“You can always add something to a bike, but you come to a point where you can’t take anything away and that's a fixed gear bike” - Graeme Obree (Edwards and Leonard, 2009:6)
At Quella we are often asked, why ride fixed gear? Surely it seems counterintuitive to ignore gears and go back to basics?
A fixed-gear bike is a thoroughbred racing machine, the cycle messengers workhorse (Edwards and Leonard, 2009:1) and, for many an aesthetic choice. The fixed gear bike, commonly known as a ‘fixie’, is the bicycle stripped to its absolute basics, the purest expression of the ‘diamond-framed form’, of what some cite, as humanities most important invention (Edwards and Leonard, 2009:6).
The difference between a fixie bike and a generic geared road bike is of course the rear fixed cog, meaning when the rear wheel is in motion, so are the pedals, therefore the rider cannot free-wheel.
The diamond-frame fixed-gear bikes ridden today are fundamentally the same as those built in the nineteenth century. They are a tangible link to cycling roots; our point of contact with the formidable cyclists, the Olympic athletes and the Keirin races of today. (Edwards and Leonard, 2009:6). They are also an aesthetic reference point shared with the designers and artists who have helped shape fashion and street culture.
It is an unquestionable truth that riding fixed gear is one of the most enjoyable ways to cycle. Despite it taking a week or two of practice to unlearn the impulse to coast, once mastered, you will likely find a reinvigorated passion for cycling. Some suggest a so called ‘closer communion’ between the cyclist and the bike on a when riding fixed gear, the inability to coast gives better control and manoeuvrability of the machine, with the rider being in constant motion with the drivetrain. Forget the need to shift gears which largely unnecessary in most cities and focus purely on enjoying the ride, it is an extremely seductive form of riding. (www.sheldonbrown.com)
The fixed gear bike, stripped of all unnecessary components for road riding in relatively flat urban environments, is minimalist and aesthetically pleasing, without the need for trailing wires and complicated gearing mechanisms. This purity and simplicity has modelled the fixed gear bike into a mainstream fashion accessory in the United States, and is being closely followed by the UK and Europe. (www.pats605cyclery.com)
• Fitness and Technique
When tackling hills you are forced to ride at an intensity you wouldn’t otherwise choose on a geared bike, this means, the hills you do climb, you will climb much faster than on a geared bike whereby you would naturally shift down gears for ease. When descending, you are forced to pedal at a faster cadence, improving the suppleness of the legs. High RPM’s when descending force the rider to pedal in a smooth manner to avoid hopping up and down in the saddle! This is what makes fixed gear bikes so popular amongst serious road cyclists when training off-season, the improved training of aerobic fitness and riding technique. (www.sheldonbrown.com) (www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/training-get-your-fitness-fixed--18458/)
• Efficiency and Lack of Maintenance
Fixed gear bikes are generally lighter than their geared counterparts, despite the steel frame, due to absence of rear brake, derailleurs, shift levers and extra sprockets. When properly setup, a fixed gear bike will have a perfectly straight chain-line, with a shorter chain than on a comparative geared bike. This, along with absence of derailleur pulleys, drives massive improvements in drive-train efficiency with the reduction in friction. Taking off in high gear and low rpm’s on non-fixed bike can exert serious torque on the drivetrain, this is too much to handle for a lot of bikes, especially if you are on the heavier side, fixed gear bikes are designed to withstand this. The bottom line is there are only tires, a chain, and generally one brake to keep in order. Making the Quella One perfect for any commuter who needs a reliable city bike. (http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/training-get-your-fitness-fixed--18458/)
Why have ‘fixies’ become so popular? “A fixed gear is the most efficient way a person can travel around a track or through the city streets. Fixed-gear bikes have long been used by club riders looking as a shortcut to maintaining form through the dark, wet winter months. Now, in cities around the world, thousands are following the example of bike messengers and are using track bikes and road conversions as a means of transport, escape and release... simply riding because a fixed-gear is so fun. The bike is a blank canvas upon which riders express individuality, or a community. It's simplicity and purity are expressed both in the clean lines of its design and its ride.” (Edwards and Leonard, 2009:6)
"The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well. Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim." (Illich, 1978)
"Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleu? We are getting soft... as for me, get me a fixed gear!" (Desgrange, 1902)
Edwards, A and Leonard, M. (2009) 'Fixed Global Fixed-Gear Bike Culture' Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Illich, I (1978) 'Energy and Equity: Toward a History of Needs' New York: Pantheon
Henri Desgrange, L'Équipe article of 1902