Bike Forums

Bike Forums (
-   Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling (
-   -   Training for Your First Fixed-Gear Century (

The Octopus 12-05-11 11:58 AM

Training for Your First Fixed-Gear Century
I wrote this a while ago for an audience that has less long riding experience than many people here so parts of it might seem too basic. The fixed-gear aspects, though, I thought could be useful to some. Comments and feedback welcome.

You can find lots of advice on the internet and in cycling magazines about training for and riding your first century. Most of it isn't very good (more on that later). And almost none of it addresses issues unique to tackling your first century on a fixed-gear bike. This this post attempts to fill that gap.

My record-keeping isn't perfect, but I've done at least 182 centuries since 2004. 37 of them have been on fixed-gear bikes, so I know a few things about riding 100 miles -- most of it learned the hard way. Here are some tips and strategies for making your first fixed century as fun and smooth as possible:

First, most of the tips that apply to "riding your first century" that you can find elsewhere apply to fixed riders, too. Search out some of those articles and read them.

Ok, now that you've done that, here's my thoughts on what you just read.

I think most "first century" training plans are crap. Here's the Word:

If you are in reasonable shape and riding a bike that fits you and is in good order, then you will most likely complete your first century, and have fun doing it, if in the two months before your century you have a total ride volume of 400 miles and successfully complete a "long ride" of 65 miles over similar terrain in the same weather that you'll be riding your first century in.

That's it. That's all. Thousands of pages of cycling advice can be distilled down into that one statement. And that statement is true whether you're riding those miles on a geared bike or a fixed-gear. It doesn't matter what the bike is, as long as you check all the boxes in the statement above riding that same bike.

Most of that statement is uncontroversial, but there are two aspects of it that depart from what you probably read elsewhere. First, you don't need huge training volume. There are training programs out there that call for laying down 1000 miles in building up to your first century. On one level, it's true that the more volume you have, the better conditioned and experienced you'll be and therefore the more likely you'll successfully complete the ride.

Big volume has drawbacks, though. You run the risk of an over-use injury. You run the risk of burning out. And getting wrapped up in some big-mileage training program builds anxiety about your century ride. You absolutely want to avoid the guilt of, "Oh, snap! I needed to ride today and I didn't so now I'm behind on my miles...." That mental stuff can be a real impediment to successfully completing a long ride. So, ride big miles because you want to (if you want to), not because they're part of some training program. I've seen a 60-year-old fat guy on a cheap hybrid bike complete his first century using my program. The smile on his face at the end of it was awesome. If he can do it, you can, too. (That guy is now 63, no longer fat, rides a sweet full-carbon bike, and has done many more centuries!)

The second departure I make from traditional wisdom is on the "long ride." I've seen a program that would have you build mileage up to a 90-mile ride before your first century. That's too much. Of course you can ride 100 miles if you successfully ride 90. Duh! I'm a big fan of the "50% Rule": You can always ride 50% farther than your longest ride ever. So as long as you have the 400 miles, and so long as your 65-mile ride fairly represents the same conditions you expect on your century, then you'll be fine.

Ok. With all that out of the way, here's the goods on riding fixed:

Things are going to hurt, and they're going to hurt more on a fixed-gear than if you were riding something with a freewheel. You cannot rest easily on a fixed-gear bike. So, things that contact the bike -- hands, feet, butt -- need to be managed more carefully to ensure you stay comfortable. Forget about how tough you are and how you can "ride through the pain." That's b.s. I'll guarantee you plenty of pain. You'll be sore and tired. This stuff I'm talking about here is ride-ending. And if you mess around, you can even do permanent damage to your body. Here's what you need to get sorted out:

Hands. Many fixed-gear riders prefer handlebars setups that don't give you a lot of hand positions. And this isn't just about your hands. Where your hands are placed is going to affect where you are on the saddle, your hip angle, how you're using those leg muscles, the angle you're holding your head at -- everything. Road-style bars with hoods and aerobars give you optimal different hand positions. Now that's not necessary. And many of you fixed-gear riders could never stomach the aesthetic of that setup. But, do whatever you can to give yourself as many hand positions as possible. And use them. Use them long before your hands (or anything else) start to hurt. Preemptively switch your position every few minutes from the start of the ride and you'll be happy and comfortable.

Butt. There are contrarians out there, but you'll be happiest in the saddle if you get some cycling shorts with a chamois in them. If it dings your image, wear something over them. Never, ever, wear anything under cycling shorts. Ladies, you too. They don't function as intended unless you're going commando. Cycling shorts wick moisture away from your body, they protect sensitive areas from getting banged up, and they prevent chafing. Worth. Their. Weight. In. Gold.

Hipsters should adjust the nose on their bike saddle. A Brooks is supposed to be comfortable, so don't point the nose of it at the sky. Your saddle should support you on your sit-bones. Adjust it until it does.

