What Is a Fixie Bike? – Fixed Gear Ultimate Guide

White fixie bike leaning on a red color wall

Why is the fixie bike back in fashion? How do you choose one? Where to get one?

What is a fixie bike?

A fixie bike is a bike that is different from the freewheeling model that most people are familiar with. In theory, the fixie bike does not have a brake. In order to brake, you will need to lock the pedals hard.

The concept of this kind of bike is that the fixed mounting of the rear wheel continuously drives the rider to pedal. The manufacturers have made a flip-flop fixie offering the possibility, by turning the wheel, to use :

  • Either a fixed sprocket
  • Or a freewheel sprocket

The fixie bike can thus be changed into a classic single speed bike. It’s very practical according to your bike desires!

How to brake with a fixed sprocket ?

A real fixie or fixed sprocket doesn’t have a brake, and braking is done by simply blocking the crankset with a sharp blow, allowing the bike to skid, this is called the skid.

As you will have understood, the term bicycle must be put away when we talk about fixie bike, or fixed sprocket or even singlespeed bike!

The appearance and coming of the fixie bicycle

The fixed gear bicycle appeared around 1855 before the freewheel bicycle. After falling out of favor, the fixie was then used by track cyclists, but also by road cyclists to train. The fixie bike is also highly appreciated in urban areas. Indeed, it supplants the BMX with the new possibilities that it offers, notably the fact of being able to ride backwards. In the 1990’s, it became the bike of the New York messengers.
Indeed, American couriers use it mainly for practical and aesthetic reasons.

Bike messengers, especially in New York, were supposedly tired of having their bikes stolen or trashed. So, that’s why they got rid of everything superfluous!
There are other reasons, the less accessories there are, the easier it is to maintain the fixie bike and the lighter it is. The lighter it is, the easier it is to handle and the faster it goes between vehicles. Let’s talk about vehicles, the fixed gear becoming urban, what could be more normal than to narrow the width of the handlebars in order to go between them!

Another more rational explanation is that the singlespeed bike was massively used by couriers to distinguish themselves from other cyclists and it worked beyond their expectations.

Over time, the fixie bike has become a cultural element, even a way of life. It has become fashionable and is now a trendy and fitness object. It has definitely imposed itself at the end of the 2000s across the globe.

The vintage trend

It is at the end of the 2000s that the fixie bike became popular and started to appear in specialized stores, before even being in large stores.
It is nowadays the urban bike par excellence. It can be seen in all major cities around the world. The Chappelli Cycles group (Australian leader in fixed gear bikes) is for example from Bondi Beach, near the city of Sydney in Australia.

Zoom on a blue fixie bike in a city street

More and more major brands are joining the fixie bike craze, using it as a true icon of the typical urban youth.

How to choose your fixie bike : crankset, sprocket and frame ?

Fixed or freewheel sprocket?

Fixie bikes are different from other bikes because they don’t have brakes (even if some models have them and, again, I recommend you to have one), or even a small derailleur to have several speeds.
The fixed sprocket gives the possibility to brake by blocking the wheels from the crankset: the sportsman who doesn’t pedal anymore and makes a small movement of the crankset backwards will stop. This is the concept of “backpedaling”.

The Flip-Flop models are ideal for beginners as they offer the possibility to quickly switch from freewheel to fixed sprocket.

The rear wheel is equipped with two sprockets, one fixed and one freewheel.
To use one or the other, you just have to turn the wheel over and you can radically change the behavior of the bike!

The more teeth the sprocket has, the more dynamic the bike will be with improved acceleration, but the maximum speed will be reduced.

People who don’t want to use the brakes anymore and who are not used to this kind of bike can easily take their marks at their own pace.

Which chainring or crankset?

It is possible to modify the number of teeth of the chainring to change the behavior of the bicycle as for the rear sprocket.

Zoom on the drivetrain of a fixie bike

The larger the chainring (number of teeth), the more speed you can get.

The development of the bike is the distance covered with a single turn of the pedals.
The ratio is calculated by dividing the number of teeth of the chainring by the number of teeth of the sprocket.

A frame for fixie adapted to its size

The dimensions of a bicycle frame should be chosen according to the user’s size.
Here are some basic guidelines to help you choose the right fixie frame:

  • From 4’11 to 5’3 in = 48 cm frame
  • From 5’5 to 5’7 in = 52 cm frame
  • From 5’7 to 5’11 in = 54 cm frame
  • Finally from 5’11 to 6’1 in = frame of 56 cm

How to choose your fixie bike : wheels and handlebars ?

  • Type of wheels for my bike : Spoked wheels are versatile and light, they offer a great comfort of use as well as a remarkable solidity. In order to optimize air penetration, you should choose a front wheel with fewer spokes, either aluminum or carbon. Spoked wheels have aesthetic qualities and are interesting at high speed. As for solid wheels, they have a very good power output but must be used on routes without any obstacle, at the rear of the fixie bike, in order not to be bothered by the wind.
  • A handlebar according to your desires: You can choose from different kinds of handlebars for your fixie bike: straight handlebars for good transmission and control, hanger handlebars to reduce muscle tension and fatigue by means of the “bent back” position, raised handlebars, perfect for short trips, and cowhorn handlebars with a great, modern and cool look.

These basic elements will give you the opportunity to characterize what you really need. Now all you have to do is choose your fixie bike model combined with your favorite colors. If you don’t like its design, you should not hesitate to proceed with a velo restoration to get a new fixie paint.

Choose your fixie according to the look

To stick to the vintage style, it is not uncommon to see fixie bikes revamped with a 70’s or 80’s look. This is the strong point of this trendy urban bike style: you can customize it according to your taste with colored tires, a personalized fork with the design and colors you want.

It is also possible to integrate an anti-theft device, a light, a bell, a basket, a luggage rack or even a trailer as a bike fixie accessory.

A man poses with his fixie bike, golden frame and white wheels that give an aesthetic look

Tip: Do not overload if you want to keep the spirit of the fixie mixing simplicity and elegance. In short, a vintage fixie with a vintage bike frame is far from being tacky!

How to make a fixie bike ?

If buying a fixie is too expensive for you, it is possible to make a fixie with an old bike, to transform a mountain bike into a fixie and even to transform a racing bike into a fixie.

Purists build their singlespeed bike from an old bike, it avoids throwing away!
Moreover, building your own single speed bike is easier than building a classic road bike, because the equipment of a fixie is the simplest: no front or rear derailleur, no need for a rear brake, and without these bike accessories, there is nothing to adjust.

To summarize

As you can see, the fixie is a totally different bike than the freewheel model that most people know.

The fixed gear bicycle appeared around 1855 before the freewheel bicycle. The fixie bike is also popular in urban areas. In order to choose the right bike, look at the following criteria: frame, wheels, look or handlebars.

Depending on the model, a cheap entry-level fixie costs about 200 euros minimum. For a top-of-the-range model, you will have to count nearly a thousand euros

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