The case against fixies

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It’s time to face the facts: fixies are unsafe.  

Actually, let me rephrase that: riding a fixie in traffic is unsafe.  Especially without brakes.

I know this post will do nothing to endear me to any of the legion of fixed gear enthusiasts out there, particularly not after I already denounced their favorite pastime.  But it’s the truth.  Fixies belong on a track, not in traffic.

Riding fixed may give you more connection to your bike, improve your form, or let you go backwards and do sweet track stands, but it’s just not as safe as riding with a freewheel.  Here’s why.

First, brakes are super helpful for stopping yourself abruptly, which is absolutely crucial in city traffic.  Doors, red lights, jaywalkers, and suddenly turning cars can all provide ample reasons to decrease your speed as fast as possible. And while skilled riders might be able to stop a fixed gear bike on dry pavement as quickly as a freewheeler can, not all fixie riders have the necessary experience to do so in an emergency. It can be the difference between a crash and a close call.

Additionally, brakeless fixies leave you with no backup.  If your chain breaks as you’re heading for an intersection, for example, you may not have time to unclip from your pedals and drag a foot. I know it doesn’t happen every day, but it definitely happens, and the results are catastrophic.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, communication and predictability in traffic are essential for safe riding. When you’re coasting on a freewheel, your motionless legs communicate a simple message to pedestrians and to the rest of traffic: “I’m not adding to my speed.” 

Bikes don’t have brake lights or high beams to flash, but we do have an exposed engine.  It may not seem like much, but it’s information that drivers and other cyclists can use in predicting your intentions.

And why not give the rest of traffic as much information as you can?  When it comes to riding a bike in the city, wouldn’t you want to be as communicative and predictable you can be? It really is a question of life and death.

I understand that fixed gear riding is an important part of the cycling world.  I’m not trying to diminish the advantages of this approach in any way. In fact, as a single speed rider myself, I admire the extreme simplicity of a fixed gear (exceeded only by these guys).

However, fixie riders need to understand the risks they’re taking, especially those who take their brakeless track bikes from the velodrome to the bike lane.

It’s not that they’re inherently dangerous, it’s just that they have their place.  It’s at the track.

Yours,

Josh

IMG via flickr

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