Spring training on the bike for me means riding a fixie (one geared bike) or working in one gear only on your road or tri-bike. I do not own a fixie now, but for many years I rode one. You can turn an old bike into a fixie or you can usually find one for a relatively cheap price. So for now in the spring it’s one gear only! When I was a younger woman, my coach would ride next to me on group rides often with his hand on my back saying, “let them go today is not the day for winning”. I would think to myself “winning I’m just trying to survive the pain”. It’s funny how I look back on those days with great fondness, and I realize how valuable the lessons I learned are for me today. Right now my athletes hate me, as they push up hills like turtles and ride down the other side spinning their legs at unthinkable speeds. Why they say? This is my answer.
The fixed-gear bike as a “poor man’s power meter” to improve cycling skills. Loose the bells and whistles, and you will reap many of the benefits found by cycling with a computer or garmin such as improved cadence and pedal efficiency. You have to think of the bike as essentially a direct drive train — there is no coasting, no back-pedaling, and eventually for many fixed-gear riders no need for brakes. After a few shin bangs and some exciting descents ( well may be a lot), you will begin to get the hang of the ride. The fixie will make you more efficient, focused, balanced, and a more intelligent rider. But How?
The fixie improves pedal efficiency. Because there is no freewheel in the rear hub, there is no way to coast. You are forced to keep pedaling on all gradients, which forces you to keep your pedal strokes smooth and efficient. Within minutes you begin to recognize the dead points in your stroke. The necessity to power through all types of terrain — flat, uphill and downhill — the one fixed and steady gear helps you to pedal in smooth and consistent circles rather than coasting and mashing. There is no room for that slop on a fixie!
I’m a big believer in cadence, call it old school, but it works! Cadence is your pedal speed, and it is measured by counting the number of times your legs complete full circles in 60 seconds of riding. A high cadence (100-110) is more efficient and better than a slow cadence (70- 80) because your muscles don’t take such a beating, your lungs and heart recover faster, it is less torque on your knees, and it allows for faster accelerations with less effort. The fixie forces you to ride at that high cadence, it never lets you get lazy and coast. It makes you pedal, which forces your legs into a perfect drive ratio with the speed of your gearing.
Fixies demand focus. Some of them do not have brakes ( I do not recommend that for riding with cars) The bike forces you to always be on the lookout for what is going on around you. Looking for cars, squirrels, and other obstacles. The focus obtained on a fixed-gear bike can be intense. It adds to the riding experience. Fixies improve balance, and micro adjustments. Bike handling is much different on a fixie. Taking corners, for example, since you are not able to coast, you can’t lean into the curves as much. So being able to calculate just the right amount of lean takes practice. You know when you see those cyclists balancing at stop signs or red lights? They’re the cool kids, right? The fixie will help you start to learn how to do that as you learn to stop slowly and try to balance. ( I’m always working on that). If you don’t own a fixie no worries practice all of these techniques on your road or tri-bike. I promise with time you will see improvement. Ride on and always remember safety first!