Single Speed vs Fixed Gear: What’s the Difference?

At a glance, it may appear that single-speed bikes and fixed gear bikes are one and the same. After all, both feature a single front chain ring and rear cog which correlates to them having only a single gear.

However, as you get familiar with both bikes and read more information on them, you’ll see just how different they are from each other and how each comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. These are the major differences between riding a fixed-gear bike vs single-speed bike.

Single-Speed Bike vs Fixed-Gear Bike: Key Differences

Mechanical Factor

To see the difference between the two, let’s look at things from a mechanical standpoint first.

The major difference between a one-gear fixie vs single-speed bike lies in the presence of a freewheel mechanism (freewheel hub) on a single-speed and its glaring absence on a fixed-gear bike.

A single-speed bike comes with a freewheel cog that rotates freely on one side with the other side locked. So, as soon as you stop pedaling on a single-speed, the cranks (pedals) stop turning while the back wheel continues to turn, letting you bike on cruise control.

Meanwhile, a fixed gear bike doesn’t come with a freewheel cog. Instead, the rear cog lies fixed to the rear hub.

Therefore, the cog turns naturally when the rear wheel turns, and as the cog turns, the pedals do too. Without a freewheel, you’re always pedaling on a fixie.

However, this mechanism does provide you with a special way to stop your bike—just stop pedaling. As you stop pedaling, the rear wheel locks up and stops the bike from moving forward.  

Brakes

Let’s discuss the difference between single-speeds and fixies in terms of brakes.

Single-speed bikes usually come equipped with the same brakes as your standard road bikes and mountain bikes.

However, a fixie bike tends to work quite differently. While some fixies come with a front brake on the front wheel, with the back wheel itself acting as the back brake, others don’t come with brakes at all.

Fixies that don’t come with brakes rely on a few conditions to come to a standstill: rider skill, road position, and stopping the cranks. So, as you may have deduced, only the most experienced riders can ride such fixies safely and efficiently.

A word of advice: Best forget fixed-gears if you’re a newbie.

Performance

Many people make the argument that a fixie bike is the best for a single primary reason: its ability to help them feel one with the bike and connected to the trails. They feel as though the bike is an extension of them.

They shouldn’t be blamed or made fun of for feeling that way; after all, there’s some truth to it.

Pedal forward and the bike moves ahead. Stop pedaling and the rear wheel slides, thereby stopping the bike.

Pedal backward and the bicycle goes in the opposite direction. However, bear in mind that getting accustomed to a fixie can take a decent time.

There are equal, if not more, number of cyclists who prefer single-speeds for the simplistic design and operation.

Riding a fixie can be engaging, but not everyone loves being too involved in their biking sessions. After all, some prefer exploring beautiful sceneries, enjoying bike conversations, feeling the gust of wind, or simply biking at cruise control.

Unlike on fixie bikes, you don’t need to focus on timing your pedal strokes on a single-speed. You don’t need to think about gears either.

If you don’t want to pedal, you can do so on a single-speed without worrying about the bike coming to an abrupt stop.

How is a Single-Speed Similar to a Fixie Bike?

This entire time, I have gone to great lengths to display the differences between a single-speed bike and a one-gear bike. However, it would be immoral of me to simply paint them as chalk and cheese when that’s not the case.

They do have similarities and they do see eye-to-eye on certain matters.

First of all, both single-speed bikes and fixed gear bikes are arguably the most lightweight bikes around because of a lack of bike components and gears. As such, maintenance of these bikes is also as easy as whistling dixies.

Plus, let’s not forget that compared to a road bike and a hybrid geared bike, single-speeds and fixies don’t burn a huge hole in your wallet.

Without the gearing ratio and numerous bike components, both these bike types come with a very neat, simple, and slick design.

Conclusion

Single-speed bikes are usually favored by cyclists who ride their bikes for commuting purposes. Meanwhile, you’ll commonly see fixed gear bikes on the track serving as able track bikes.

As you can tell, your choice depends on your personal preference.

Want to experience a relaxed, simple, and comfortable ride as you descend the hills in your area? Go for a single-speed bike, like a single-speed MTB.

Want your bike to feel like an extension of your body or experience the competitiveness that pro cyclists feel at the velodrome? Then, try riding fixed-gear bicycles.  

Thankfully, you don’t need to choose between the two types as there exist fixies that come equipped with a flip flop hub. The flip flop hub can offer you the option of running one side fixed with the other side free, giving you a chance of experimenting with both bike types at the cost of a single bike.