Even with proper gear and setup, the butt is where riding distance fixed kills you, especially in flat terrain. If it's flat, then you're going to be stuck in the same narrow band of cadences for the whole ride. All that sameness equals soreness. Like with your hands, it's all about prevention. Stand up and stretch out every few miles, and start doing this well before you're sore. Feather one of your brakes to create resistance (mimicking shifting into a higher gear when you're standing up to stretch on a geared bike), which will help you stretch your butt, back, and leg muscles. Use those different hand positions to put you on different parts of your butt. Nothing is worse than riding along forever on the tops or hoods -- your butt will be killing you. Spend some quality time in the drops (which puts you on the nose of your saddle) to give your butt a break.

Feet. If you get the hot foot, things are tougher riding fixed. You really can't pull a foot out and shake it about or stretch while continuing to ride. Dangerous. Dumb. Keep in mind that on a long ride, especially when it's hot out, your feet are going to swell. If your shoes are snug at the start, you might be in for some real foot pain before your ride's over. Your best bet, especially when you get deep into the ride, is to stop for a minute and stretch out. Take your shoes off and give your feet a breather. Your body will thank you. And even 60 seconds off the bike makes a huge difference in your comfort (which makes a huge difference in your mindset!).

Knees. Knee pain is usually indicative of one of two things when riding long distance on a fixed-gear bike. Either you're pushing too big a gear (see below), or you're not fit properly. Get the fit figured out when you're riding your 400 miles. You should have NO knee pain when riding distance fixed. Knee pain not part of the deal.

Achilles tendon pain. Your saddle is too high. Lower it. It doesn't take much. Even dropping it 1cm can make this problem go away. The tendon gets inflamed because it's getting stretched out too much, 80 or 100 times a minute. You might not notice this one until you're far into your ride. Drop the saddle down as soon as you notice the problem. The pain should disappear pretty much instantly.

The other usual suspects are your neck and back. Prevent a lot of neck pain by moving your head around a lot when you ride. Don't just stare off down the road. Do that for 8 hours and -- duh! -- your neck will be sore. Back pain is either poor posture on the bike or a lack of proper fitting (or an issue that has nothing to do with cycling). Get both resolved before your century. Remember to do some core-strengthening exercises as part of your general fitness routine and your back and neck and upper body will thank you.

Carrying stuff. Lots of fixed gears aren't drilled for bottle cages. And if you're not wearing a cycling-specific jersey, you're going to have issues with where you put all your stuff (at a bare minimum: ID, money, tools and materials for fixing a flat). Courier bags or Camelbaks work fine for some. I don't find them comfortable for long distances. Whatever your solutions for schlepping your stuff, get it dialed in during your 400 miles.

Gearing. Better too low than too high. "Too high" means roughing up your knees, trashing your quads, cramping, and potentially not finishing your ride. Worst-case scenario with "too low" is you finish but you could have finished faster than you did. That ain't no big deal. You just rode 100 miles on a fixed gear. Off to the bar with ye for proper celebration!

When selecting a gear, take into consideration both the terrain and the weather. Wind can be a bigger deal than hills. And wind/hills that appear at mile 10 are different than wind/hills at mile 90. Experiment to find what works best for you. Most people I know who have done fixed centuries (and much longer rides) ride something between 65 and 75 gear inches. I did a century in 49x14 once, but I wouldn't recommend that. A good gear for cruising casually around town is usually a good gear for riding 100 miles.

Pacing and goal-setting. Most people who fail to finish centuries have training and preparation that is fine. They just mess up the ride by going way too fast or by not getting enough calories or water on board.

For your first century, you have only one goal, and that's to finish it. Forget about how fast you're going, what your average is, how fast your friend did her first century... that's all b.s. Ask yourself, can I put out this effort all day? If the answer is "No," then slow down. Stop before you need to to hydrate, eat, and stretch out. Forget about how long it takes. Just finish the ride. You just rode a century on a fixed-gear bike, which is something that the vast majority of cyclists will never, ever do. They'll tell you it's impossible. They'll tell you you're a stud. Not a one of them is going to care whether you did it in 6 hours or 10. Would you rather ride it in 10 and finish, or try to ride it in 6 and not finish? Take the finish. Start the party. After you get the first one under your belt then you can set about figuring out how to do later ones faster. But just finish the first one.

Chose your terrain/route wisely. On a fixed-gear, dead-flat routes are tougher than routes with some rolling terrain on them. Really. Like, flat is a lot tougher. A lot. A route that gets you a variety of terrain will get you a variety of cadences and some opportunities to get up out of the saddle. You don't need anything wacky-wacky, but just don't think you're doing yourself a favor by intentionally selecting a flat route. It's tougher on every part of your body.

So how hard is it, really, to ride a century fixed? Tougher than a geared bike, for sure. But not as tough as most people think. It's one of those rare things in life that looks and sounds way more bad-*** than it really is. So, get out there, get training and see you on the road!

Rowan 12-06-11 12:51 AM

A fine read, Octopus. Well done.

Several things:

Fixed riders will experience much higher cadences on hills, and there is a need to experiment with this on the prelim 400 miles. In particular, a rider needs to ensure bike fit/saddle height is such as the hips don't rock at all when pedalling. If they do, even a little, the action is exacerbated at high cadence. There's also the body's unique "harmonic frequency" that the rider either should remain under or above -- I can't remember, but IIRC it's around 120rpm, and that's when it can be a bit disconcerting as everything jiggles out of control.

