Fixie bikes are one option for bike commuting, but whether this type of bike will suit your commuter journey depends on a couple of key things. Since there are so many commuter bike options, let’s first answer the key question if you’re considering getting a fixie bike to ride to work on.
So, is a fixie bike good for commuting? Yes, fixie bikes can be good for commuters who have short journeys with few hills. They are also cheaper than most other bikes given their design. However, they are not good if you have hills or a longer route. More on both of these points below.
To make sure you know exactly whether a fixie bike is going to work for you, let’s now look in a little more detail at the points outlined above.
What is a fixie bike good for?
Journeys Fixies are Good For
A fixie bike is good for you if you have short journeys and flatter routes. This is because ‘fixies’ (as they are often called for short) do not have different speeds or gears. Because they are fixed-gear bikes, it means that you feel the same amount of resistance when pedaling while going up a hill as you do when riding on a flat. As you will probably know from riding other bikes, you want less resistance when riding up hills to make it easier for you to pedal up the hill on a bike. However, fixies do not have this option, meaning that going up hills can be hard work, especially if they are steep.
If you think about your cycle commuting route, try to picture any hills you have on the way and think whether these would be a problem for you. Anything more than a gentle slope will likely be a challenge for most riders.
If you have not ridden the route, try out the Google Maps cycling directions for your commute to see the elevation involved. It will quickly give you an idea of any hills, but obviously this is also relative to overall fitness level.
Riding Style Fixies are Good For
Riding a fixie bike can also be good for people who have a short, simple route and want a minimalist approach to riding.
Since most fixie bikes are road bikes, they are fast and good for direct routes. The reason why I say that they are also good for short routes is because such journeys usually mean less braking or hills, but if you have a longer, flatter yet still simple route then a fixie could work for you.
Given how fixies brake, they are also recommended for the more confident rider. This is because having only a front brake lever to pull with your hand gives you less immediate stopping power than standard bikes with both front and back levers. Although riders can also stop a fixie by pedaling backward, doing this for an emergency stop in heavy traffic is a little tricky and is therefore recommended for riders who think that this would not be a problem for their journey.
Any riders using bikes mostly on cycleways/cycle paths should also enjoy fixies. This is because the lack of traffic means less frequent stopping and braking, so a fixie can be well suited there, too.
Fixies for People on a Budget
Because of their lack of speeds or gears, fixies are also very much a good budget option. This lack of added features keeps the price low on all fixie bikes.
If you are worried about spending money on a bike, a fixie can be good to try out cycle commuting as they are the cheapest type of bike on the market. That said, they are still suited to a specific type of rider and journey, as outlined in the sections above.
The added bonus of this is that a fixie is therefore also good for leaving outside your work as a commuter bike since the value of them is much lower. This means that, if you have not followed all the steps to make your bike ‘theft-proof’ and it gets stolen, replacing a fixie is not the same financial nightmare as having to replace an expensive electric commuter bike, for instance.
With the lower cost also comes less worry about locking it up and using it regularly to ride to work on, which is worth a lot for your peace of mind!
The other benefit here is that this also leaves more money for you to spend on all the other bike commuter essentials that you need for riding in different conditions.
These kinds of considerations make fixie bikes very popular for students commuting to college or university campuses, as you can no doubt see why – but the same reasons obviously makes them appealing for some work commuters, too.
What is a fixie bike not good for?
On the flip side, because fixies only have a front brake lever, they can be a little scary, and even dangerous, for riders going down steep hills as well. As well as the front brake lever, fixies have a rear brake that is activated through pushing backward on the pedals, as shown in the video below.
This new riding style can take some getting used to and is not recommended for less confident riders, or those riding downhill on busy roads where stopping promptly is essential.
Another common question about fixies is whether riding a fixed gear bike is bad for your knees, and yes, they can be hard on your knees if you stop regularly and hard. They are also harsh on your knees if you try to go up a lot of hills on a fixie.
So, if you have existing knee issues while riding, a fixie is not recommended since it might just make this worse.
Riding a fixed-gear bike in winter might also be a problem if your journey has icy patches. This is because only having the one brake can make them more of a challenge to ride in these conditions given their different braking mechanism. That said, all bikes are a challenge to ride in icy conditions, so be careful whichever type of bike you choose to ride.
Fixed Gear Bike vs Hybrid Bike
In short, a hybrid bike is suited to the vast majority of riders and journeys whereas a fixie bike will only suit a smaller, more specific type of rider or journey.
Hybrids are versatile because, as their name suggests, they are a combination of a road bike and touring bike by design and are usually made with people like urban commuters in mind.
A fixie bike is better if you have limited funds, will be parking your bike in a high-crime area and do not have busy roads or big hills to navigate.
One other benefit of a fixie bike is that their minimalist design means that they have fewer parts and are therefore easier to maintain than a hybrid bike. This is clearly appealing if you have little time or knowledge about bike maintenance, or if you just don’t have the space for it (like me – living in an apartment!).
That said, fixies’ simple design also comes at the price of limited use and functionality when trying to ride up hills and stop suddenly.
Check out the following post to help you get the right first commuter bike, which covers both fixies and hybrids, as well as all the other main types of bike commuters might need.
Can you stop pedaling on a fixed gear bike? Yes, you can stop pedaling on fixed gear bikes that have a ‘flip-flop hub’ as these bikes let riders switch between a freewheel option and a fixed gear option. Check that any fixie you are looking at has this type of hub before buying.
Most bikes should describe this in the details online, but look for ‘freewheel option’ if the hub is not mentioned directly.
Why do fixies have no brakes? Although most fixies do have a front brake, some do not have brake levers because the mechanism on these bikes acts as a brake when pedaling backward. This allows riders to stop their fixie bikes, but this takes some getting used to.
As mentioned earlier in this post, the different type of braking system on fixies means that they are more suited to confident riders, or those on quieter roads with few hills. Trying to stop a fixie often and suddenly in heavy traffic can be a bit of a problem so think about this before buying one.
Please note that in many countries, all fixies should have a front brake lever while riding on the road so please check the rules and regulations on your country or region before making this kind of change to a fixed gear bike, or just using one.