Riding a fixie

Hi Lee — since reading your skills book I’ve been working on my pedal stroke on my commute. I’m in Chicago and I’m thinking of switching my single-speed to a fixed gear for more control in snow and ice. Any advice on how this will affect pedal stroke or what to focus on? Would using foot retention hamper pedaling improvement? Any other advice on working on braaap skills during the city commute (about 3.5 miles each way)?


Whoa Allen, now you’ve done it. Some fixed-gear rider is gonna find this on Google and give me a stern talking-to.

I suppose fixies are to freewheels what flat pedals are to clip-in pedals. You know I believe in flat pedals for riding skills; do I believe in fixies for pedaling?

Almost 20 years ago I spent six months commuting on a fixed gear road bike. We’re talking 20 miles each way, five days a week — the crusade of a obsessed man who had recently been fat. I had visions of racing velodrome in the spring, but I changed jobs and moved before that experiment could be fully realized.

What I learned:

• Do not bunny hop! On my very first ride I tried to hop a fallen branch, and the bike just about bucked me over the bars. Years later I gave that malevolent wheel to a coworker who refused to wear helmets. A week later I visited him in the hospital: “I don’t know what happened. I was riding along and there was this crack in the pavement and I went to bunny hop it …”

• Fixies help make you smooth. 1) The pedals push your feet in the perfect direction. 2) If you are not smooth, you will die.

• Fixies build eccentric strength. Not eccentric as in quirky, which is common among fixie riders, but eccentric as in using your muscles to apply back pressure to slow down. This builds huge quads.

• Fixies teach you to pedal everywhere. Good in some ways, bad on your weekend MTB adventures. I struck so many pedals in corners.

• Fixies can feel really cool. There’s nothing like a silent drivetrain and the sound of tires cutting through a film of fresh rain.

• Wear a helmet. See first point above.

What I think:

• You don’t need to get good at having your pedals push your feet. You need to get good at pushing your pedals with your feet.

• Mountain bikes are generally ridden with freewheels. Freewheels make it easier to brake hard, rail corners, hop over things and do other mountainbikey stuff.

• I think you should rock flat pedals and a freewheel. Your single speed sounds fine.

Work some useful drills into your commute:

• Focus on the pedaling drills in the book. Lots of great info in Teaching Mountain Bike Skills.
• Sprinting from a stop. Harder.
• Spinning as fast as you can. Faster.
• Braking as hard as you can. Harder.
• Cornering as fast as you can. Faster.
• Bunny hopping over high stuff. Higher.
• Dropping off of stuff. Stuff!

Don’t strap yourself into a mobile spin bike. Treat your commute like the ride it is.



PS: More control in snow and ice? Please elucidate.

Know more. Have more fun!

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3 replies
  1. Allen says:

    Thanks for answering! As for the snow and ice part, I only have a front rim brake that isn’t so good in sloppy conditions. I figured the fixed drivetrain would give me some additional control (and I’ve heard this from winter commuters before) and would be easier for me than buying and installing a rear brake. I think I’ll be staying freewheel for braaapability though!

  2. Wacek says:

    I bought a cx bike to commute every day to work. I live in western Sweden where icy glazing is very common. Rear (hand) brake helps a lot to determine whether some suspicipusly looking asphalt is icy or not, and it is the only weapon along with foot out flat out when it actualy is. Just get the rear brake. What I’ve done to increase to control in such conditions was I got rid of dropped roadie bars (disgrace I know) and replaced them with my old MTB 680mm risers. Studded tyres? Not for me, I like the sound of Fast’n’loose by Motorhead in the back of my head. I also saw people riding with studs and going down anyways. There are plenty of fixies in my city and I never see them when it’s icy. All experienced bike couriers here ride with freewheel and flat MTB bars, it’s just newbies who want to feel like Christian Slater in NY 😀

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