Practising the transition from sitting to standing and from standing to sitting also will become useful to help prevent struggling to maintain momentum (or stay upright!) in the first instance, and butt-slap in the second.

You might also mention a little about the need to consider crank length and BB height, or at least checking on the prelim 400 miles that the cranks aren't going to hit the road when cornering.

The rehydration point is vital, but there are some people who cannot take their water bottle from its cage while pedalling. Again, it's an acquired skill that needs practice, but to not learn it and wait until the rider stops could result in unintended dehydration issues.

I don't know if it's worth emphasising the need for at least a front brake. I think you are able to moderate downhill speeds with your legs; I can but I do so reluctantly to preserve my legs, and use my brakes instead. This also comes in handy to moderate cadence on steeper downhills.

Oh, and it might be worth pointing out that there is no shame in walking on hills that are too steep to pedal up. Some people get a bit uptight about the notion of "failure" if they have to get off and walk.

I can't think I anymore right now.

The Octopus 12-06-11 08:35 AM

Rowan nailed some important issues. A few thoughts on them, in addition to his excellent points:


Originally Posted by Rowan (Post 13568488)
Fixed riders will experience much higher cadences on hills, and there is a need to experiment with this on the prelim 400 miles. In particular, a rider needs to ensure bike fit/saddle height is such as the hips don't rock at all when pedalling. If they do, even a little, the action is exacerbated at high cadence. There's also the body's unique "harmonic frequency" that the rider either should remain under or above -- I can't remember, but IIRC it's around 120rpm, and that's when it can be a bit disconcerting as everything jiggles out of control.

I run my saddle a bit lower on my fixed bicycles than on my geared ones. The slightly lower saddle helps me to get my legs and feet around quicker on those descents, which keeps my upper body quiet. It also prevents that hip rocking deal.

I think descending on a fixed gear is all about two things: (1) keeping your upper body relaxed and quiet and (2) staying ever so slightly ahead of the cadence youíd be at were gravity to just take you down the hill (which, youíll find, keeps your upper body quiet). You actually want to pressure the pedals a bit. Ride the bike, donít let the bike ride you.

As you gain experience, the cadence youíre able to turn over will increase. Take things gradually.


Practising the transition from sitting to standing and from standing to sitting also will become useful to help prevent struggling to maintain momentum (or stay upright!) in the first instance, and butt-slap in the second.
Modern cycling technique for climbing is to remain seated for as long as possible. Climbing from the seated position is more efficient than standing. I violate the heck out of this rule when riding a fixed gear bike.

When one stands, by choice or necessity, is going to be driven mainly by the riderís fitness, gearing, length of the climb, and its characteristics (grade, whether you get any rest mid-climb, and the quality of the pavement). I find standing gives me some much needed rest and time out of the saddle. I can use my body weight to drive the pedals and stretch out my legs and back. Rest is rare on a FG bike, so Iíll take it when I can get it!

Proper climbing technique, especially on a FG bicycle, is a whole Ďnother thread topic, but your takeaway is this: when climbing on a long ride, especially on a fixed gear bike, your goal is one thing only, and that is to NOT go anaerobic. You want to do whatever you can to keep your heart rate as low as possible, for as long as possible on the climb. I accomplish this by slowing way down as I start up the hill, I stand up, and I pick a cadence that will hopefully get me all the way up without having to alter it. Steady is your friend. If I have to, Iíll shoe-lace or tack to get up the hill. There have been several hills/mountains Iíve had to stop on so I could get my heart rate down. Totally valid, as is going for a little walk.

Donít worry about your Ďmates riding off and dropping you on the climb. If youíre a lousy climber, riding in lumpy terrain on a fixed-gear bike will quickly whip you into shape. Youíll also find, no matter your climbing prowess, that trying to stay on top of your gear, even at a very low cadence, will keep you moving along at a very good clip. I find that most FG distance riders are fine on the ascents. Itís the descents where we tend to get dropped!


You might also mention a little about the need to consider crank length and BB height, or at least checking on the prelim 400 miles that the cranks aren't going to hit the road when cornering.
Great point. Pedal strike is a real issue when riding fixed. I ride the same length cranks as on my road bikes, but some prefer shorter cranks. Be mindful that many FG bikes come stock with 165s because thatís a common length for track events. But just because it makes sense in a 1km TT on a velodrome doesnít mean it makes sense on your fixed-gear century. Pick a crank length suitable for your riding style and body geometry.

Also, if youíre riding in groups, be especially careful cornering. The line you want through the turn is probably different that the lines riders with freewheels will take. Donít get crossed up with other riders.


I don't know if it's worth emphasising the need for at least a front brake. I think you are able to moderate downhill speeds with your legs; I can but I do so reluctantly to preserve my legs, and use my brakes instead. This also comes in handy to moderate cadence on steeper downhills.
Amen. Brakes, brakes, brakes. Youíre not on a track. And God didnít make your legs for stopping bicycles. I run two brakes and Iíll feather them the descents to ditch speed and keep my cadence reasonable. Those ludicrous cadences will impress your friends, but they do take a toll, especially on long rides. Another benefit to dual brakes is that youíll get the brake hoods to use as a hand position.


