The terminology may be confusing for some beginners. So, we think a good place to start is to get all of the necessary terms out of our way and clearly explain them here.
When discussing single speeds and fixed gears, you’ll face a situation similar to the square and the rectangle.
Every square is a rectangle, however, not every rectangle is a square.
Similarly, every fixie is a single speed, but not every single speed is a fixie.
People also refer to single speed as a freewheel. This is the correct term.
Keep these simple terms in mind. We’ll get to the specific differences next!
You can coast on a single speed bike, but you can’t coast on a fixed gear bike.
If you’re new to the sport, coasting simply means you can ride your bike while taking your feet off the pedals.
Now, the benefit of coasting is that it allows you to ride uphills and downhills much easier and safer. You don’t have to use too much force.
This frees you from worrying about pedal strikes and makes moderating your speed easier. It also gives you some time to rest if your legs get tired during long rides.
But why is this?
Remember we talked about freewheel earlier? This difference lies in the different drivetrain mechanism between single speed and fixed gear.
The rear wheel on your single speed is a freewheel. This means that it turns faster than your pedals. This is efficiently achieved by making the front chainring bigger than the rear cog.
For example, a 25/9 ratio means the wheel will turn 2.7 rounds on every pedal strike thanks to the 25-teeth front cog and 9-teeth rear cog.
Having a freewheel ensures the pedals won’t turn too fast that you can’t keep up with them. It saves valuable energy for longer rides and helps you ride downhills much safer.
The drivetrain on a fixie, by contrast, is connected directly to the pedals. In other words, the gear is fixed at the rear wheel.
When you stop pedaling on a fixie, the pedals will continue to rotate. This can be dangerous when riding downhills at high speeds.
In this case, you either have to take your feet off the pedals or keep pedaling with a very high cadence (aka rounds per minute). Putting your feet back on the rotating pedals may be tricky for some beginners.
Riding a single speed is easy. Riding a fixed gear, however, requires a lot of energy. That’s why a fixie is a great choice if you’re looking to build stronger legs and muscles.
Part of the powertrain mechanism on a single speed is designed to help you cover more distance with the same or less energy.
That’s why a single speed doesn’t require a whole lot of force to propel the bike forward as a fixed gear does.
Still, it does give you some light and good exercise if you use the bike daily.
You often have to use a lot of energy to move a fixed gear forward. You’ll have this direct connectedness to your bike and the road.
A fixed gear gives you a way better workout than a single speed. It feels more rewarding after every ride.
Your thighs, calves, and muscles will develop much stronger days and months after you keep riding on your fixie. When you switch back to a regular bike, you’ll be flying!
Stopping a fixie and a single speed is also quite different. For beginners, we think the traditional hand brakes on most single speeds would be easier to get used to. Let’s see some differences below.
You can stop a single speed by squeezing the hand brake. The left brake stops the front wheel and the right brake stops the rear wheel. It’s super simple and easy.
Also, some other single speed models have foot-operated brake systems. This simply means that you can pedal backward to stop the bike. Some riders love this while others don’t.
What we generally advise is to pick one or another. You can’t have both on the same bike because you think that it’ll be more convenient. You’ll confuse yourself by doing so. So, choose either hand brakes or foot brakes.
To stop a fixed gear, you’ll often have to lean all the way forward with your body. There are usually foot straps on the pedals to help you do this easier.
Oftentimes, you’ll find fixed gears with no hand brakes. Some people say these are just for show-offs. Others say they get rid of the brakes and cables to make way for bar spin tricks.
For beginners, we’d recommend keeping the brakes on. Once you’ve got used to the bike a bit more, you can try new things with it.
We have to say that both are great for doing tricks. This depends, however, on some other variables like your skills or the environments.
Single speeds are great for jumps. You can skid beautifully on these bikes as well. The grip also is pretty good.
You definitely can ride on trails with these. They are fast. You won’t get pedal strikes. And the overall experience is fun.
You can do tricks on a fixed gear. For example, whipping, skidding, bar stand, or bar spin. There are many others that you can try.
They are all pretty fun and interesting!
Pick a single speed if:
You want a bike for longer rides (e.g. to school, to work, etc.) because it allows your legs to rest from time to time by coasting. You can choose it if you want a bike to ride uphills and downhills nicely. Stopping a single speed is also easy.
Pick a fixie if:
You want a bike for exercise. You want to control the bike naturally at very slow speeds. Or you want a fun bike to ride around town and look super cool while riding. You can even pull off some nice tricks on a fixie.
If you still can’t decide at this point, our recommendation is to get a 2-in-1 hybrid bike with Flip Flop hubs like Retrospec Harper or 6KU bike. These allow you to change from one riding mode to another by just flipping the rear wheel.
Still, if you want a fixie but need it for downhill riding, you can consider a downhill full suspension fixie. That model overcomes the disadvantage of fixies when riding downhills. We hope that helps!