The lack of a freewheel mechanism means your fixed gear is as responsive as you are, instantly reacting to every pedal stroke. This connection between rider and machine is especially evident when stopping. Unlike bikes with traditional brakes, stopping or slowing down on a fixed gear bike involves a dance between you and your bike.
At the heart of a fixed gear bike is its fixed gear or cog, which is directly attached, or 'fixed,' to its rear wheel. Unlike a traditional freewheel bike, where the wheel and pedals can move independently, the fixed gear setup creates a one-to-one relationship between the pedals' motion and the rear wheel's rotation.
In practical terms, this means that whenever the bike is moving, so are the pedals. If you pedal forwards, the bike moves forward; if you pedal backward, the bike moves back. You can't coast on a fixed gear bike—the only time the pedals are still is when the bike is stationary.
While traditional bicycles use mechanical braking systems, a fixed gear bike relies on unique techniques related to the rider's pedaling. Given the fixie's unique design, where the pedals are directly connected to the rear wheel, cyclists must use different methods to slow down or stop the bike. Here are three basic techniques:
Coasting: While coasting in the traditional sense – ceasing to pedal and allowing the bike to continue moving – isn't possible on a fixed gear bike, there's an equivalent. You can gradually reduce your pedaling speed on a fixie, allowing the bike to slow down due to friction and wind resistance. It's important to remember that this technique might not be effective in situations that require immediate stops.
Resistance: The resistance technique involves the rider applying backward pressure against the forward movement of the pedals. As you exert more resistance, you effectively slow down the rear wheel and, by extension, the bike. This method requires leg strength and can be difficult to master. It's also essential to balance the resistance correctly to avoid losing control.
Brakes: Yeah, I know... most of the bikes in the gallery don't have brakes, and most fixed gears you see around town don't. But for the love of god, if you're new to riding a fixed gear or unwilling to take on the risks of riding sans brakes, install brakes! Even just a simple front brake. There's no shame in it.
The art of skidding is among the most visually impressive and technically challenging skills in a fixie rider's repertoire. A proper skid on a fixed gear requires control and understanding the bike's dynamics. Skidding is not merely a trick but also an effective method for controlling your speed or bringing your fixie to a halt.
Initiating a skid involves unweighting the rear wheel by moving your weight forward. Some riders will rise slightly off the saddle or even shift forward to rest on the bike's top tube. The next step is to resist the motion of the pedals. Fixed gear bikes move as long as the pedals do, so by resisting this movement - typically by pulling up on the back pedal and pushing down on the front one - you effectively lock the drivetrain. With the rear wheel unweighted and the drivetrain locked, the rear wheel will skid along the ground.
While simple in theory, skidding requires practice to master. You must balance unweighting the rear wheel and applying resistance to the pedals. Too much weight on the rear wheel won't break traction; too little resistance and the pedals will continue to move. Additionally, remember that different road conditions will affect how easily your wheel skids and how much control you have during a skid.
Beyond the basic skid, various advanced skidding techniques exist to explore, including long skids, whip skids, sit-down skids, and one-legged skids. Each method offers a unique aesthetic and an opportunity to display your bike handling skills.
As your skills and confidence grow, you can explore advanced stopping techniques that offer more control and add a bit of flair to your ride. Here are some advanced stopping techniques to consider:
Skip Stop: A step up from basic backpedaling, the skip-stop is a popular technique among fixed gear riders. It involves momentarily unweighting or lifting the rear wheel off the ground, allowing it to stop spinning while you continue to pedal. When the rear wheel touches down again, the friction between the tire and the road surface slows the bike down. This move requires precise timing and practice to smooth the transition from pedaling to skipping.
Skid Stop: The skid stop is a more dramatic stopping technique on a fixed gear bike. It involves shifting your weight forward off the saddle and locking the back wheel by resisting the pedals' motion. The rear wheel skids along the road surface, slowing and eventually stopping the bike. While this technique can wear down your tires quicker, it's a valuable skill for emergency stops.
Fish-n-Chips: The fish-n-chips stop is less about practicality and more about style and control. Named for its visual resemblance to a fish's tail flip, this technique involves swinging the bike's back end from side to side while skidding. It's achieved by applying a skid stop and then using your body weight to swing the rear of the bike left and right. This move requires bike control, balance, and practice. It's not typically used for everyday stops but is a fun trick to show off your fixed gear bike handling skills.
Practice, practice, practice! This might initially feel challenging, but remember; every expert was once a beginner. Learning and mastering these techniques will be rewarding, enhancing your riding skills and overall experience on a fixie.
Begin in a safe and controlled environment without the pressure of traffic or bystanders. This allows you to focus solely on your technique and form.
Warm up with basic stopping methods such as resistive pedaling and backpedaling. This refreshes your foundational skills and prepares you for more complex techniques.
Happy riding, and stay safe!