Oh, and it might be worth pointing out that there is no shame in walking on hills that are too steep to pedal up. Some people get a bit uptight about the notion of "failure" if they have to get off and walk.
Walking is definitely not shameful or a failure. Youíre still moving down the road, which in my book is success. Rather walk and finish than not walk and DNF.

One problem on a FG is gravely pavement. Youíll see some pitches that are too steep to remain seated on but that, if you stand, youíll spin out the rear wheel (because you unweighted it). This is totally frustrating, but thereís nothing for it but to hop off and walk when that happens.

spazzkid 12-06-11 04:36 PM

I was hoping to do my first metric century next year and all of these are totally helpful. Thank you so much!

greaterbrown 12-06-11 04:59 PM

Love this. Thank you Octo.
Rode my first fixed century a couple months back and at the end, I just wanted more.

homebrewk 12-08-11 05:45 PM

This is really great!

byrnemm 12-08-11 09:48 PM

Thanks for the awesome post and all the great replies! I feel more prepared to take on the 12 metric challenge in the SS/FG forum. Now about the weather...

INOX NYC 12-10-11 11:21 PM

Thanx Octo. I've been poking around online preparing for my first and it's been getting wayyyyy over complicated. I was starting to get psyched out. Now I can breathe again. I can do this.

bikenh 12-11-11 07:14 PM

One thing I would suggest to change in your wording Octo, back pain can be caused by more than what you suggest, even stuff that is directly riding related. I can get back pain very easily by not drinking enough. The first signs of dehydration for me is lower back pain. I know it's actually the kidneys rebelling but I feel it as lower back pain. I suck down a liter of water and the problem is gone in no time.

One stupid question I have though. When I was a kid I used to ride a ??? bike. I see everyone here on the forums always intertwining the terms FG and SS together. By reading what you have written Octo I tend to think they are actually two completely different beasts. I used to ride a single speed bike as a kid before I switched over to the front freewheel bike, where you could change gears even while coasting because the chainring never stopped moving. It kept moving even when you stopped pedalling.

I think I'm tending to understand what you've written, FG is where the pedals move anytime the wheels are moving??? Am I understanding that one correctly? If so, yeah that could make a lot of things interesting. Do 100 miles on a bike like that...definitely takes a bit of getting used to after riding a freewheel bike for eons.

byrnemm 12-11-11 08:50 PM


Originally Posted by bikenh (Post 13589650)
I think I'm tending to understand what you've written, FG is where the pedals move anytime the wheels are moving??? Am I understanding that one correctly?


The Octopus 12-12-11 08:16 AM

1. On a fixed-gear bike, if the wheel that's being driven by the chain is turning, then the pedals are turning. True in either direction. The cog is "fixed" to the hub. If the hub is turning, then so is the cog, the chain, the pedals, ... you get the idea.

2. A singlespeed is a bike with only one gear (i.e., one chain ring and one cog).

3. Here's where it gets tricky: Most fixed-gear bikes are singlespeeds. But not all of them. You can have dingle cogs and various other such contraptions that let you run a fixed hub with multiple gears on it. And if your hub is threaded on the non-drive side, you can put a different cog on there and then flip the wheel around to run the second gear.

4. Even more trickiness: Singlespeeds, in the way in which that term is used in common parlance in the United States, are not fixed-gear bicycles. Calling something a singlespeed usually means that it has only one gear AND a freewheel hub. Similarly, if you hear "fixed gear," what most people (again, at least in the U.S.) mean is that the bike has only one gear and that gear is fixed to the hub.

5. What's it all mean? My $0.02 is that riding a SS distance is considerably easier than riding a FG. However, ascending a hill -- especially a very steep one -- is actually easier on a FG. On a FG, the bike will help put the next pedal in position because it's rolling every so slightly forward. You get a slight bit of rest there and, believe me, every little bit helps when climbing a whacky pitch when you're severely over-geared. On a single speed, you've got to put that pedal into position. You can rest, but the pedal will not move forward without you doing the work.

bikenh 12-14-11 09:00 AM

The one thing you don't mention though is the exact opposite side of the equation. The downhill. I could easily see the need for some darn good brakes or your going to blow your legs to pieces if you are riding in the hills/mountains on a FG bike. You have the lower gear for climbing and then the same low gear is trying to force you to spin at insane rpms coming down the mountain. It's not as bad in the summer months as it is in the winter months since you can easily ride a higher gear in the summer months and get away with it.

It would be interesting to try and see how much I could cuss myself out for being crazy enough to try it. I saw someone this summer that was riding one of the two. I didn't know enough at the time to pay attention to be able to recoginize if he was on FG or SS. I wasn't quite prepared to see anyone even out riding either or...unless it was at a track somewhere, but I guess he does it all the time.

The Octopus 12-14-11 02:06 PM


Originally Posted by bikenh (Post 13600082)
The one thing you don't mention though is the exact opposite side of the equation. The downhill.

Downhill can be very difficult (and dangerous) on a fixed-gear (and is conversely a breeze and a lot of fun on a single-speed or any other bicycle with a freewheel hub).

