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Approaching winter I've been thinking about converting my commuter (Specialized Allez comp) into a singlespeed. I do a 60 mile round trip Surrey - London once a week which is a little lumpy but not hilly.

I was thinking that the benefits of going singlespeed would be:
- Less components to get messy and maintain through winter
- Slightly lighter
- Improved cadence/pedal stroke
- Increased speed/strength on hills
- Prettier bike

Although I cycle a fair amount already (200km per week) I think there is room to improve my technique & strength, is this a reliable way of doing it?

Or am i being a mug and bikes evolved to have gears... and I'll regret it?

I tried today's in a single gear and did fairly well but I lack the discipline and did change up/down occasionally.

I know this may be an each to their own type question but lets hear some opinions & anecdotes.

Cheers, Ben

33 comments

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 2 years ago
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I have a fixed gear, ride around a hilly area. Whether or not its improved my technique I'm not really bothered, but its hella lotta fun. I reckon you'd get stronger purely because there's not gear to bail out into so if you got a big hill and your slowing down you either have to grind up it (my thinking that the stress = strength later) or walk. And I'm no walker.

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nicstevenson [29 posts] 2 years ago
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I ride fixed in the city and find it has helped my peddling technique... I used to ride single speed but didn't notice an improvment in style or cadence really - but with fixed I think both have improved.

So I'd say consider trying to go fixed, but on smaller rides first of all - lacking the ability to coast makes even a short journey seem more arduous!

Also - lots of people will warn you about not stopping pedalling on a fixed as the pedals jerk your legs and risk knee and hip damage - very true... but I also find it quite odd transitioning back to a geared bike at the weekends, bombing down hills and freewheeling is scarier too!

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sonicsol [7 posts] 2 years ago
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Go for it, but go fixed, as said above, it's a lot of fun. It teaches you to pedal a higher cadence (on a flat anyway!) and it trains you not to freewheel.
I find fixed is a very symbiotic relationship, you really have to work with your bike as there are no levers to flick to make it do things. If anything, it makes you do things.
Also, from my experience, hills are easier than you think because your pedal kicks back up as you push down so the harder you push , the harder it comes back up, so almost no need to pull up at all. There is a gradient limit I suspect, but that depends on your gearing.
I ride a 46-16 and find it a good all-rounder

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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I ride singlespeed on my commute in Manchester quite a lot on a 53x15.

It's definitely improved my thigh strength due to not being able to make it easy for yourself when pulling away from lights and digging in on hills etc, it's definitely well worth looking into if you can convert an old frame or a cheap bike.

I don't ride fixed so couldn't say on that front but other people suggest that it is better for cadence etc, but then I find many of those that ride fixed do talk a load of bollocks too.

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cat1commuter [1418 posts] 2 years ago
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I'd say that riding singlespeed will make you stronger, and fixed will also improve your pedalling. One thing I have from riding fixed is a smooth application of power from standing on the pedals to sitting back in the saddle.

As mentioned above, fixed is great uphill, as it feels like the bike is helping you. I find that downhill is much more challenging. I start bouncing on the saddle at 130 rpm. I once slightly pulled a calf muscle spinning downhill, so my technique could definitely still improve. I think I need to pull up a little at the back of the stroke.

I ride a 72 inch gear ie: 48 x 18 (or 42 x 16) on 700c wheels, which is about 20 mph at 100 rpm.

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MrBLH [26 posts] 2 years ago
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Thanks for the good responses so far, not sure if switching straight to fixed for my commute would be a leap too far.

I may get used to a single gear first.

I have previously converted an old mtb to a singlespeed with a 3:1 ratio, it certainly feels smooth and fun but is a bit more effort on hills.

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Low Speed Wobble [154 posts] 2 years ago
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Go fixie. There will be times on every ride that you regret it, but next Spring you'll be riding better than ever. You should be able to figure out your best ratio from the riding you're currently doing. A single speed is a good option, but it won't improve your technique and discipline in the same way a fixed gear will.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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If going single for the winter go fixed. It will defo sort out your cadence and technique. I tend to use fixed all the year for commutes keeping the road bike for longer trips. It really sorts out your leg strength as well. I notice the difference when I get back on the road bike. Other cyclists have also commented on style and strength whenever I buddy up with them.

