By Robbie Ferri, Personal Trainer & Group Exercise Instructor.
Single Speed or Fixed
When I first started cycling, I fell in love with it. The commutes to work and back, the long rides out at the weekends, and generally having an excellent hobby. I have a huge passion for bikes, and over the years of riding and working in a bike shop, I have seen many different styles and types. My favorite kind of bikes for day-to-day use and commuting has been single speeds and fixed bikes. I often get asked what makes the bikes so unique and the difference between them. In this article, I’m going to answer these questions.
Is a Speed the same as a Fixed bike?
They are very similar in design and the way they look. They even share components with each other, but they work very differently and provide the rider a completely different experience. The main difference is actually in the gearing and braking system.
Why are Single Speeds and Fixed bikes so cool
Single Speeds and Fixed bikes are really at the heart of cycling. They look minimalistic and straightforward and scream class. They usually are made of steel or aluminum and come in nearly every color you can think of. They are the favorite choice of many retro and old school cyclists and are most commonly seen being ridden by bike messengers. People that ride these bikes are not worried about speed. They cycle because they love to ride, and because of this, they are incredible.
What is a Single Speed
Single Speed bikes are simply bikes that only have a single gear. They can be road bikes, mountain bikes, and even hybrid bikes. They work as a regular bike but with only one option on the gearing. They can freewheel. This is when you cycle along. You can stop pedaling, and the bike will continue rolling. They are very reliable, straightforward to fix, and cheaper to purchase than most geared bicycles. Everything else on the bike is pretty much the same as a geared bike. You will often see single-speed bikes in cities on commutes or even on those club rides. It’s very common in some mountain bike races for people to use a single-speed bike for simplicity, and there’s less chance of a chain drop.
A Fixed bike is a bike just like the Single Speed because it only has a single gear. What makes it different from the Single Speed bike is the fact it cannot freewheel. This means that when the bike gets up to speed and the pedals are turning, you cannot stop and coast along. These Fixed bikes often do not even have brakes, and you use your legs to slow them by resisting the direction of the pedals. With even less to go wrong than a single speed bike, many desire them and come with very cheap price tags. You will see a lot of Fixed bikes in cities which are used by commuters. These are more than likely road bikes. Fixed bikes are also used in competitive track cycling and can be made to be seriously quick.
Single Speeds and Fixed bikes are very similar in the fact they only have a single gear. The differences come in two places.
Single Speeds will always have brakes. Without the brakes, they won’t stop, and that is a recipe for disaster. They will come fitted and always have a front and rear. Fixed will not. They are typically delivered and built without brakes. In many countries, this is illegal, and when you buy a Fixed bike now, they will put brakes in the box for you to fit. Although Fixed bikes look clean and simplistic, they are dangerous on the roads. They are tough to slow down and don’t stop quickly unless you have brakes fitted.
Then we talk about Freewheels. As mentioned before, a freewheel means you can coast the bike. This means rolling forward without having to pedal. Single Speeds have this ability, and it is an advantageous ability to have. Fixed bikes don’t have freewheels, and because of this, it means that you cannot coast. What is the advantage of this? Well, it’s cheaper to produce the bike and having the bike hold its own momentum can make the work more manageable. It’s pretty often cyclists forget they have to continue pedaling and end up with awful cuts and bruises on the front of their legs.
I would recommend the single speed. It has brakes and is much safer to use than the fixed bike. Although you will see many YouTube Videos of cyclists weaving through traffic on fixed bikes without brakes, it’s just not worth the risk.
They will both be pretty tricky on a very hilly ride, but if I had to use one, it again would be a single speed. Fixed bikes down hills mean you have to spin your leg extremely fast, and it’s not incredibly comfortable.
On a track
The Fixed bike owns the track. It’s safe to use there, it will be much faster, and you will have much more fun. Single-speed on a track wouldn’t be the same.
I love long-distance riding but don’t feel doing it on a Fixed or a Single speed would be much fun. On flat terrain, you would have to hope the gear you have is the right size. On hilly terrain, you would be made to suffer. Either one isn’t ideal, but I would use a single-speed as the descents would be much easier if I had to choose.
Which is better?
In my opinion, it’s a single-speed. Firstly I feel it has much more use than the Fixed bike. It can be ridden for longer distances, it can descend better, and it’s just much safer than the Fixed. Though if I were visiting a track, I would much prefer to be on a fixed bike.
Can they do both?
Yes, they can. A common term you will hear when looking at a Fixed or Single Speed bike is that it has a Flip Flop rear wheel. This means the cog is fixed on one side of the wheel, and on the other, it has a freewheel. To swap use from one to the other, just take the wheel out and turn it round that simple. They are an excellent bit of kit, and I highly recommend them. Before using this system, it’s essential to learn how much tension to put on the chain on the fixed and freewheel sides.
Is a Single Speed bike faster than a Geared?
Overall on mixed terrain, Geared Bikes are much faster.
Are Single Speed Bikes good for hills?
I wouldn’t say so unless they had a low gear, then maybe, but the flats and the descents would be backbreaking work if they did.
Are Fixed Bikes good for long-distance?
It’s not something I’d recommend personally as they do come with an element of danger unless you fit a brake. The fact they only have one speed and your legs can’t coast don’t make them very reliable on a long-distance ride. Also, your knees won’t like enormous distances on a Fixed.
Single Speeds and Fixed bikes are a lot of fun and excellent for commuters and city riding. Many riders use them, and it is very cool to be on a bike like these. I would recommend having a go-on one before committing to buy a machine like this. You will either love it or hate it.
A Personal Trainer and Ultra Cyclist living in King's Lynn in Norfolk, UK. From Ultra Cycling World Records to Bikepacking Races and a huge amount of time on the gym floor training myself and clients my experience when it comes to Health and Fitness is vast.