You'll want to pick a gear that lets you climb but that also permits you to descend in some reasonable comfort. You're really looking for what I call the "Goldilocks Gear" -- not too big, not too small. Too big, you can't go up. To small and you can't go down.


I could easily see the need for some darn good brakes or your going to blow your legs to pieces if you are riding in the hills/mountains on a FG bike.
When I've been in the midst of descending some huge mountains on a fixed gear, I thought every time that what I wanted was a drag brake. :)

I run both front and rear brakes (levers with hoods; no suicide or TT set ups!) and even then descending is challenging. Gravity wants to take the bike, and you, downhill and FAST! The act of braking puts a huge amount of pressure onto your hands and, especially on a long ride, they can get very sore and you can even risk nerve damage. I had some pretty good ulnar nerve tingling for a few weeks following the Gold Rush, which is an easy 1200K, but which involved an awful 70-mile descent out of the Sierra Nevada. Your hands (and back and shoulders and arms) will also get beat up on those big mountain descents. On top of that, you've got to manage the braking so that you don't heat the rims up too much (which will blow up your tube and especially on a front-tire blow-out, likely cause an uncontrolled fall at speed -- very bad!).

And all of this is before you even get to the issue of cadence. In my experience, the cadence you can maintain is a funciton of how long you've got to maintain it. Each person's "numbers" will be different than mine, but getting much above 100 starts to be work. It's not comfortable for long periods and I'm drawing on my cardiovascular reserves and I'm wearing out my legs in triple-digit cadences. On long -- 4000+ foot descents -- I try to keep things down to 120 or 130. But my "personal best" on short, sharp descents is 187rpm (which was good for just under 45mph in the gear I was in). Sort of like selecting a gear, you've got to select a cadence based on how long you have to maintain it and you want to pick one that's going to spread the pain around between your legs and your hands and upper body. Too much braking and you're upper body will be destroyed. Too little, and you're legs will be (plus you'll have a much higer HR, which isn't good either!).

I have also found that the more I ride fixed, the wider the range of cadences that I can maintain comfortably becomes. I can stay seated now on climbs that would have brought me out of the saddle in years' past. And I can spin a lot faster than I could when I began riding fixed. I remember on the Gold Rush in '09 -- my first fixed 1200 -- another fixed rider in a lower gear than me put me out of sight on the descent of the Jarbo Gap. I couldn't believe how fast that guy could spin! I'd be able to stay with him now. ;)

re: "braking" with your legs. The only time I ever use backpressure on the pedals for speed control is in a paceline. I never do it on descents. I like my knees (and my teeth). Replacing brake pads is cheaper than body parts. And don't skip- or skid-stop. It's fine for hipsters riding to the bar or in Alleycats, but it's destructive to you and your equipment. Riding distance fixed is tough enough on your body and your bike without skidding all over God's creation.....

Although experience will increase your "comfortable cadence range," so too will two other critical things that you should work on when descending. First, you've got to keep your upper body totally relaxed and loose and quiet. The moment you tense up or -- worse -- start to have any bounce in your upper body, it's all over. You're in the drops, your eyes are gazing way off down the road, and your mind is totally clear. You are NOT thinking about pedaling a bicycle. Your grip on the bars is super light. At silly cadences, this is a wonderful Zen-like experience. The moment you think you're going to lose that inner calm and peace, though, grab two fist-fulls of brake and shut it down.

The second element, related to the first, is that you're staying ahead of what gravity alone would do to the bike. You're pressuring the pedals. Even if you're braking, you're pressuring the pedals. This may sound a bit silly, but it's critical to keeping your upper body quiet. Finding the perfect cadence that would let you spin down the mountain at zero watts of output (as if you were coasting on a freewheel bike) is just about impossible. If you're looking for that, you're most likely going to be behind, negatively pressuring the pedals slightly. You're going to blow apart if that happens. Instead, descend the mountain or hill on your terms, not gravity's terms. Pick a cadence and a pressure and then keep those constant. Adjust your braking -- not your pressure on the pedals -- to keep it constant and you'll be solid and steady and in control (and not wear yourself out).

A final thought on big climbs and descents on FG bikes. If you're riding an event or on a big landmark climb, you need to plan some crowd control into your ride. If you might need to tack to get up a hill, do you have the pavement availble to do it, or are there riders and autos all over the place? If you've ever been frustrated on a geared bike on a climb that's crowded with cyclists walking and weaving all over the place, or with cars trying to pass clumps of riders and taking up all the pavement, take that feeling and multiply it by a thousand and it's what could happen to you on a climb on a FG bike. When climbing something that's crowded, you've really got to be looking up the road and trying to figure out your "line" and where people are going to be and how you're going to get through everyone safely (for you and them). Altering your cadence on a climb is a lot of work; you want to do it as little as possible!

Descending is even trickier, especially on an epic mountain that has a lot of tourists in cars and other cyclists on it. You need to focus on where you are, where you're going to be, how you can go through the switchbacks (remember pedal strike!)... all in the context of interacting with other riders and vehicles. I started my fixed-gear climbs of Mount Ventoux at about 4am for a lot of reasons, but one toward the top of the list was so that I could have a clear road -- no one descending when I was climbing -- to work with on the steepest pitch. Another fixed rider and I did the same thing on the Gold Rush, so that we could get up the dreaded Janesville Grade ahead of everyone else leaving Susanville on the last day of the ride without being in their way or them being in our way.