Tips. Choose gear carefully. I use a 48:16. Cat one I see uses a 48:18. Either of these is a pretty decent gear.
Get spd's. easier to clip into whe moving off from lights. Also means feet aren't thrown off pedals when picking up speed.
Keep an eye on your chain to make sure it doesn't get too slack. I forgot once, chain got thrown when I hit a bump and wheel locked.
If you have converted a MTB get a chain tensioner. Otherwise invest in a bike with horizontal dropouts. These make it easier to tension the chain.

You will find as well when the winter kicks in, the fixed wheel is much easier to control on snow and ice. I also find when on shared use or pedestrian precincts where I am allowed to ride the fixed wheel is easier to handle round pedestrians as you are in better control of the bike. Track stands are also easier!

And you are guaranteed to have fun!

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sm [368 posts] 2 years ago
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Go for it, if nothing else it's a heck of a lot of fun riding fixed and a lot easier to maintain. I bought a fixed last year and have never enjoyed riding so much. Try a flip flop hub so you can alternate between spinning and mashing too. Both should be comfortable gears but one increases strength the other leg speed.

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 2 years ago
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As others have said go fixed!! You won't look back! It will take a little getting used to at first but it starts coming to you very naturally. Although the sensation of coasting is very un-nerving when you do go back to the roadie!

I ride 46-16

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abudhabiChris [692 posts] 2 years ago
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MrBLH wrote:

Thanks for the good responses so far, not sure if switching straight to fixed for my commute would be a leap too far.

I may get used to a single gear first.

In that case I don't see the point.

You might as well keep what you've got and just pay more attention to your cadence.

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djgorey [36 posts] 2 years ago
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I've just (yesterday) picked up my spesh Langster to use for commuting, keeping the geared bike for longer rides.

I got it, apart from the fact it's n+1, to improve strength and technique. It's a 48 17 which seems OK so far, but will report back next weekend after I've ridden in to work all week.

I was really worried about stopping, but front brake and a bit of "back-peddling" and it's fine. Haven't had to do an emergency stop yet though...

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BBB [295 posts] 2 years ago
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What's the deal with "improving strength"?
Do you guys need to push your bikes up the hill because your legs aren't strong enough?

Isn't pedalling at high cadence on a geared bike good enough for "improving technique"?

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Low Speed Wobble [154 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB wrote:

What's the deal with "improving strength"?
Do you guys need to push your bikes up the hill because your legs aren't strong enough?

Isn't pedalling at high cadence on a geared bike good enough for "improving technique"?

Improving strength and improving technique are (clearly) two different things. Spinning up a gradient will get you to the top but it won't build your strength in the same way that pushing a harder gear will. That's what we guys mean.

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BBB [295 posts] 2 years ago
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Low Speed Wobble wrote:
BBB wrote:

What's the deal with "improving strength"?
Do you guys need to push your bikes up the hill because your legs aren't strong enough?

Isn't pedalling at high cadence on a geared bike good enough for "improving technique"?

Improving strength and improving technique are (clearly) two different things. Spinning up a gradient will get you to the top but it won't build your strength in the same way that pushing a harder gear will. That's what we guys mean.

I understand that they are two different things. That's why there are two separate questions...

What do you need more strength for?

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Low Speed Wobble [154 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB wrote:

What do you need more strength for?

You're on a cycling forum, and you're asking why the quest for greater strength? Have you ever ridden a bike and wanted to go that little bit faster? That'll be the answer.

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BBB [295 posts] 2 years ago
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Low Speed Wobble wrote:
BBB wrote:

What do you need more strength for?

You're on a cycling forum, and you're asking why the quest for greater strength? Have you ever ridden a bike and wanted to go that little bit faster? That'll be the answer.

I wonder if you're confusing strength with power.  3

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giff77 [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB wrote:

What's the deal with "improving strength"?
Do you guys need to push your bikes up the hill because your legs aren't strong enough?

Isn't pedalling at high cadence on a geared bike good enough for "improving technique"?

Plenty of killer hills round my way and not walked any of them. The fixed helps me kill two birds with one stone. If you ask any old hands you will find that they nearly all switch to fixed through the winter.

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Low Speed Wobble [154 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB wrote:

I wonder if you're confusing strength with power.  3

Perhaps I am.

Can you explain to me, in this cycling specific context, the difference?

