Every October, a lot of our Veloce Santiago cycling club members, myself included, switch our Saturday rides from geared bikes to fixed-gear bikes. We’ll ride our same routes, over the same hills, on bikes with only one gear. To make the challenge even greater, the bikes will not allow us to coast for the entire ride. What is a fixed-geared bike and why do we do this?
Fixed-gear bikes have only one gear and the rear cog is fixed, so it will not allow you to free-wheel backwards. A lot of us build our own “fixies” out of vintage bikes we find in our garage or on Craig’s List. If you plan to do this, make sure the frame has a horizontal drop out. This will allow you to properly tension the chain. Otherwise, you will need an eccentric rear hub for chain tensioning, like the White Industries Eno hub. If you would rather just buy a fixed-gear bike, choose a good quality brand. Our favorite is State Bicycles.
So why do we ride these bikes? This is the time of year when a lot of us start to taper off our training regimen. The days are getting shorter. Our big rides or races are behind us. Quite frankly, we’re just tired of riding our bikes so hard. So, this is the perfect time to switch things up. Besides, fixed-gears are fun!
Switching from geared bikes to fixed-gear bikes has other benefits as well:
Increased Cadence - Our club rides in a ratio that gives us 65 gear inches by using either a 42-tooth chain ring with a 17-tooth cog or a 39/16 combination. This allows us to get over the hills, but makes us pedal at a very high cadence on the flats and down hills. In order to travel at 25 mph, we need to turn our cranks at 130 rpm’s. This will translate to higher cadence later on our geared bikes. Higher cadence will give us more power with less recovery time for our lungs and muscles.
Increased Strength - On the fixed-gear bike we need to power our way over the hills. No more shifting to a lower gear and spinning our way up. And once we get to the top, no taking a break by coasting. We have to pedal the entire ride, building strength and endurance.
Improved Pedal Stroke - We ride a fixed-gear bike to gain a buttery smooth pedal stroke, to stop pedaling in squares and to start pedaling in circles. The bike reminds us when we are not pedaling smoothly by bouncing our butt off the saddle. A smooth pedal stroke is a more efficient pedal stroke.
So if you feel the need to shake up your cycling routine this fall, lose the gears and get “fixed”. You’ll be glad you did.