So, our last post inspired you to ride your bike down to our store on Fulton Street and get one of our mechanics to convert your ride into a single speed or a fixed gear. Your bike is now lightweight, streamlined and swanky… but it feels a little different from the last set-up you had on this frame. This article is all about what to expect once you’ve made the transition.

Get ready—you’re about to become intimately acquainted with one of the most fundamental aspects of cycling: pedal cadence, or “cadence”, which refers to how many complete revolutions your pedals make around the bottom bracket per minute. Higher cadences mean more revolutions per minute (RPMs), which translates to higher speeds at street level, all other things being equal. With a fixed gear or single speed bicycle, you’ll experience a more direct connection with the drivetrain than you would with a geared bicycle.

But what precisely does the phrase “a more direct connection” with the drivetrain mean? To put it simply, with a fixed gear, you know exactly when you are pedaling and how much effort and energy you’re expending with each pedal stroke. This takes a little getting used to, and is the steepest learning curve riders experience when transitioning from a geared bicycle to a single speed. Some riders mistake this sensation for pain, but don’t be fooled—that’s just your body letting you know it’s getting stronger.

Bike legs

Don’t be alarmed if you start to experience symptoms of “bike leg” after mastering the principles of cadence. You may find that your thighs grow so wide and covered with muscle they begin to resemble tree trunks, but this is nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, it’s a good thing.

Most riders of geared bicycles coast too often. With so many gears, it’s tempting for a rider to pedal hard to gain speed, coast until the bike begins to slow down, then begin the cycle over again. In order to get the most out of your ride, it’s important to maintain a regular cadence under all conditions, even while climbing or on the descent. Not only does this reduce wear and tear on your freewheel or cassette body, but it’s also better for your overall fitness.

Since a fixed-gear build eliminates your ability to coast, cadence is especially important. Unless you engage the drivetrain manually (by pedaling), you will not move. Since the fixed-gear cog is securely affixed to the hub of your rear wheel with a locking mechanism, the rear wheel can only spin when the rider manually exerts energy to feed the chain through the drivetrain. Although you can still coast on a single-speed, the inability to shift gears limits the conditions under which coasting is practical. With just one gear, you’ll be obliged to maintain your cadence under most conditions in order to maintain your speed, so many of these points are also applicable to single speed riders.

Cadence

The principle of cadence in action. Cadence is an important principle for riders of all bikes, but single speed and freewheel builds really emphasize its importance.

Riding a fixed gear or single speed allows the rider a more realistic self-assessment of their athletic ability. You’ll know that your fitness has improved the first time you cross the Manhattan Bridge on your fixie or single speed without being tempted to stop and walk your bike uphill or feeling like your legs are made of jelly from spinning like crazy on the descent.

Since so much of the action happens with your legs, it can be easy to forget that cycling is, in fact, a full-body sport. When you rest your weight on the handlebars, you engage your upper body and different hand positions recruit different muscle groups in your arms. The act of maintaining your balance engages your core muscles as well. On a single speed or fixed gear, since you are limited by the lack of gears and your leg strength, you’ll be forced to learn how to harness the power in the rest of your body more efficiently in order to get faster.

Without a range of gears to choose from, you may find that you naturally push yourself harder on a single speed or fixed gear than you would on a geared bicycle. Maintaining a higher cadence for the duration of your ride challenges your aerobic fitness, especially your circulation and breathing, which strengthens your diaphragm and heart. If you power through the plateaus, you’ll experience gains in your VO2 max, which will allow your body to use oxygen more efficiently. With an increased VO2 max, you’ll experience less exhaustion after a long ride and be able to maintain your max speed longer.

All of these factors make single speed and fixed gear bicycles valuable training tools for serious cyclists, or even a novice looking to improve their cycling skill set. Although most racers (excluding track racing) use geared bicycles on the race day, many spend at least part of their time riding fixed gears and single speed bikes to build up their strength and master the principles of riding. In addition to being inexpensive and easy to maintain, fixed gears and single speeds can help you get the most out of your ride. Soon, you too may develop a case of bike leg—and believe us, that’s the kind of condition you want to have. You may even find yourself investing in a new pair of Spandex to show it off!

Globe Roll 02 SE

Our current obsession at Bicycle Roots is the Specialized Globe Roll 02 SE. With its flip-flop hub, you’ll be able to experience both single speed and fixed gear riding–the classic and clean design doesn’t hurt either.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this series of articles about single speed and fixed gear bicycles. If we’ve skipped over anything, let us know by posting it in the comments and we’ll be sure to answer right away. Our grand opening sale is still going strong, and we still have the Specialized Globe Roll 02 SE in stock, so stop in for a test ride. We’ll see you in the store!

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