Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fixed Gear Versus Geared Bikes Part II

Single Speed Vs. Geared Bikes

In response to my original Article

One year ago, I wrote an article about the differences of single speed and geared bikes and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. I received some great feedback from readers about their thoughts on using single speed bikes (no one mentioned fixed gear bikes or "fixies"). In this review of my own previous article, I'll discuss this subject a little more, as well as clarify some previous observations.

Single speed bikes in competition: The most common event that features single speed bikes are track events where the bikes are used in their fixed gear form. But that is recently changing, as new events, both on road and off, are emerging that don't follow the traditional format of bicycle racing. Some of these events are cyclocross racing, Gravel Grinders, and mountain bike long distance endurance events. In all these categories there have been instances where riders on single speed bicycles have dominated over a field of other racers on geared bicycles. Single speed bicycles are yet to leave the amateur scene and move up to the professional ranks of the sport. It would be marvelous to see these bikes in actual road races or in any UCI sponsored event. So far, this has yet to happen. There are little known or publicized victories of single speed bicycles, even in amateur racing. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but there is little or no video, articles, and other information that goes in favor of using single speed bicycles in competition.

Fixies for Fashion:  It is an undeniable fact that over the recent years fixed geared bicycles have been the rave among the ironic hipster crowd. Although some track bicycles are wonderful works of art, Cinelli bicycles being the prime example of that, the hipster crowd misuses these bicycles from their original purpose. They do that by altering the handlebars from drop bars to tiny flat bars that can barely be controlled when steering. Sometimes classic road bikes are not exempt from this either, as many hipsters will hack off the rear derailleur dropout in an attempt to make the frame appear like a track frame. Many collectible bicycles have met their end at the hands of these misguided fashion felons.

Tip for first time buyers: My previous article contained some purchasing tips for those who wished to buy a bicycle for the first time, and was not targeted at advanced riders. Advanced riders will find that a single speed bike suits them due to a gear ratio they found works best for them. Inexperienced riders do not have the benefit of riding experience to know which single gear ratio will suit their needs. Therefore, if a first time buyer buys a fixed gear bicycle living in a hilly area, they may not enjoy their purchase. My recommendation for first time buyers who are looking for a single speed bike is to consider the lay of the land in the area they live in. A single speed bicycle will most certainly suit an area with flat terrain.

My last article provoked a response, somewhat non-favorable, from a few slighted single speedsters who believe that riding with one cog does not affect and actually improves their speed. These riders were usually comparing the difference between a geared and a single speed mountain bike, which actually makes sense to say that the weight difference of gears plus the use of lightweight materials like carbon and titanium might actually make climbing faster, thus improving average speed. Mountain biking is one of the styles of cycling that is seeing a benefit from the use of single speed bikes. However, I have personally bested a few individuals on the trail who were riding on their single speed bicycles using my full suspension geared bike with 3.25 inch mud tires.  In the end, its the engine, and not be bike, that will determine performance. Geared bicycles, however, have proven their worth and are still the standard in professional racing, even in cross country mountain bike racing. When that changes, single speed bicycles will gain more notoriety and credibility for use in competition.

The important thing is that single speed bikes as well as geared bikes offer a source of enjoyment and physical fitness. I was not trying to create any distinctions from riders who choose to ride geared bikes from those who ride single speed bikes. For the first time consumer, the geared bike will be the best value for their dollar and will serve as a stepping stone for if they would like to purchase a single speed bike in the future. My reference to hipsters does not extend itself to all people who ride single speed bikes, either. When I say "hipsters" I am usually referring to the modern meaning of the term. This term refers to a younger generation of individuals, usually between the ages of 18-25, usually in college and usually living off of their parent's dime. Individuals with lots of borrowed credit or disposable income, who do not know the value of a classic road bike and therefore destroy one at the first opportunity. I am not referring to trail riders and commuters who use single speed bicycles or anyone else for that matter. This subculture will probably last a few more years, then will go the way of the Emo kid and the soft core punk rocker. But while it lasts, let's not fail to mention that this is currently the only youth group that embraces cycling in any way shape or form. My hope is once the bicycle is no longer seen as a fashion accessory, that it can truly be embraced by former hipsters for what it truly is. 

I hope I shed some light on my previous article about single speed versus geared bicycles.  Keep subscribing to my blog to stay current with new releases as I tend to discuss many subjects like these. Stay tuned for more articles from A Bicycle's Point of View.

On a side note, this marks my 100th post on my blog. Happily blogging since 2009!


  1. I bought a used single speed when I moved to Austin in August, for sheer affordability ($180). I ride about 20-30 miles/day in and out of UT. More than anything, when I bought the bike the important points (aside from basic care) were "is it lightweight" and "does it have drop bars"? I have theoretically maxed out my speed on a single speeder because I can't physically move any faster downhill, and even on flat ground my RPM is maxed out. Nothing is more frustrating than hitting 130RPM and not getting any resistance.

    Next month, I should have enough money saved up to pick up a new low-end REAL racing bike with several gears. Maybe then I'll start doing long rides (30-50 miles) and make it into campus faster than my current 45-50 minute ride time. I've been passing some geared bikes on my rides, but have been passed by far more.

  2. Thank you for your comment Paul, finally someone who levels with me on this issue.

  3. Hi Johny i had a experiencie with gerared bikes but now im in love with a single speed road bike, its a "hipster" one that i bougth on ebay and im in love with it, i used it with brakes and with the freewheel, i change it the 16 T cog to 18T and the chainring to 44T i live in a hilly area and i do in the same times with my road bike full geared than with my single speed, i dont like the look of my single speed but i like the ride... sorry my bad english greetings from mexico

    1. Saludos de Texas Enrique! As long as you're riding a bike, that's what counts.