Fixed gear bikes are a subset of single speed bikes and have a diehard following. Fixies are not for beginners. Your feet and legs are always moving when the bike is going forward. Of all the bikes and riding styles fixed gear bikes require the most safety precautions and planning.
Fixed gear bicycle safety includes knowing your fixed gear bike, wearing a helmet, elbow and knee pads, a bike with brakes, learning to stop smoothly, familiarity of where you are riding, avoiding big hills and high traffic areas and finally lots of patience and practice.
When switching from a traditional road bike to fixed gear bike more planning and safety precautions are needed. It is a lot to take into consideration but this fixed gear bike safety guide will walk you through the steps to learn safely.
Table of Contents
How to Ride a Fixed-Gear Bike Safely
To make sure you are safe when riding a fixed-gear bicycle, prepare, have plenty of time and patients. Steps to help ensure a good ride
- Know your Bike. If this is the first time you’re riding a fixie, get familiar with the different parts, including the pedals, handlebar, and brakes. It is also a good idea to set the seat at a comfortable height.
- Wear a Helmet. Make sure to wear a helmet and other protective cycling gear. A helmet should be worn anytime you are riding a bike, it is even more important on a fixie because your legs are always moving when the bike is in motion.
- Brakes. When learning to ride fixed gear or fixie it needs to have brakes. Some riders have bikes without brakes. Riding brakeless is an advanced technique and should be avoided when first learning to ride a fixed gear bike.
- Know the Road. Knowing the route and road conditions are important. Does the road narrow in places? Are the cars going super fast? Are there a lot of potholes or cracked pavement? These are all factors you should be aware of before starting.
- Daytime Riding. While learning and in general it is best to ride during daylight hours. It is easier for you to see cars
- Patience. You need a lot of discipline and patience when riding a fixed-gear in order to avoid accidents. It will be frustrating and different. You need the right calm and patient mindset to get started.
- Pedal Basics. Start with your pedals in such a way that you can step on them properly and comfortably. You can do this by moving your bike forward and backward. Your shoes should have good solid contact to ensure they will not slip off.
- Bike Speed. Have a feel for the bike speed and momentum. This means knowing how fast you can stop, how much distance you need to stop, how fast you can accelerate and when bike speed you can comfortably maintain.
- Practice. Taking the time to practice and learn will help improve your strength, handling, and comfort before taking it out on major roads. It will be some falling and frustration but the skills will come with time.
Know Your Bike
If this is the first time you’re riding a fixie, you first need to get familiar with its different parts, like the pedals, the handlebar, and the brakes, as well as their functions. Preparation also involves getting comfortable with your saddle’s height.
Make sure to wear a helmet and other protective cycling gear. Gearing up, however, does not just apply when riding fixed-gears. You need to make sure you have protective gear regardless of what type of bike you are riding.
Some people ride fixies without brakes. When you ride brakeless you use resistance or back pedaling to slow the bike. Some also do skid-stopping. Some think it looks cooler, too, but if you’re new to riding a fixed-gear machine, and curious if you are not sure if you need breaks or not, you need brakes
When you ride brakeless you use resistance or back pedaling to slow the bike. Some also do skid-stopping. Some think it looks cooler, too, but if you’re new to riding a fixed-gear machine, and curious if you are not sure if you need breaks or not, you need brakes
Being comfortable with the pedals is one of the biggest safety factors. The Pedals are one of the major contact points between you and the bicycle. Specifically they are the contact point that thant makes the bike go forward or can help slow the bike down through back pedalling.
Knowing how and where to place your feet on the pedals is crucial. You need to feel comfortable with the positioning and doing it quickly.
Some fixed gear bikes have straps that keep your feet attached to the pedal. It is advisable not to use these until you feel safe riding. When you are ready to start using straps practice in a safe environment.
The more comfortable you are with placing your feet on the pedals and removing them the safer the ride will be.
Learn to Stop Smoothly
Stopping Smoothly means you are stopping in control. Stops should be consistent applying brakes and slowing the pedalling at the same time.
