The Bicycle Debate: Fixed Gears vs. Multi-Gears

Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp

Samuel Goodrich, Contributing writer

Fixed gear bikes, or fixies, are a national trend that have rolled onto the VCU campus.

Fixed gear bikes have one gear and no freewheel, which is the component allows the bike to roll without pedaling. People who use fixies say they give the rider a better connection to the road, since stripping the bike of gears and brakes reduces the cycle to its simplest elements.
With their low cost and abundant customization options, these bicycles can be great for veteran cyclists, but amateurs might be confused as to what makes these bikes desirable and controversial.

“Richmond’s pretty flat and it’s easy to get around,” said Victoria Wilson, who, like many other students, said she commutes to and around campus on her “fixie.”

Fixed gears operate by attaching the chain directly to the back wheel, meaning the rider directly controls whether the bike moves or not. Because of this, fixed gears also don’t come with a separate brake, which means the rider has to backpedal to slow their speed.

Braking is accomplished by actively resisting the wheel’s forward movement, which is very different from using a brake attached to the front wheel. While tedious at first, many riders claim that it eventually becomes second nature.

“I like that it keeps me pedaling, since it keeps me engaged and I have to be more alert,” said James Lukas, an employee at RamBikes.

For those worried about the learning curve, many fixed gear bikes come with a “flip-flop hub,” which allows the rider to flip the back wheel to switch between fixed and freewheel cycling.

Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp

“Generally, we have more people on the freewheel,” Lukas said, adding that he has seen many students modifying their fixed gears into single-speed instead.

Objectors are quick to criticize many of the points listed above, like the missing brakes and inability to freewheel, especially riding in the unpredictable city environment and around cars.

While considered a recent trend, fixies were once the only bikes on the market until the invention of the derailleur gear, which gave bicycles the ability to switch gears and move without input from the pedal.

Thus, some fixed-gear cyclists don’t see their bikes as a “hipster” fad, but as a personal preference. Some like the minimalist aesthetic from taking away the gears, while others simply like the feeling of control they get from only using the pedals to move the bike.

“I ride my fixie for fun, like when I’m going to class or the store,” said Dajion Martin, a member of the VCU cycling team.

Martin owns both a multi-geared bike and a fixie, using the former for team training and the latter for getting around campus.

“I feel more comfort knowing that my bike won’t get stolen when riding a fixed gear,” Martin added.
Still, Martin almost exclusively uses his multi-geared bike for exercise.

Both types of bike have their own benefits; fixed gears are good for general use while multi-gears are great for training. This is an interesting change, as fixed-gear track bikes were traditionally used for track cycling, which involved indoor races around a track known as a velodrome.

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