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“Fixie" is short for “fixed gear,” which is a slang term for bicycles that have drivetrains with one gear that's fixed to the rear wheel so that you cannot coast and must continue pedaling whenever the bike's moving. Fixies are among the most simple of bicycles because they don't require derailleurs, shifters, double- or triple-chainring cranksets, or, in some circumstances, even brakes.
Fixies are fun!
Due to their uniqueness (riders often paint and decorate their fixies and add unusual components and accessories) and elegant simplicity both in appearance and operation (fixies require significantly less maintenance, too), the fixed-gear phenomenon has become a thriving and fascinating fringe element of cycling.
Fixies offer simplicity that harkens back to the earliest days of cycling when one gear was common. Because your feet are directly connected to the rear wheel, which drives the pedals around, your pedal stroke becomes nearly perfect and with no dead spot in the stroke, you are more efficient. Also, you learn to spin more efficiently because you have to pedal constantly and you must pedal faster on every downhill. No mental energy is wasted fiddling with shifting mechanisms, either.
Ultimately, the connection between the rider and the machine is almost perfect. Some, like this rider are so skilled they can balance in place and slow and stop even without brakes. What's more, because fixed-gear bicycles, and those who ride them, tend to be quirky and unique, this trendy type of cycling has taken on a fun countercultural aspect. But remember, anyone can have fun on a fixie. You don't have to be a tattooed bike messenger to enjoy and appreciate the ride (though, if you are, so much the better)!
Track versus road fixies
Many people think of fixed-gear bikes and track bikes as the same, but they aren't. Track bicycles (image, left) are designed for use on velodromes (indoor and outdoor oval bicycle tracks designed for racing). They do not have brakes because they aren't necessary due to the uniform direction of travel, lack of corners and the fact that no one can stop any faster than you can. In fact, most velodromes forbid the use of brakes for safety. Because velodrome surfaces are usually super smooth and uniform and because the racing events are usually fast and demanding, track bicycles boast frames that are built quite stiff for maximum efficiency. Plus, to promote better high-speed handling, the track bike's frame geometry is tighter and more race-oriented.
While some fixie fanatics prefer to ride track bikes on the street, especially those who are or were into track racing, it's generally not the best option for real-world fixed-gear riding due to the unforgiving stiff ride and lightning-quick handling, which respectively, beats you up a bit and forces you to pay close attention when riding. A better choice for most riders are fixies designed for the street, such as the ones we sell (keep in mind that we can easily convert any fixie to allow coasting should you prefer that option).
It's also possible to build your own fixie starting with a bike with standard road geometry and clearance for wide tires and even fenders. These rigs are available complete and can be built from older road bikes, too. We carry a full assortment of components and accessories and can help you with advice and the right parts should you want to take this approach.
Only one gear? Which one?!
Since there's only one gear on a fixie, choosing the best one is important. You'll need to weigh how you like to pedal (how fast you pedal), where you enjoy riding (the hills or flats, or both), and have a feeling for how fit you are (stronger riders can handle higher gears and vice versa). One tip is that with a fixie you can get away with a slightly higher gear than you’re used to, thanks to the added efficiency and momentum of the rear wheel and fixed gear that keep the pedals turning around. Another way to determine which gear to use is to select one that is easy enough to get you up the hills you need to climb yet one not so easy that you lose control on the way down.
When you buy a new fixie we can help you choose the perfect gear. And, you'll have the opportunity to ride the bike and feel if it's right for your fitness, terrain and needs.
One of the most important parts of any fixie is the rear hub. It's a bit of a special animal that incorporates two opposing sets of threads on the right side, one for the fixed cog and one for the lockring. The lockring threads on in the opposite direction, flush against the cog so that backpedaling forces don’t cause the cog to come off.
Do I need a special chain?
There are two common bicycle chain types, referred to by their widths, which are 1/8 inch and 3/32 inch. Most track fixies use the wider, heavier 1/8-inch chain (also used by BMX bicycles and old-fashioned roadsters). However, 3/32-inch chains and chainrings are much more common, because they're the same type used on 8-, 9-, and 10-speed road and mountain bikes. So, these are more frequently used on fixies.
What frame to use?
You can convert any frame to fixed-gear use providing that it has horizontal dropouts because these are essential for tensioning the chain. These adjustable dropouts were common on steel road bicycles built around 10 to 20 years ago and more.
On these older 10-speeds, the original crankset will work fine, though you may need to change the small chainring if it's not a 42-tooth model (which results in a reasonably easy all-around gear). If you have several cranksets to choose from, pick one with slightly shorter crankarms than you normally use (the length is usually printed on the back, or measure from the center of the pedal hole to the center of the crank-bolt hole). Shorter crankarms make higher cadences easier to handle on fast downhills.
Make it your own
One of the best things about fixies is that you can add custom touches to make yours unique. We're talking about more than the requisite personalized sticker, bell or cards in the spokes; that's just the beginning. How about flat bars, motorcycle grips, disc wheels and deep-dish color-matched rims and hubs? Or, maybe you'd like to install vintage bicycle parts that you've always wanted, such as cottered cranks, leather saddles and ornate quill stems. Let your imagination take your fixie project where no bike has gone before! And, don't forget the home-brew paint job to make your fixie unmistakably yours.