What is fixed wheel?
First what is it? Fixed wheel bikes are the drive chain used on track bikes. They consist of a cog, not a freewheel (like a BMX or single speed), that is wound directly onto the wheel. The result is a drive chain that doesn’t coast. When you move forward the pedals move forward. Move back and the pedals move back. The combination of the ratio of the front chain ring and rear cog produces the gear that you ride in… everywhere. There are no gear changes or coasting on a fixed wheel bike.
Recently there has been a resurgence with riding fixed wheel bikes on the road around the world. They are great for commuting to work when the terrain is relatively flat. And, as there are less parts on a fixed wheel “fixie” bike they are easier to maintain. This is ideal for the winter commute.
Will fixed wheel riding improve your riding Or Not?
There is currently mixed debates about their merits in improving your performance.
Before I start let me say that I’m a keen advocate of fixed and single speed bikes for off season, commuting and recovery riding. In the 1980’s I spent a huge amount of time training and commuting on a fixie bike. I also used to race flat time trials on one too.
The current argument against fixed wheel bikes is that because they are fixed the pedals carry your stroke through the dead spots. The theory goes that this means the bike is pedalling for you. I can understand the argument but personally believe that there are many benefits to out weigh this.
Marco Pantani, when he broke his leg, spent quite a bit of his time on a fixed wheel bike. The theory was that by doing so he built his strength back up in a balanced way. Pantani is not alone. Many other pro cyclists have also been mentioned as advocates of using fixed wheel bikes in their pre season build up as well. But this is becoming less common
So here are some of my reasons why I think fixed wheel riding will improve your riding:
- Fixed wheel riding, once mastered is fun. I enjoy riding my fixed wheel and this means that I get out more. It breaks up my training with something a little different.
- When you ride a fixed wheel there is no freewheeling. This means that you pedal every stroke of the ride. Ride 50km, pedal 50 km. As mentioned before, as the bike is kind of helping you pedal, you naturally ride in a balanced way so if you have a dominant right or left leg a fixed wheel bike will help sort this out.
- When you ride downhill you are forced to over-rev. This is a great training technique that I coach on normal geared bikes. With the fixed wheel bike you have no option but do this training every time you go down hill. It’s not uncommon to hit cadences of 130+. This is great for building leg speed and smoothing out your pedal stroke. It also makes you more efficient. But be careful to build up over time as high revving under no load can damage your knees.
- The reverse is true for up hills. Can’t change down a gear or two on a fixed wheel bike so you are forced to do big gear hill repeats. This is another great training technique that we incorporate into our coaching programs. Riding on big gears up hill, helps build “on the bike strength” that helps you climb and ride faster.
- By riding a low gear fast you can improve your cardiovascular system. If you pick a gear of around a 70″ gear (48 chainring & 18 rear cog) you’ll be riding at around 100 rpm when travelling at 30km/h. Lower the gear to 66″ (44 chainring & 18 rear cog) and you’ll be forced to rev higher. The higher you rev the more you rely on your aerobic fitness. This improves your overall fitness every time you jump on a fixed wheel bike with a low gear.
- It’s great for recovery as well. If you need to ride recovery rides as part of your training plan the fixed wheel bike with a low gear forces you to stick to your program. Can’t change up to a big gear and hammer it out on those recovery days.
- The fixed wheel drive chain is slightly more efficient than a geared drive chain. This is because there are no derailleurs causing drag on the chain. You could actually ride “faster” on a fixed bike than a geared bike. Some people race on fixed gear bikes in road time trials for this reason (and a few others). Also as there are less parts it’s much easier to maintain so great for commuter bike.
Note: To calculate the gear inches do the following: Take the number of teeth of the front chaining ring and divide it by the number of teeth on the rear cog. Then times that figure by 27. Example 51 / 17 x 27 = 81.0″