Apologies for the length of all this. Not a lot of people do long rides (or big climbs) fixed. And even fewer people write about it. I learned most of this the hard way, so I'm just trying to short-circuit the process for y'all and pay it forward a bit here....

bikenh 12-14-11 10:08 PM

I will say thanks. I don't know if I would ever try FG or not. I had/ve thought about doing SS this winter.

One thought I will add into what you said about climbing. Back around the first day of fall I was on what would end up being a 123 mile day. The day was longer than I expected distance wise because of a goof I made in following road sign versus my own intuition plus I decided I wanted to see some new countryside as well. I kept increasing the distance since I was feeling good anyways and had the daylight. Toward the end a thought hit me that another biker brought up just a few days earlier. I had made mention to him about how smooth he was climbing. He said mountain biking helped him to learn to climb better. Since you can't stand up to climb when mountain biking or you risk spinning out you have to just grind through it and at times you are pedalling as slow as 10-15 rpms. The discussion got me to thinking. I knew I had the climbs to get me back home coming up and I said "the heck with it...I'm feeling too good so why not." I decided to shift to a 53x15 and ride the rest of the ride home seated all the way and I wasn't changing gears. Normally I MIGHT try the first of the four or five climbs to get home in a 53x15 but I would be standing to do it. I knew I had times in the past where I was climbing, both intentionally and unintentionally and only doing 40 maybe 50 rpm at the best. I stuck to the game plan and I remember one of the climbs I was barely doing 30 rpm going up the climb but I didn't back down. I stayed in the 53x15 the whole way and remained seated the whole way. It can be a good way to simulate mountain biking and by the way you making it sound to also help with FG riding.

If it wasn't for the extra risk of blowing knees or anything like that right now thanks to the colder weather/extra clothing, etc I would probably spend most of the this winter riding that way. Just working on the finesse(sp?) of climbing with strength versus gears. Granted I'm not even riding in the big chain ring anymore. I haven't touched it for the past several weeks now. I feel like such a whimp. It truly amazing how much of a difference you notice in speed and ability once the temps turn colder.

Rowan 12-15-11 12:31 AM

Read everything the Octopus says, then reread it, because it reflects my experiences, it's articulated extremely well, and it is, simply put, true.

There are things there that I don't usually think about, but keeping pressure on the pedals at high cadences is one, and a little secret that most people don't know about. Otherwise, the bike and pedals will take over, and that is when things can get very hairy or dangerous.

So those brakes are important. You need to ensure you have beefy walls on your rims, good quality brake pads, and good mechanical advantage between the levers and brakes.

My fixed gear, which is currently in pieces, had ordinary aero levers on bullhorn handlebars, the levers pointing backwards and the hood pointing out the front. The real advantage for me on this set-up was that I could squeeze away to my heart's content without major issues with my hands.

I've got some TT levers to go on, but I haven't used them to see if the mechanical advantage issues are there, and whether they are in fact comfortable.

Paraleisure 12-21-11 02:39 PM

Hey Octopus, thanks for the write up. I've done a lot of long rides but never on a fixed gear. I'm thinking about trying some SF rando brevets (200k and 300k) on a fixed gear this year, and your tips are very helpful. I'm doing an 85 mile hilly fixed gear ride next Monday, after which I'll have a better idea about whether it's possible.

Do you have any tips for small riders? The hardest part of riding a fixed gear uphill for me is losing power. I weight 125 lbs and I normally climb fast but spinning a high cadence, around 70+ rpm. I find it challenging to stay on top of a gear like 42x16 on steeper climbs, I kind of bog down and go anaerobic from the muscle strain. I don't have huge leg muscles like other long distance fixed riders I've seen. Any tips are appreciated. Thanks!

The Octopus 12-28-11 09:38 AM


Originally Posted by Paraleisure (Post 13625955)
Do you have any tips for small riders? The hardest part of riding a fixed gear uphill for me is losing power. I weight 125 lbs and I normally climb fast but spinning a high cadence, around 70+ rpm. I find it challenging to stay on top of a gear like 42x16 on steeper climbs, I kind of bog down and go anaerobic from the muscle strain. I don't have huge leg muscles like other long distance fixed riders I've seen. Any tips are appreciated. Thanks!


I'm 165#, which puts me on the small side, too, but there's a lot of real estate between 125# and 165#....

I was thinking that you could try longer crank arms, which would help a bit with steeper climbs, but longer crank arms are contraindicated for smaller riders (I'm assuming your height and weight are in proportion) . You might gain some slight advantage while climbing but you'll be at a disadvantage descending and on the flats, which is probably where most of your time is spent.

Other than trying gears with less rollout and trying to find one that's a better compromise between "up" and "down," the only other thing I can think of is to adjust your climbing technique so that you're out of the saddle more and using a lower cadence, and your body weight, to drive the gear.

