetrain consists of just one gear, one chainring, one sprocket, and a chain. You don’t need a front or rear derailleur, second chainring, gear cables, or gear levers.

Muscle Endurance

When you ride a fixed gear bike, you consistently pedal with no freewheeling. One significant benefit is the improvement in your muscle endurance. Besides, less time is wasted on freewheeling, making a fixed gear bike a time-efficient.

More Fun

One key advantage of a fixie that is often overlooked is that you can perform a lot of tricks and stunts that are not possible with other bikes. For example, you can try backward pedaling, bunny hops, track stands, and skid tops. You can also try adding wheelies to your biking repertoire when you’re out having fun on your fixed-gear bike.

Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

Fast

Fixed-gear bikes are generally light and fast to ride. It is the main reason why many city dwellers prefer fixies because they’re speedy and suitable for flat and smooth surfaces in urban areas.

Cons of a Fixed Gear Bike

Uphill

Not great at going uphill – You might need to put in a lot more effort when going uphill when riding a fixed gear compared to a multi speed bike. However, you will get used to the experience with time. 

Downhill

There is no freewheeling when riding downhill. With a fixie, you can’t coast when you’re tired.

Fixed Gear with No Brakes

Most of the modern fixies have brakes on the front wheel only. Some hard-core fixed gear bikes have no brakes.

The absence of rear brakes means you often need to make lots of skid stops. This braking technique consequently wears down the rear tire more quickly.

How to Improve Your Cycling Efficiency and Pedal Cadence on a Fixie

Improving Your Pedal Stroke

You can train your legs to transition between the different muscle groups. That way, you eliminate wasted energy and improve your pedaling efficiency.

Smooth and supple pedaling is essential to successful bike riding. Unfortunately, few riders address this problem. Fixed-gear bike riding helps you learn this simple art. Every ride, including short ones, is fulfilling as you are continually pedaling even on the pedal rotation’s dead spots.

Transition Pedaling

Riding a bike, particularly during races, has a lot to do with transition pedaling. This technique includes torque and cadence variations. Slow cadence generally comes with high torque, while fast tempo comes with low torque. As you get accustomed to riding a fixie, you will learn to “go with the flow” in the various transitions.

Going for Your First Ride

When going for your first ride on a fixed-gear bike, it is advisable to choose an area with little traffic and flatter terrain. You may want to try pedaling without cycling shoes at first. That way, you get accustomed to moving around in your bike without feeling locked-in.

Always remember that you have to keep pedaling. If you are cruising down the track and try to coast, the back wheel may violently lift off the ground. Try to relax and go with the flow, that way you’ll have a more enjoyable ride. Lastly, remember to gently bring your bike to a halt when you want to stop. Don’t be in a rush to try skid braking like a pro.

Braking on a Fixed-Gear Bike

Most fixed-gear bikes you will find on the market are brakeless. This variation of fixies is popular among pros. In such bikes, one must break through the drivetrain.

Ideally, when reducing the speed, you need to put the center of mass on your rear foot when both pedals are aligned horizontally while simultaneously hooking up with the front foot. It can be a little challenging to master this trick the first time, but with some practice, you quickly get it.

Precautions When Going for a Ride on Your Fixed-Gear Bike

Riding a fixie is quite different from riding most bikes. With that in mind, make sure not to ride too fast when you are a beginner. Going downhill is dangerous. Before you get used to a fixie’s braking system, you should consider installing brakes to ensure you can stop in an emergency. You can take the brakes off once you get used to handling the bike.

When going around corners, always have the foot of the side facing the top pedal corner. Alternatively, you can slow down to reduce the “cornering angle” to keep the pedals from striking the ground.

Photo by Vincent Wachowiak on Unsplash

Conclusion

Fixed-gear bikes are mechanically efficient and are popular among pro track racers. They accelerate fast, and their simplistic design also means they are quite sturdy compared to other bikes. 

However, they’re not suitable for a rookie rider. If you decide to have one, then expect to take time before you finally become used to riding a fixie.

grey fixie on road
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