Askmen.com Guy Gear: Fixed-Gear Bikes For Beginners
They started on the track, rocketing around velodromes at high velocity; then the bike messengers snatched them up, looking for light, fast, uber-reliable bikes that could withstand hellish urban war zones; then the hipsters caught wind, drawn to their clean lines and vintage looks. Now you want in on the action, and you’re eying your first fixed-gear bike.
It’s no wonder; the fixed-gear bicycle is perhaps the perfect mechanical extension of man — legs pushing power through a straight chain line, spinning a wheel with simple precision. Riding a fixed-gear bike is like being a bike. It’s visceral, it’s powerful. It’s damn fun.
Before you whip out the plastic at the bike shop, let’s review the basics.
First, know the difference between a fixie and a single-speed. With a fixie, there’s no coasting. When your bike’s in motion, so are your legs. (Hardcore fixie riders don’t even run brakes, they simply use their superhuman thighs to decelerate and eventually screech to a halt.) Single-speed bikes only have one gear too, but that gear is mounted to a freewheel that’ll let you coast — an indispensable feature if you live near any hills. Most, if not all, fixed-gear bicycles nowadays are equipped with “flip-flop” rear hubs that carry a fixed gear on one side and a freewheel on the other, allowing you to switch between the two by simply flipping the wheel around.
Since you’re not hitting the velodrome or launching a new career as a bike messenger, you’ll probably start out with the freewheel single-speed. Eventually, your quads will harden into the bands of spring steel they need to be to handle a fixie and you can flip your rear wheel around. You will always run at least one brake (the front one) on your ride because you have something to live for.
Wrench time is an integral part of the fixie experience. Build your bike and the connection between man and machine will be even stronger. However, if you don’t have the mechanical chops or time to cobble one together out of an old 10-speed and some spare parts, there are plenty of options available. Major bike brands have realized that fixed-gear bikes are big business, which means you can pick a good (and fully assembled) one for relatively cheap.
These bikes are all solid, sleek and sexy contenders. Peruse the selection, take a few test rides and ride away happy. Remember: Fit is crucial with any bike. Make sure the shop you visit knows their stuff and puts you on the right size frame.
The Windsor Clockwork is a lot of bike for the money. Its classic track frame is pure high-quality steel (4130 chromoly) for a smooth, springy ride. It has that wonderful flip-flop hub, two powerful dual-pivot road bike brakes, and nice strong wheels. It’s a good-looking bike too, with clean, classic lines. It’s available in black, burgundy or sporty orange. MSRP: $320
If the Windsor represents a modern take on a classic bike, then the Aristotle is a modernist representation of two-wheeled transportation. It’s stripped down, sleek and refreshingly clean. The Aristotle can be customized with various frame, seat, grip, wheel, and chain colors to get a bike that’s truly yours. It comes with basic road-bike brakes and decent deep-V rims. MSRP: $399
The OSO is a sketch of a bike, pure and simple with no frills. It doesn’t even have caliper brakes. Instead, it’s equipped with an old-school coaster brake (apply braking force by pedaling backward) in the rear hub and straightforward parts. It’s a nice bike for the price, but the coaster brake kills it for anyone who has to ride hills — simply not enough stopping power to avoid a collision with a distracted motorist. Still, it’s an intriguing choice for those in the flatlands. MSRP: $420
The 925 was made to tackle the daily grind. Equipped with fenders to keep the grit off your work clothes and comfortable “bullhorn” handlebars, it’s a great choice for anyone who plans to use their bike as pure transportation. Style-wise, it has classic cues mixed with modern tech — old Euro-racer paint job with straight-bladed forks. The 925 runs two nice dual-pivot brakes, durable rims and puncture-resistant tires. MSRP: $520
The Plug is another modern take on the fixed-gear/single-speed craze. It has classic lines with cool, understated graphics and arrow-straight forks. It’s equipped with a set of Tektro brakes and a flip-flop hub. It has high-quality cranks by Sungino and classic silver rims by Alex. Like the 925, it sports “bullhorn” handlebars for lots of hand position options. For commuters or cruisers, the Plug is just plain perfect. MSRP: $650
Trek is a relative latecomer to the fixie/single-speed scene, but they really nailed it with the District. It’s a classic single-speed built with the latest high-tech materials and gear. First, it features a super-lightweight aluminum frame; second, it’s the only mainstream bike in existence with a belt drive. That’s right; Trek killed the chain on the District, replacing it with the type of high-strength belt found on motorcycles. The belt doesn’t require grease, doesn’t stretch (chains stretch over time), and is stronger than steel. And the District is a looker in gloss gray with orange accents. It may seem like a lot of money for a bike with one gear, but you’re getting the latest technology in a bike that weighs less than your winter coat. The District is a fast, sleek urban attack machine and probably the ultimate fixie/single-speed. MSRP: $929