Part of stopping smoothly is also knowing the surroundings. Are you heading down hill? Harder to stop. Are you heading uphill? Easier to stop. Is the pavement smooth? Is the pavement cracked? Is it dry out? Are the streets wet? All of these factors go into a smooth consistent stop.
Know and have a good feel for how fast you and the bike are going. If you are going to fast for conditions a crash or accident is more likely to happen.
Know the road. Which means knowing when to stop, when to speed up, when to slow down, and when to save your energy. For instance, if you are heading downhill you will be gaining speed and stopping will require more distance and effort. Conversely, if you are approaching an uphill area, make up some speed for a much easier time climbing.
After several hours of riding you should develop a feeling for how fast you should be going and if you need to speed up or slow down.
Know Your Route
When learning it is important to know where you are riding and what the conditions are like. Knowing the roads and terrain will help reduce the uncertainty and surprises. The more in control your ride is the safer it will be.
If you have a non fixed gear bike it would be good to pre ride the area. This will give you a feel of what the conditions are on a regular bike, then when you ride on your fixie you will know exactly what to expect.
Avoid Major Hills
Fixed Gear Bikes and hills do not always mix well. When learning to ride a fixed gear bike slow, steady and consistent are best.
Pedaling up big hills will require lots of effort because there are not easier gears to drop down to. Braking while heading down big hills will require extra stopping power and distance on the road.
When you are comfortable on flat roads you can mix in some small hills. As you become more familiar with the small hills you can graduate to the larger hills.
Avoid High Traffic Areas
High traffic areas are best to always be avoided especially when starting to learn fixie riding.
Cars and drivers are not always paying attention and being on a fixed gear means a sudden stop will be more difficult.
If you must ride in high traffic areas ensure you have a helmet, reflective gear and ride during daylight hours.
Practice makes perfect and safer. The more you practice the more comfortable you will feel and the more incontrol you will be.
Taking the time to practice and learn will help improve your strength, handling, and comfortability before taking it out on major roads.
Fixed-Gear Bike Basics
Most bikes have a freewheel, which allows you to stop pedaling while the bike is still moving forward. Having a freewheel allows you to stop pedaling and rest your legs.
When you ride a fixed gear bike you have no freewheel so the pedals and your legs are always moving when the bike is moving. This means no rest for you legs unless you take your feet off the pedals while the pedals are rapidly rotating.
Since you can stop the fixed gear bike by slowing the pedals, it is possible to ride a fixed gear bike without brakes. Riding brakeless is an advanced skill and really makes no sense but people still do it.
How Does a Fixed-Gear Bike Work?
A fixie is the oldest type of bicycle, and some people prefer it because of its fundamental simplicity.
With a fixed-gear bike, the drivetrain does not have a freewheel, and its drive sprocket or cog is directly bolted or threaded to the hub of the rear wheel. In a traditional road bike, the cog is the little gear with a bunch of teeth attached to the rear wheel and around which the chain rotates.
Typically, the cog has a ball bearing system that allows the wheel to spin without relying on the cog. However, on a fixie, this piece of gear does not have a bearing in it, and it is fixed to the wheel.
This means that the pedals of a fixie are directly coupled to the back wheel, and during acceleration, the pedal crank is what drives this wheel. The back wheel can drive the cranks in other situations. This direct coupling allows you to apply a brake force with your legs and weight by resisting the rotation of these pedal cranks. It also allows you to cycle backward.
Simply put, if you pedal forward, your fixie moves forward. And if you pedal backward, your fixie moves backward.
Fixed-Gear vs. Standard Road Bikes
Fixies are generally cheaper and easier to maintain than standard road bikes. This is because they have fewer components and fewer gears. As such, you can get a higher-quality fixed-gear for less money.
Road bikes, on the other hand, are potentially faster because of all these gears that help maximize pedaling efficiency. The gears can be adjusted while you’re on the move, ensuring that you are in a gear that suits the environment you are in.
