Hulk vs Thor, tigers vs lions, and if you’re an avid biker, fixed gear vs single speed bikes. These are the kinds of debates the internet is inundated with, and from where I’m sitting, there seems to be no sign any of it is slowing down.
Since we all know the new and improved Hulk beats Thor any day of the week, and we likewise know lions are kings, I’ll try to wade into the debate about fixed gear and single speed bikes in this article, telling you my thoughts on the matter, and hopefully putting the issue to rest.
So, sit back, relax, as we discuss the age-old question that has afflicted bike riders of one stripe or another since time immemorial: fixed gear vs single speed bikes, which is better?
At first glance, they seem to be of a piece with each other, given both types of bike have a single gear–a single chainring and rear cog.
So, what are their differences?
Well, the main difference, really, is that single-speed bikes are fitted with a freewheel that enables a rider to coast without pedaling. Fixed gear bikes, not so much; with a fixed gear bike, you cannot coast. This is because a fixed gear bike’s rear cog is fixed to the hub, forcing it to turn as the wheels turn.
To put it in better perspective: on a fixed gear bike, you’ll need to keep pedaling to keep moving, and stopping the pedals from turning stops the bike. While on a single-speed bike, the freewheel rotates, er… freely, which allows the bike to coast while the pedals are in place.
Well, why on earth will anyone want to ride a fixed gear bike, then? For the love of all that is good, why?!
Actually, there are many reasons why some riders prefer fixies. We can be pedantic and go through each reason, telling you how fixies are lighter, or how they’re easier to repair and maintain. We can go through the fact that fixies improve on cadence and whatnot, but, really, none of that touches on the main reason why some bike riders prefer fixies. And the main reason is that it is simply more fun.
That’s right; fixed gear bikes are fun to ride. As any fixed-gear rider can tell you; there simply exists that intimate connection between rider and bike that is simply difficult to describe and is unavailable on other types of bike. Indeed, they will insist that one must experience it to fully understand it. One is simply more fully in control, so they will say, of a fixed gear bike than any other bike.
The point is that, sure, asking any fixie rider about his thoughts on fixed gear bikes will have him bandying about superlative after superlative to describe the experience—like about the bike becoming an extension of the rider, and all that—and while many of them will seem like outright exaggerations, the truth is that there really is something about the experience of riding a fixed gear bike that makes people gush about it in strides. And surely all these people aren’t simply making these experiences up!
So, to be sure, there is something about riding a fixed-gear bike that makes it fun, but does that make it axiomatically better than a single-speed bike?
Of course not. As with almost everything, it depends on your preferences. And while this looks like a cop-out, it is unfortunately true.
Naturally, a single-speed bike has advantages over a fixed gear one, and the advantages are nothing to smirk about. Indeed, the ability to coast alone proffers innumerable advantages. It makes riding downhill more comfortable and safe. It makes biking less tiresome overall. It’s also a more fuss-free ride because coasting will allow you to divert attentional resources onto other things, like where you’re going, the traffic on the road, or whether you made the right turn.
While many fixie riders will say that a fixed gear bike’s coasting disability is its main advantage, other bike riders who prefer non-fixies will say it is precisely the fixed gear bike’s disadvantage—so, really it’s all a matter of perspective and what one’s preferences are. Which is why we have no choice but to answer the question in a rather boring and expected manner. Because the truth of the matter is that it’s all subjective, and the choice between a fixed gear or a single speed bike goes down to personal preference.
But allow us to break it down just a little bit more for you to help you decide. Basically, if you want something fuss-free and easy to ride, then go for a single-speed bike. But if you want to experience this “intimate connection” between rider and bike that fixie riders swear by, then get a fixie.
Or, actually, why not just get a bike with a flip-flop hub that allows you to switch between both types of biking?