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While there are a variety of cross-training activities and off-season training methods for cyclists, one popular approach is to spend some time on a single speed or fixed gear bicycle.

There is some debate about doing your off-season training using a single speed or fixed gear road bike because reasons vary, but the most common one is “to improve pedal stroke.” I’ll discuss this idea and others as I explain off-season training on single speed bicycles

What is a single speed?

A “single speed” is a bike with a single gear. It has one one chainring and a single cog or freewheel, and no derailleurs.

That means there’s no shifting. If you have to climb a hill, you muscle up it. On the downhill, you have to spin a fast cadence or coast.

What is a fixed gear?

A “fixed gear” bike is similar to a single speed because it only has one gear, but it goes one step further: the whole drivetrain is “fixed” together. As in, if the wheels move forward, the pedals move forward. If the wheels move backward, the pedals move backward.

Sometimes these are referred to as track bikes, because track racers do use fixed gear bikes. But there are fixed gears for general road use, if you wish.

(All track bikes are fixed gear bikes, but not all fixed gear bikes are track bikes. All fixed gear bikes are single speed bikes, but not all single speed bikes are fixed gear bikes.)

Two Reasons To Ride a Single Speed

Here are the two reasons to use one of these single speed bikes for off-season riding:

1. Easier to maintain through bad weather.

Maintaining any bicycle is tough when you ride in wet, nasty weather. But the most time-consuming task is dealing with the drivetrain.

With just one gear, a single speed’s drivetrain is simplified. There are no derailleurs or shifters, and no cables. There is just one ring, one cog, and the chain.

You will no longer have to deal with gunk on the cables, frozen derailleurs, grit between cassette cogs, etc.

(That’s my favorite reason for riding a single speed!)

2. It’s a fun way to switch things up and avoid boredom.

If you’re like me, you probably get bored riding the same bike all the time. So ride a different one!

Like riding your usual routes in reverse, having only one gear presents new challenges. You can’t just spin up steep hills like usual, you have to stand and mash the pedals.

Going downhill, spinning faster is the only way to go faster.

Riding a single speed will force you to learn more about momentum and use various cadences. In general, it’s lots of fun.

No special training plans are required, either – just go out and ride like normal. The only difference is the bike.

* Both those benefits come from either a singlespeed or fixed gear, so either one is fine. I’d recommend a singlespeed though. They’re more versatile, easier to use, and safer for inexperienced riders.

But what about improving your pedal stroke?

You might have been expecting a reason #3 to be “improved pedal stroke.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but neither a singlespeed nor fixed gear bike will improve your pedal stroke. That is simply a myth, based on flawed logic.

Click here for my explanation of why fixed gear bikes do not improve pedal stroke.

single speed bike

Getting your first single speed.

Want a cheap singlespeed to try it out?

The first option is to ride your regular road bike, but don’t shift! Pick a gear like 39×14 or 39×15, whatever fits your terrain. (If there are hills, use the biggest gear that you can push on the climbs, or the rest of the ride will be too slow.)

You don’t get the “ease of maintenance” or durability benefits, but trying that once or twice before buying a singlespeed is a good idea.

But if you want to take the plunge, singlespeeds are relatively inexpensive. You could probably find an older one on Craigslist, but if not, they’re only $200-400 brand new from places like Performance Bicycle, BikesDirect.com, or even Amazon.

So grab a single speed and have some fun this off-season!

Photo credits: erokCom | erokCom

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1 Comment
  1. Good article and good advice. I particularly think the suggestion to try riding only one gear on a geared bike first is a great idea!

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