However, while adjusting your road bike’s gears can help you with a more efficient ride, you won’t likely notice this unless you are on a hilly road. It can be challenging to climb uphill on a fixie if it’s a steep incline. Otherwise, it should be fine.
For daily riding, both fixed-gear and standard bikes can be an equally comfortable option, and both can be adequately fast. It should be noted that the comfort level of your ride is dependent on your bike’s frame and components, and not on whether your bike is a single-speed or not.
As such, regardless of whether you get a road bike or a fixie, you have to look at the frame. If you are after comfort, it is preferable to go for high-quality steel.
Why Ride a Fixed-Gear Bike?
There are a bunch of good reasons why you should consider switching to a fixed-gear bicycle.
First, fixies are inexpensive, and they’re low-maintenance rides. There’s not a lot of gears and parts you need to take care of and to fix when they get broken. These parts get subjected to wear and tear, and you would have to replace them at some point. And with a fixie, that won’t be an issue.
Perfect for Commuting
Fixed-gears are also simple, and they are ideal for commuting. If you just need to get from point A to point B, they can do the job perfectly.
Additionally, fixies are typically, older, less expensive, and a little more beat up making them less likely to be stolen.
Lightweight and Easy to Maneuver
They are lightweight and fast, too. You can do a lot of tricks on your fixed-gear, considering its improved maneuverability. Fixies are also significantly lighter compared to 9-speed all-terrain bicycles.
Provides Good Exercise
Riding one is a great form of exercise. It can be good for your health and is perfect for losing weight. When you need to climb uphill, you don’t have to think about when you need to change gears because you simply do not have that option. Instead, you would need to just stand up and pedal harder.
To go up, you would need to push hard and ride at a higher intensity. Really steep hills may even force you to get off your bike and walk.
And when you go down a hill, you can’t coast, although the gear is too low. Because of this, you will be forced to pedal at a faster cadence than you would on a multi-speed bike. High-cadence pedaling improves your legs’ suppleness. High RPMs also force you to learn to pedal in a smooth manner, or else you will bounce up and down.
A fixie also gives you a more connected biking experience. Because your pedals are directly tied to the wheels’ movement, you would feel more attached to the bike, and it would feel like you are a part of it.
Being solidly connected to the bike gives you better control of it in difficult corners and in bumpy conditions.
Fixed-gear bikes are also known for their efficiency. Efficiency means energy and for something to be highly efficient, it has to require less energy from you. Learn more about Fixed Gear Bikes being more efficient than other bikes.
With a fixie, the drivetrain is more mechanically efficient compared to any other bike as it promotes the most direct transfer of power from the rider to the wheels.
Feel for Traction
A fixed-gear bike also gives you a direct feel for traction conditions when it comes to slippery surfaces. As such, this bike is suitable for riding in icy or rainy conditions. This same feel for traction helps you learn how hard you can apply your front brake without lifting the rear part of the bike off the ground. Most fixed-gears only use a front brake.
Deciding whether a fixed-gear bicycle is right for you involves several considerations. You need to know how different it will be from traditional road bikes, so you also know what to expect when you make the switch. Keep in mind that riding a fixie is not easy as it will require discipline, more physical strength, and a powerful mind. It could take time to get comfortable and familiar with the bike.
However, when it comes to riding in traffic, fixed-gear bikes are no safer or more dangerous than a traditional road bike. Both will require an equal amount of caution, vigilance, and looking out for your safety. And as long as you are already comfortable, riding a fixed-gear is only dangerous if you are careless.
Addtional Reading & Sources
- Sheldon Brown: What is a Fixed-Gear Bicycle, and Why Would You Want One?
- Wikipedia: Fixed-gear Bicycle
- Pure Cycles: About Fixed Gear Bicycles
- Non-Stop Fixie: How to Ride a Fixed Gear Bike Properly and Safe
I am Steven Johnson. All my life I have been riding bikes, even working as a bicycle messenger in Australia. I love riding road, mountain, single speeds, bmx, and everything else. As a web designer, creating this site was a natural fit. If you have any questions please let me know. Enjoy the site and Keep on Pedaling!!!