You’ve probably heard of fixed-wheel bikes – or “fixies” – with no freewheel component and only a single gear to ride with.
But what’s a single-speed bike? Surely it’s the same as a fixed wheel, as the clue’s in the name?
Although there are some similarities between the two, there are also some distinct differences to be aware of.
You might’ve heard single-speed, fixed-gear, and fixie in conversation, or even (falsely) used interchangeably.
To clear up some myths, misconceptions, and misinformation, this blog post will break down:
- What Is A Single-Speed Bike?
- 3 Types of single-speed bikes
- The Pros and Cons of single-speed bikes
- What Types Of Riders Could Benefit From A Single-Speed Bike?
Ready to become a single-speed aficionado?
Let’s wheel straight into it!
What is a single-speed bike?
If we’re going by the book, a single-speed bike is defined as a “bike with a single gear ratio”.
Single-speed bikes don’t have derailleurs, hub gearing, or any of the other gear mechanisms – hence “single-speed”.
Fixed-wheel bikes are technically single-speed as well, but there’s a crucial difference between fixed-wheel bikes and other single-speed bikes: the freewheel mechanism.
The freewheel mechanism on single-speed bikes allows you to coast and cruise along for as long as you please, unlike fixed-wheel bikes which have no freewheel component in their drivetrain.
Seems simple enough, right?
3 Types of single-speed bikes
#1. Single-Speed Mountain bikes
Mountain bikes? No gears? Yes, they do exist.
Single-speed mountain bikes are often customized to match the strength, skill, and size of the rider, as well as the type of terrain being ridden.
You’ll stumble across these rarely but when you do, they’re typically for incredibly fit individuals riding on moderate cross-country terrain.
#2. Single-Speed Road Bikes
The most common form of the single-speed family.
Narrow, high-pressure tires, dropped handlebars, and a single gear makes a perfect machine for cruising along flat, paved roads.
Single-speed road bikes are particularly popular amongst bike messengers for their reliability and durability.
#3. Single-Speed Hybrid bikes
Hybrid bikes are best understood as a combination of the latter two (hence “hybrid”).
Borrowing the flat, straight handlebars and upright seating posture from mountain bikes, and combining the lighter frame weight, thin wheels, and smooth tires of road bikes, hybrid bikes are great all-rounders.
Plus, when combined with a single gear ratio they’re perfect for city riding and gentle off-road terrain.
The Pros And Cons
6 Pros of Single-Speed Bikes
Derailleurs, shifters, cogs, and chainrings are all moving parts that work in symbiosis and are integral to geared bikes. If one part fails or becomes faulty, the entire cog won’t work.
This is the biggest advantage of single-speed bikes: Less can go wrong.
One cog, one chainring, and no derailleur is a huge win for maintenance and repairs.
In addition, most single-speed bikes have simple coaster brakes, meaning there’s no need for complicated rear drum or disc braking systems which are also prone to error and repair.
The lack of components with single-speed bikes means big savings for buying new parts too.
Fewer parts equal less money spent on replacements.
However, the cost-efficiencies of single-speed bikes go beyond just maintenance.
For the most part, they’re significantly more affordable than geared bikes. The lack of derailleurs, brakes, shifters, and cogs reduces the overall price and means you can spend the difference investing in a better, lighter frame and wheels to get the best riding experience possible.
Lower costs, lower maintenance… less is more, right?
The reduction in extra components with single-speed bikes saves you some pounds in weight. A lighter bike means less effort and power is required to move the bike.
On top of that, it’s easier to carry. This is a big bonus for riders living in cities who frequently have to carry bikes inside, up and down stairs, and even on public transport.
#4. Simpler to ride
And there’s less to think about! Your riding experience is reduced to the essence of cycling: pedaling, stopping, and nothing else.
Forget about shifting gears, what shifter to use, or cross-chaining.
You can focus all your attention on controlling the bike. The simplicity of single-speed bikes is excellent for new cyclists and children; there’s less to think about, and a smaller learning curve.
Single-speed bikes just look better. There are no shifters, cables, or bulky derailleurs hanging off the frame.
It’s the bike of choice for minimalists. Many choose single-speed bikes for the clean, sleek, and simple look of the bike.
Although some cyclists would see this as a disadvantage, the lack of gears makes uphill climbs an extra physical challenge.
If you want to move faster, you’ll simply have to pedal faster.
The more effort you apply, the stronger and more resistant your body will become. Think of it as a free workout that gets you where you need to be going at the same time!
3 Cons of Single-Speed Bikes
#1. Hills are your enemy
It had to be at the top of the list.
Only having a single gear ratio makes it significantly harder to climb hills. On the steepest hills, it’s sometimes not possible to pedal hard enough to keep the bike moving uphill.
Of course, there are ways around this. It can be as simple as getting as much momentum and speed possible as you approach the hill. Standing up and pedaling gives you some extra force moving uphill.
With enough practice and skill, you’ll be surprised how you can conquer some steep hills with just a single-speed bike.
This is a bit of a controversial one within the cycling world.
While some cyclists claim that a single-speed bike is no worse for the knees than riding a geared bike, others claim that single-speed bikes have caused knee pain.
Although there is little scientific evidence to back up either argument, the logic is that cyclists on single-speed bikes tend to apply more pressure on the peddles, especially when climbing hills. This is because riders can’t shift down into an easier gear on a single-speed bike, and over time the extra pressure on the knees can cause pain and ailments.
Comfort is key to avoiding this. Some simple adjustments can be made to reduce knee strain, including changing the saddle height and swapping out the chainring.
#3. Less versatile
Although we’ve seen different types of single-speed bikes ranging from hybrids, to road bikes, all the way out to mountain bikes, single-speed bikes just aren’t cut out for some types of riding.
They’re best suited for commuting, running errands, cruising, and casual cycling in urban, flat areas. For long-distance, mountainous, and most off-road riding, a geared bike is usually your best bet.
What Types Of Riders Could Benefit From A Single-Speed Bike?
If you’re cycling to work in a busy, urban environment, single-speed bikes are ideal.
They’re light, simple, and low maintenance – which is perfect for getting you to work on time with minimal hassle.
Fancy a short bike ride just for the fun of it?
With their simplicity and ease of use, single-speed bikes are excellent for cruising.
Enjoy a seamless bike ride as you roll around town without worrying about gears and shifters.
#3. For the challenge
Why not change things up a bit?
Take a break from your geared bikes and push yourself with a single-speed bike.
It’s a great opportunity to explore a new cycling experience and take your stamina and fitness to the next level.
At BikeTips, we think every cyclist should explore everything that cycling has to offer. So why not expand your horizons and see what single-speed bikes can do for you!