I'll add that the shorter riders I know tend to spin quite a bit more than the taller riders. I know a guy who can hit 200+ rpm; he's probably all of 5'2" tall. It's easier to get those shorter legs around than longer ones. If you're a shorter rider, you might be able to run lower gears in general than a taller rider with an equal power-to-weight ratio.

Sorry I couldn't be more help here. Hope your ride on Monday went well!

Carbonfiberboy 12-28-11 10:14 AM

I'd add that IME lighter riders are usually better out of the saddle than heavier riders. It doesn't take leg strength to turn the pedals when up, it takes leg endurance. This can only be cultivated by spending a lot of time up. It's a lot easier to turn the pedals standing on a fixie than geared, so just do it a lot. It takes time to get this sort of endurance, though. Doesn't come overnight.

You can also do the opposite: learn to grind better. I recommend spending time on the trainer doing one legged intervals on a freewheel bike, keeping the chain tight. Then on the fixie, work on what you've learned about keeping a leg on it all the way around, not accelerating on the downstroke. Grinding is about increasing the strength of little-used muscles, and of course also their endurance. What I'm saying is learn to pedal slower when grinding by powering all the way around. 30 rpm is completely reasonable. Just slow it down, keep your upper body still, and keep pressure on the pedals.

So try standing on the shorter hills, like 10 minuters, and grind up the passes with out of the saddle breaks.

sam83 01-04-12 09:47 PM

I've done several fixed-gear centuries as well as a 7-day, 500-mile tour. This thread deserves a sticky.

spazzkid 01-05-12 12:10 PM


Originally Posted by sam83 (Post 13678074)
I've done several fixed-gear centuries as well as a 7-day, 500-mile tour. This thread deserves a sticky.


lhbernhardt 01-06-12 05:45 PM

Just wanted to chime in here. I've been riding fixed since the early 70's when I used it for winter training. Now that I'm no longer racing, I ride fixed all the time (I put over 20,000 km on my Rodriguez fixie in 2011). Also rode PBP last year on fixed, and last month drove to the SF Bay Area & climbed Mt. Tam & Mt. Hamilton, all fixed.

Fixed gear bikes have a slightly different performance envelope than geared or s/s bikes. As has been stated, a fixie is actually easier to pedal because the cranks automatically go over top-dead-center, the point where minimal foot pressure is applied to the cranks. For this reason, you'll find that if you ride with others who are on freewheels, you can carry speed further up hills before you bog down, but then you REALLY bog down if the hill is a bit too steep. I find I am totally maxed out on an 18% grade in 42x16 or 44x17.

For long distances, I find that a fixie keeps you fresher, especially if you're on a steel frame. You're forced to spin the relatively small gear, so you don't waste a lot of energy pushing bigger gears, which you pay for later.

You need to have really good out-of-saddle technique for climbing. My rule of thumb is to straighten the pushing leg before the crank hits 3 o'clock. This way, you use your body weight to drive the pedal, and you are actually "resting" on skeletal structure as you climb. If your driving leg is bent, you are using your muscles (instead of your bones) to hold you up. This can get tiring over an extended climb. Climbing & sprinting out of the saddle require different techniques!

In the rain, I prefer using the shorter "race blade" fenders. This lets you dust the back tire as you ride. On a freewheel, you can use full fenders and just reach down below the bottom bracket to dust the back tire.

Fixed gears are at a disadvantage on descents, and in tailwinds with a group. On winding descents, you can't properly let the bike "take a set" on the turns (especially bumpy ones), and you have to be judicious with your braking. I suggest reading about the "traction circle" and cornering accordingly.

Anyway, that's all I can think of to add for now. I like the article & the rest of the advice, thanks!


sam83 01-07-12 09:57 PM

It keeps getting better! There are a number of us crazy fixed distance riders here that can use this information. Please stick this thread!

buelito 03-25-12 04:31 PM

As another older rider who came to fixed gear bikes later in life (I've been riding fixed for 8 years--started at age 49), I have a couple of small things to add-- on long climbs, break it up into smaller segments. In 2007 I did Ride the Rockies fixed. It included a non-scheduled ride up to the Maroon Bells from Aspen (A GREAT ride-- beautiful scenery--well worth the effort to get up there). The following days the ride was from Aspen to Leadvelle, over Independence Pass-- a 22 mile hill. Being an organized ride, they had aid stations about every 5-6 miles on that uphill. My goal was just to get to the next one without stopping. At the aid station it was use the bathroom if necessary, grab a banana, refill the water bottle and get back on the bike. Did not want the legs to cool off. The top was spectacular! The ride down, as has been stated above, was tough. I had dual brakes as well, which made things better, but I was spinning like crazy all the way down. My top speed was about 37 mph, whcih on a fixed gear is way TOO FAST. I was much more comfortable around 30. My arms hurt too, from using the brakes.

On short hills, remember that momentum is your friend, so pick up the pace slightly as you lead into the hill, and that will help you get up the hill more smoothly.

