The word “fixie” can have multiple meanings to different people. Many younger riders and beginners use the word to describe any bike that only has one gear, regardless of whether or not the pedals are always moving. However, more intermediate and advanced riders know that there is a significant difference between riding a real “fixie”, and just any bike with only one gear, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
But before we can compare these similar but different types of bikes, it is important to know exactly what the difference between the two is. A single speed bike is exactly what it sounds like; a regular bike that has only 1 gear in the front, and one freewheel gear in the back, so you can coast around and do the same things as any other bike, just without the ability to switch to a different gear. A true fixie or fixed gear bike, on the other hand, has a fixed cog in the back. Essentially, this means any time the wheel is turning, the cranks are turning as well.
While both single speed bikes and fixies are different, they have many similar advantages. For starters, both fixies and single speeds are relatively lightweight, due to the lack of gears and parts. This also makes maintenance of each significantly easier to perform, especially in a pinch. Both types of bikes are also usually quite affordable compared to many road and hybrid bikes, leaving you and your wallet satisfied. And finally, while aesthetics aren’t everything, both of these bikes have a very clean, simple, and slick look (Especially fixies without gears, but we’ll get to that later).
Now let’s take a look and the advantages of riding a single speed bike. The first and probably biggest advantage of single speed bikes is their ability to coast or cruise. This can make bombing down hills feel comfortable and overall much safer. It’s also beneficial on long rides, where you want to give your legs a break.
On the subject of safety, single speed bikes also come standard with brakes, making stopping easy and simple. In fact, probably the biggest advantage of single speed bikes is how easy they are to ride. At any given time, you can just hop on and ride away, no experience required, making it a great transition from other types of bikes to riding fixed.
Fixed gear bikes, contrary to single speed bikes, have a very different feel when riding. The first time hopping on a fixed gear will feel incredibly different that riding a single speed or most other bikes with the ability to coast.
However, this lack of coasting ability is also a fixie’s greatest advantage. Since the cranks are always turning when the rear wheel is turning, this also means that if the cranks stop, the rear wheel stops. With practice, this means that stopping the bike purely with your legs, and no brakes, is both possible and much more reliable. While many people who ride fixed also ride brakes for that extra stopping power, many choose to take off their brakes after learning how to ride without them, leaving the bike to look even cleaner and more simplistic than before.
And here in lies the reason many people choose to ride fixed rather than single speed. The lack of coasting ability allows for complete control over your bike. After getting used to riding fixed initially, you begin to feel like you and your trusty steed are a single unit, a feeling that is very hard to achieve on many other types of bikes.
Overall, choosing between riding fixed or single speed all comes down to personal preference. If you want a more comfortable, relaxed ride but still want to keep it simple, then riding single speed may be your best option. If you want to experience a feeling of riding that no other type of bike can bring you, try riding a fixie. Many fixie/single speed bikes even come with a “flip-flop” hub, allowing for an easy switch between both type of riding. But the best way to determine which style you prefer would be to go out, get on a bike, and just ride.