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Riding a Fixed Gear Bicycle Does Not Improve Pedal Stroke

gazelle fixed gear bike

Riding a fixed gear bicycle has long been touted as a way to improve your pedal stroke. Some coaches believe this and numerous riders echo the sentiment every time they discuss off-season training.

But I do not see any proof (or even logic) to support the notion that a fixed gear setup will improve your pedal stroke. If anything, it makes your pedal stroke worse!

Yes, it’s time to dispel the fixed gear myth…

In case you are not familiar with this type of bicycle, a “fixed gear” bike is one in which the whole drivetrain is “fixed” together. As in, if the wheels move forward, the pedals move forward.

So, if the bike is moving forward, you absolutely have to pedal the entire time. If you take your feet off the pedals, the pedals will continue to spin as long as the wheel is moving.

The myth came about because of how one has a circular pedal stroke when riding a fixed gear. That’s the true part. But the problem is the flawed logic and analysis. The bike is doing all the work, not the rider. The rider’s feet are just along for the ride, so to speak.

So anyone that hops onto a fixed gear is going to have a perfect pedal stroke. But the question is, how good will their pedal stroke be once they go back to a regular bike?

In most cases, their pedal stroke will be worse!

See, the fixed gear is like a crutch helping you along. As soon as you go back to a regular bike, you won’t have that help, and your pedal stroke will be the same as it was before, or worse.

Why does it actually make your pedal stroke worse?

Since the fixed gear did the work for you, you didn’t have to concentrate on pulling through the bottom or top of the stroke, or pulling up. With skills like this, it’s “use it or lose it.” So, by not practicing your circular pedal stroke, you effectively “lose it.”

Let’s look at an example to explain this further…

Imagine you switch to a fancy electric toothbrush. Due to some advanced technology, it will clean your teeth better than you did manually.

But after using it for a month, you switch back to your regular toothbrush. Are you going to be better at cleaning your teeth? No, because it was the toothbrush doing all the work.

Sounds absurd, right? I mean, the toothbrush cleans your teeth but it doesn’t teach you anything. Who would think it did?

Well, riding a fixed gear is the same principal. The pedals move in circles, but it doesn’t teach you a darn thing about making your feet move the pedals in circles.

Don’t believe me? Take it from Greg Lemond.

You may not like Lemond in a political sense, but the man won three Tours de France, so he knows a thing or two about training!

I got some advice from him about training methods, and when asked about riding a fixed gear, his opinion was, “what’s the point?”

Exactly!

The only thing a fixed gear could teach you is something basic like not to apply backwards pressure in the pedal stroke. If you were to do something like that on a regular bike, letting your feet lag, you could get away with it. But if you try it on a fixed gear, you’re going to blow out your knee or catapult yourself off the bike.

But backpedaling can be useful when riding and racing, if used properly. So not only would that lesson be less than worthless, it would be very dangerous if inadvertently learned on a fixed gear!

There’s no point in hurting yourself over something basic that you could learn on your regular bicycle. So don’t fall prey to the fixed gear myths!

Want to improve your pedal stroke, for real? Do single-leg pedaling drills. That will perfect your stroke!

Want to get in the habit of pedaling constantly? Ride rollers. You have to keep spinning the pedals or you’ll fall over.

You can get a set of rollers for less than it costs to get a fixed gear bike, and you can do your one-leg pedaling drills while riding rollers. That’s the best “bang for your buck” way to improve your pedal stroke, in my opinion.

Photo credit: itsbruce

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10 Comments
  1. Your whole argument is that a fixed gear bike is doing the work not the rider? Nothing could be further from the truth. When you ride a fixed gear, you learn the negative consequences of letting yourself slow your legs down – its jolting to the legs and not very pleasant. You learn to instinctively avoid this unpleasant feeling by actively applying pressure to the pedals throughout the pedal stroke. At least that’s how I’ve trained myself to ride… I NEVER apply back pressure or even let the pedals spin my legs. I rely on the brakes a lot! I have no idea how people survive riding fixies without brakes.

  2. You need PowerCranks

    http://www.powercranks.com/

    Each leg is independant of the other, thus forcing you to work out the dead spots in your pedal stroke. I’ve used them, they are awesome

  3. more food for thought: http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/article/training-get-your-fitness-fixed-18458/

    the comments are worth reading.

    I personally have no opinion and won’t have until I but a fixie… in about 9 months 😉

  4. Levi,

    I think you are missing the point regarding why coaches and riders have been referencing fixed gear riding for the off-season.

    Its not about the pedal stroke, its about the cadence.

    You did not use this word a single time in your argument against fixed gears. Its the fact that you are forced to pedal at higher revolutions for longer periods of time that wins the argument for increased usage of track or fixed gear bikes for training purposes, not pedal stroke as you reference.

    The more you train your legs for higher cadences, the more likely you are to pedal at higher a higher cadence during your road race. Muscle memory is the source for this theory.

  5. @Kristian

    I did not mention cadence because this article is specifically about fixed gears and pedal stroke. Nothing else. And it’s not an argument against fixed gear bikes – I have absolutely no problem with fixed gears. Nor do I have a problem with anyone riding a fixed gear if they have a good reason for it.

    If you haven’t witnessed numerous people spouting off nonsense about fixed gears improving (i.e. smoothing) pedal stroke, you’re lucky! It’s those people and their invalid argument, not the bikes or the legitimate reasons for riding one, that I am arguing against.

  6. This has been debated back and forth forever but i feel that riding fixed actually hurts your form because the cranks carry your leg through the dead spot at 12 and 6 o’clock. Over time this can cause you to get lazy. The original training-related justification for riding fixed in the offseason was to improve spin (the ability to pedal at high cadences), not to improve your pedal stroke.

  7. Has Levi ever ridden a fixed gear bike before ? what’s this “bike is doing all the work, not the rider” nonsense ?

  8. @Dodici

    Yes indeed, I own one and have ridden it.

    Obviously I’m not implying the bike powers itself. Rather, the bike is doing the work of turning the pedals in circles (which is the entire concept of having a fixed gear.) Don’t believe me? Take a walk with your bike and tell me if the pedals don’t move in circles.

  9. It may be that the benefit of riding a fixed wheel for a month or so in the offseason has been lost for a few reasons.

    First, back in the old days, you didn’t just ride a fixed gear. You rode a fixed gear with cage pedals, toe-clips and straps, but with the straps loose – or removed. So, you had to concentrate / relax to get the feet to stay with the pedals. After a few hundred miles of this, you could ride the pedals as efficiently as you could “strapped in”. This option is lost without toe straps.

    Next, off-season riding was in a small gear, say a 42×17 or 18, because spinning and form was the point. The rare fixed gear riders I see in the off-season are always in big gears, probably so they can still keep up on the hammerfest training rides that go all year now. But, maybe because there is no one at the bike shop to explain the point of the fixed gear to them.

    It seems to me that the first time I rode a fixed gear for a month or so in the offseason I improved my pedal stroke, bike handling and cadence tremendously. The next few years, not so much. But that’s because there wasn’t as much to improve the second and subsequent years. Likewise, track racers have a base of fixed gear training and it was always a sure bet to follow a track racer in a criterium – because they were a smooth wheel to follow.

    For what it’s worth, LeMond had more than a little fixed gear training. Scroll this video forward to 6:30 http://vimeo.com/16567878

    So, yeah, LeMond might say “what’s the point?” but when you already have the base, it might be easy to forget how you got it.

  10. @David

    I’m with you on that. Thanks for the insight!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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