Fixed gear bikes unlike other bikes can be ridden with and without brakes. Racing fixed gear track bikes in a Velodrome is safer for all racers. While riding brakeless on city streets does not make much sense, so why do people ride fixed gear bikes without brakes?
Fixed gear racing track bikes are brakeless because quick stops in a velodrome can be dangerous. Fixed gear brakeless bikes on the streets are seen as more fun, a tougher workout, better styling with cleaner lines, less mechanical maintenance and just plain “cooler” with bigger bragging rights.
Let’s get into why people ride brakeless fixed gear bikes or “fixies”. What they experience and learn riding brakeless, who they are, where to ride brakeless, how to stop on a fixie, and what exactly is a brakeless fixed gear bike.
Table of Contents
Why Brakeless Fixed Gear Street Bikes
Sure you can ride a fixed gear bike with a front and rear brake or just a front brake, but there is a subset of riders that hit the streets on brakeless fixed gear bikes. There are many downsides and dangers, yet they still love it. Here is why they keep going back for more.
It is a little more dangerous. It is a little more exciting. It is a little more impressive, when riding brakeless.
All cyclists and bike riders love the experience of riding a bike. The fixie crowd will tell you riding a fixed gear bike and especially a brakeless fixed gear is a more pure, more connected, more ‘in the moment’ experience.
You are always scanning the surroundings for road surface conditions, traffic conditions, who or what might run out into the street. It is this “what could happen next” state of consciousness that puts all other worries in the back of your mind and forces you to only think of pedaling the bike.
If you are looking to forget about everything else for a while, riding a fixed gear bike will definitely do it.
A big part of fixed gear bikes is the style and how they look. By removing the brakes you have cleaner lines and a sleeker bike.
No cables, no brakes, no brake hoods, no brake calipers at the wheels gets the bike down to its essence with fewer distractions. A fixed gear bike with no brakes parked at the local bar is sure to turn heads.
With bikes with brakes you do the work to make the bike go fast and the brakes do the work of making the bike slow down. With brakeless bikes you do the work to make it go fast and slow.
When slowing you have to slow the pedals which requires extra more energy and work from your legs. If you are looking to gain strength in your quads a brakeless fixed gear session is a great start.
With no brakes there are no brakes to maintain. No need to replace brake pads, stretched cables, or any other part of the brake system.
By removing the brakes and all the related parts you have dramatically reduced the parts that need replacing due to wear and tear through normal use.
Easier to change Handlebar Styles
Without brakes levers to remove and put back, changing headsets and handlebars much easier and quicker.
Want drop bars? Just take off the flat bars and add the drop bars. Want to go back to flat bars? Just do the reverse and you are right back where you were. No messing with brake hoods, and brake cable lengths.
Why Dont Track Bikes Have Brakes
Fixie bikes have been, by tradition, used in track races. In high-speed velodrome environments, a rider suddenly braking during a race is extremely dangerous, causing a spate of crashes. Since brakes aren’t really needed on tracks, fixie race bikes have typically been brakeless.
What Is a Fixed Gear Bike?
A fixed gear bike, also called a fixed-wheel bike or a fixie is essentially a track bike with a drivetrain and no freewheel mechanism. In other words, you cannot coast on a fixed-gear bicycle.
Fixed gear bikes have remained the bike design standard for track racing, despite the introduction of freewheeling bicycle design. Most fixed gear bikes have no brakes. There are, however, some that may come with front brakes.
A fixed gear bike has its drive sprocket bolted or threaded to the rear wheel’s hub, ensuring that the pedals are coupled directly to the wheel. When you accelerate, the pedal crank sets the wheel in motion.
In other situations, the back wheel drives the pedal cranks. Thanks to this direct coupling, cyclists can apply brake force to a fixed gear bike and resist the cranks’ rotation using their body weight and legs. This also makes cycling backward possible.
Who Rides Fixed Gear Bikes?
The bike is quite popular among bike messengers and cool city bike kids. Since the practicality is not first in the list it is mainly people who enjoy the experience of riding and looking for adding impressive ‘fixie points.’
A fixed-gear bike provides solid added control. However, it may not be for every rider. Those who do like it tend to enjoy it on flat, long riding tours or during parades. Many people like riding a fixie bike around town. These bikes are used in bike polo, cycle ball, and artistic cycling events also.
Additionally, those who live in flat cities or neighborhoods are more likely to ride brakeless. Stopping on a flat street is much easier and safer than trying to control your momentum when heading down a steep hill.
Fixies are becoming popular among urban cyclists. Besides the fixed gear bikes that are designed for the track, an increasing number of manufacturers are also making fixed-gear bicycles for the road. These bikes naturally don’t have the steep geometry the track bikes have and are, therefore, well suited for riding on regular roads.
How to Stop a Brakeless Fixed Gear Bike
A fixed-gear bike cannot be brought to a complete halt with the same quickness as a bike with brakes. When moving at a certain speed, you must first slow down its momentum before trying to stop it completely. There are several ways to slow down a brakeless fixie.
A fixie can be slowed down by resisting the pedal motion or through backpedaling. By adding resistance to the forward pedal movement you are slowing the bike. You will feel it in your legs. A gradual slowing of the pedals and bike is ideal.
As mentioned above, fixies have rear wheels fixed to move with pedal rotation. Therefore, when you stop pedaling the bike, the rear wheel gets locked like how rear wheels on regular bikes get jammed when the brakes are applied.
Rear Wheel Skidding
Skidding the rear wheel is another technique and a more showy method to stop your fixed gear bike. This technique is not as effective, but if you’d like to put your riding chops on display, you may give it a try every now and again.
To execute this move:
- Shift your weight slightly forward and pull up on the bike’s pedals.
- Stop turning the crank so that you could stop the drivetrain and the back wheel while employing body weight in the opposite direction of crank rotation. This would cause the back wheel to skid, slowing the bike in the process.
- The skid could be held onto or continued until the bike stops. Or until the bicycle has slowed to a certain speed. Once the slower speed is achieved, you may resume pedaling.
This braking technique needs serious practice. It can prove hazardous if employed without necessary skills or while cornering.
Using you foot to slow the Rear Wheel
Putting your foot on the rear tire is another way to reduce a fixed gear bike’s speed.
Inserting your leg into the wheel is not ideal or even recommended as it could hurt your toes or feet—particularly if you’re not wearing proper cycling shoes.
The only time this should be considered is when the bike has slowed down significantly, and using your foot to bring the bike to a complete halt would no longer be a bad idea to both your foot and the wheel.
If you are not sure about this move then do not do it. Bad things will happen.
Here is a cool video that shares a few more ways to stop a fixie:
There is no rational reason to ride a brakeless fixed gear bike, but people still do it. The one exception is those who are racing track bikes in a velodrome and the lack of brakes improves group safety.
Whether they are doing it for thrill seeking, gaining the experience, a tougher workout or just for the cool points, people will still ride brakeless.
Regardless of your thoughts about brakeless fixed gear bikes, just know they are here to stay.
Addtional Reading & Sources
- Wired: The science of Olympic track bikes
- Quora: Why do fixed gear bikes have no brakes?
- Wikipedia: Fixed-gear bicycle
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!!!