Another point for those of you doing a fixed century for the first time-- find someone to do it with. My first was with a buddy of mine who also had a fixed gear bike. We decided on a Wednesday to do the Reston Century in Northern Virginnia the following Sunday. Riding together made it easier, and was great motivation--especially on the hills. I remember being slightly ahead of Dave on the worst hill on the course and commenting that this was the earliest I had ever stood up on this hill-- he laughed and said he was already standing. It was also one of those hills where each of us was going to keep going as long as the other was still riding-- neither one of us wanted to be the first to stop and walk--afterwards, we both commented that if we had been alone we probably would have walked a bit on that hill.

My hat is off to you guys that have done 1200 k rides fixed... when I grow up...:)

thanks for the post- it was good to see others out there doing what I enjoy.

train safe-

nightrider uk 04-15-12 01:14 PM

Thanks for the great thread it's inspired me to do my first 200km fixed ride.I did it on a 72 inch gear on a very flat course,the only gradiants were over railway bridges ect...The first 100km was into a headwind,nothing major about 10-15mph winds and I tucked myself behind a good strong bunch of riders.The hardest bit for me was trying to keep up with my friend.He put his bike into the big ring and rode at about evens for 65kms,I found this very tiring spining away at over 100rpm.I got out off the saddle at any excuse slight inclines,road juctions ect....No sore bum,but my knees ached like mad the next day.To be honest,I don't think it would have been any easier on my geared bike,apart maybee from the 65km stretch with the tailwind.

lhbernhardt 04-24-12 12:00 PM

On an extended descent, a good braking technique you can use with rim brakes in order to keep the rims cool is to adopt the same technique you'd use on a tandem without a drag brake: you brake for six seconds with the front brake, then let off and let the bike roll for six seconds, then apply the rear brake for six seconds, then let the bike roll for another six, then repeat. This heats each rim for six seconds, then lets it cool for 18 seconds. It's a good idea to have dual pivot brakes front and rear; with their greater leverage than the older single-pivot sidepulls sidepulls, there will be less strain on your hands. And the bike will actually slow down with just the rear brake activated.

Of course, if the descent is REALLY steep, you'll just have to use both brakes to stay on top of the descent. Use constant pressure on the rear brake, and as soon as the rear wheel starts to skid, ease off on the FRONT brake. This will put more weight on the rear tire and stop the skid. Apply the front again and repeat as necessary. On a hot day and a long, step descent, it's worth it to stop and check the heat on the rims (touch it with the part of your hand covered by glove - I always wear full-finger gloves because that's what I wore on the track). Not so much an issue if you use a mechaincal disk brake, but I don't like encumbering my fixie with all that extra gear. I like to be able to remove the brakes and swap handlebar/stem assemblies and be able to use my fixie at the velodrome!

The pedaling technique of just staying ahead of the crank is called "floating the pedals" in track racing. On a descent, you don't want the pedals to be pushing your feet, nor do you want to be applying any back pressure; this is bad for your legs. I don't even use a lock ring to hold the sprocket, I think they are more dangerous than they're worth. I'd rather have the rear sprocket unthread on a descent than to have the chain get trapped and have the rear wheel lock up because the sprocket won't unthread. I raced track for 35 years and never used a lock ring and never had any problems. As long as you tighten the sprocket with a chain tool, it will stay on as long as you don't do a stupid skid stop. Not using a lock ring lets you use the older threaded road hubs. Back in the 60's and early 70's, the threaded rear hubs were spaced for 120mm dropouts, the same as on track bikes. (I also use 126mm threaded road hubs, but I respace the axle so that the hub is centered for a 120mm dropout. This minimizes dish and I only need a 2mm spacer inside the sprocket to get a perfect chain line.

(Off-topic note: rear axles were fine when dropouts were 120mm. As soon as they went to 6-speed freewheels on 126mm dropouts, axles started to break on the freewheel side. This is one reason they invented cassettes, so that they could put the bearings closer to the right dropout. This is why it's best to use a real track bike (drilled for a rear brake and using a road fork) as the basis of a road fixie, because you want to use a centered 120mm rear hub.)

Descending is easier on shorter cranks. I'm 6'1" and I use 165mm cranks on the road fixie, same as on the track. The shorter cranks are an advantage, as having your feet closer to the center of the circle means your feet are travelling slower (linear velocity) for any given crank rpm (angular velocity). Note that if you switch from 170mm cranks to 165's, you will need to RAISE your saddle 5mm, as your saddle height should be in relation to the lowest position of your pedal, NOT to the center of the bottom bracket spindle.

And one more thing: a perfect chain line is absolutely critical. If the chain is not dead straight, then as soon as it starts to stretch, it will be prone to falling off, usually when you are spinning fast downhill. So you need to dial in the chain line, and you need to use a 1/8" chain. The reason you do NOT use a 3/32 chain is because these are designed to be flex laterally in order to accommodate weird chainlines. 1/8" chains are designed to run straight, with very little lateral flex. So as long as you've got a straight chainline, the 1/8" cain will be more likely to stay on, even where there's too much slack.

And speaking of slack, if you race track, you want to adjust the chain so that it is as loose as possible without falling off. This minimizes friction and lets you go faster. On the road fixie, it's a trade-off. Too loose and the chain is likely to fall off. Too tight, and you are crushing the bearings in your rear hub and bottom bracket (that's what that "popping" noise is). So be very careful with your chain tension.


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 12:57 AM.