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Why A Geared Bike Makes For Better Training Than a Fixed Gear

fixed gear bike

Every time I talk about using fixed gear track bikes for training purposes (and why it’s pointless,) I am met with more and more arguments why you should use a fixed gear for training. Which means I have more and more myths to dispel!

But before I get deep into specifics, let me mention a very important training principle for all cyclists. That would be specificity. The gist of this principle is that your training conditions need to mirror your racing conditions (as closely as possible.)

For example, if you are a mountain bike racer, it would be good to spend lots of time on your mountain bike, and do lots of hill intervals. If you’re a time trial specialist, you should be spending time in the tucked position on your TT bike, at a steady race pace. And if you race on the track, you should do the majority of your training on a fixed gear, on the track.

(If you don’t believe me about specificity, just ask Joe Friel, author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible.)

But for one reason or another, many advocate using a fixed gear for road training.

I already debunked the myth about fixed gear bikes improving pedal stroke, but everyone still thinks they are better for cadence and power development. Why? Because on the downhills, you have to pedal at a fast cadence. And on the climbs, you have to use lots of power to turn the gear.

So I will go ahead and play along with this argument. I do agree to the facts – that you usually have to power up hills at a low cadence and spin down hills at a high cadence.

But here’s the thing. With the fixed gear, you need a fairly steep hill to challenge yourself into using more power. Same with the downhill – it has to be a real downhill that’s steep enough to get you spinning extra fast.

Well guess what – common sense says that if you’re on a geared bike, you can always get into a gear like that, no matter how flat or steep the terrain. You just have to shift differently than usual – into a bigger gear for climbs, and a smaller gear for descents.

So I can go ride a regular road bike and just shift into a bigger gear than I’d normally use for the hill in question. And I can keep the gear fairly low for the downhill, requiring me to spin the pedals at 140rpm.

Why buy a fixed gear when you can train like that on a geared bike? I don’t know.

The only thing left is that fixed gear forces you to pedal while geared bikes let you coast. But that is simply a replacement for motivation. If you’re motivated to train, you don’t need a fixed gear to force yourself to pedal.

If you don’t have the motivation to pedal your bicycle, then you need to rethink your racing goals. You have bigger problems than the type of bike you’re riding!

Now that that’s over, let’s go back to specificity. Let’s say you’re a road racer. You need to be highly skilled at riding your road bike at whatever cadence and pace the race course and other racers dictate. Chances are, the front racers won’t be doing 40rpm up the climbs and 140rpm on the descents. They also won’t be pedaling through the sharp bends on the downhills. So why would you purposefully do something completely different in training?

I really don’t care if you want to have some fun riding a singlespeed to reduce boredom. Sure, by all means, ride one. Or if you want to ride a fixed gear for your road training, I don’t mind. But if you think you are somehow getting better training than if you rode the geared bike you race on, I urge you to re-evaluate what you are doing.

Photo credit: gintacat

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5 Comments
  1. Dang right! hehe

  2. “Why buy a fixed gear when you can train like that on a geared bike? I don’t know.”

    Well then why are you riding an article supposedly making an argument that the geared bike is better than training?

    Honestly dude, I think you haven’t thought this through enough if your head can’t wrap around why a fixed-gear may be a good training tool for climbing. It seems as though you are submitting to confirmation bias, with how one-sided your articles are about fixed-gear bicycles.

    I have a road bike, a fixed gear bike, and a mountain bike. I have tons of experience with all of them and I am totally convinced the fixed-gear is an incredible training tool. So let me tell you why I think that is that way.

    Suppose you have a 4 mile climb ahead of you at a 4% grade. When I’m on the road bike, I will tend to simply adjust the gearing to maintain a high cadence. When I’m on the fixed-gear, I have no choice to adjust the gearing, but I still want to maintain a high cadence, so I will adjust MY POWER OUTPUT. This literally forces you to be more powerful.

    Going up a mountain pass with a 48/17 gear ratio for makes my leg muscles to become quite monstrous. It FORCES my engine to work. I don’t succumb to downshifting and pedaling light and fast, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pedal fast. After months of training, I could climb these passes with a fairly high cadence with that same gear ratio.

    Then when I transition to a road bike, I can be absolutely BALLISTIC on those same climbs. It feels SO, SO easy and there is so much more power on tap if I want to sprint up with monstrous power, because of all the training. Oh and by the way, it’s EXTREMELY easy to go from riding a fixed-gear to a road-bike, if one is familiar with both to begin with.

    So to me, there is absolutely no question that a fixed-gear bicycle has a very nice place for training. And for you to say “I don’t know” doesn’t really make you sound like a good coach. Or maybe you don’t have much personal experience with a fixed gear?

    I’m sorry but your argument came off as very one-sided.

  3. @Antranik

    Thanks for your comment. However, I already discussed this. Riding a fixed gear does nothing to improve your power output – it’s the harder training that results in improved power, and that is better accomplished on a geared bike.

    So, I still “don’t know” why anyone would want to use a fixed gear rather than a geared bike for road race training.

  4. How is the ability to downshift leading to a harder training?

  5. @Antranik

    Does the ability to downshift not also give you the ability to upshift?

    Plus, downshifting to ride easier means you can ride harder later, when it counts, hopefully eliminating junk miles so you can focus on proper training.

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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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