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BBB [295 posts] 2 years ago
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Cycling is an endurance sport and how fast you can cycle is determined by power (force x speed) NOT by max. force you can apply to the pedals (determined by strength).

If you're able to climb up steep hills and walk up the stairs, you have enough strength to ride a bike and the available training time will be better spent improving threshold power at your optimal cadence.

There's no evidence (only typical roadie anecdotes) to suggest that riding any bike without gears will improve your cycling speed and pedalling technique any more than a geared bike.

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Leviathan [1775 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB wrote:

Cycling is an endurance sport and how fast you can cycle is determined by power (force x speed) NOT by max. force you can apply to the pedals (determined by strength).

If you're able to climb up steep hills and walk up the stairs, you have enough strength to ride a bike and the available training time will be better spent improving threshold power at your optimal cadence.

There's no evidence (only typical roadie anecdotes) to suggest that riding any bike without gears will improve your cycling speed and pedalling technique any more than a geared bike.

In other words, if you think it will help, you know, just don't change gear for a bit.

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daddyELVIS [654 posts] 2 years ago
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Sounds like you're looking for a reason to buy a new bike, or justification to give to your significant other  3

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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daddyELVIS wrote:

Sounds like you're looking for a reason to buy a new bike, or justification to give to your significant other  3

Within just a couple of weeks of switching to singlespeed my Mrs happily noticed that my thigh muscles were bigger and more defined. How's that for a justification?

(Or as BBB would put it, another "typical roadie anecdote".)

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 2 years ago
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I like to go to the shops and try trousers on to find out the thighs are too big for them. Mostly in my spare time or on a lunch break.

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Cycle_Jim [264 posts] 2 years ago
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BBB- What about riding for fun? Thats what I ride for.

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Gepin [59 posts] 2 years ago
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I have been riding fixed through the winter for the last 3 years. I use it for fun, training and commuting. The frame is an old 1960's Italian TT effort, everything else was just what I had lying around.
For the first 8 weeks I hated it but on one cold but sunny commute home after a night shift it all fell into place the near silent progress and simplicity of the machine.
So today I dragged the old girl out for its MOT after laying at the back of the shed all summer.
Has it made me a better rider, stronger, given me Chris Hoy's thighs? Dunno and don't care! It's been a great summer but taking the old Olmo around the block reminds me that though its going to get cold and dark, the trails will be under water and the roads will be covered in salt, I will be astride my Fixie grinning like a loon.
I ride a 44 x 16 in lumpy Monmouthshire and Mid Glamorgan.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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Totally with you Gepin. Getting my baby ready for the winter right now.

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Low Speed Wobble [154 posts] 2 years ago
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@farrell @cycle_jim @geppin @giff77 +1 to all you guys.

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CycleLuddite [10 posts] 2 years ago
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Please forgive my luddite question.

Is it possible to get the same kind of benefit by just sticking to single gear on my road bike? I have compact 11-28, so wonder which gear would most closely approximate that of single-speed bike. I can't afford another bike, so fixie bike is out of the question.

Recently, I have been trying to increase cadence at the lower (harder) gears so on my morning commutes to work (which is slightly hilly), I've stuck to limiting myself to four sequential gears (do they even have a numbering system?). The ultimate aim is to get to work one day in one gear. It's crazy perhaps but it's a personal challenge.

It sort of works for endurance but perhaps I am approaching it incorrectly.

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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CycleLuddite wrote:

Is it possible to get the same kind of benefit by just sticking to single gear on my road bike?

Yes, the difference is with SS/Fixed you can't wimp out and shift to a different gear as you simply don't have that option. Numerous times I've thought 'I just want a light, easy, soft pedal home' but have had to give it some rice because the soft pedal wasn't possible. It's a ballache at first but you do soon get into it.

CycleLuddite wrote:

I have compact 11-28, so wonder which gear would most closely approximate that of single-speed bike.

Any or even all of them, it depends on how you set your single speed up - What combination you have of crank at the front and what cog you have at the back. I simply took the derailleurs off an old bike and figured it out by adjusting the chain to move up and down the cassette until I got to the one I wanted. It's a bit of trial and error but one persons ratio might be completely off for someone elses.

CycleLuddite wrote:

I can't afford another bike, so fixie bike is out of the question.

As mentioned, try and pick up a cheap old bike, whip the gears off and adjust the chain. A good old steel frame would be my first choice but that's my personal preference, anything would do.

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