The purest form of cycling can be said to be single speed or fixed gear. It is you and your bike perfectly in tune with each other.
You’re probably fancying trying this type of bike out, and why wouldn’t you, they are awesome but don’t know where to start.
To make it easy for you, we’ve compiled this little review of the best bikes, and afterward, we have a little guide to breaking all the terms down.
Editor’s Note: The article was updated in April 2020. Luis added a few of his recommendations: State Bicycle Company The Undefeated II which should replace State Bicycle Rutherford 3, model that is hard to find these days. We still left the description of this bike in the article.
- Best Value Single Speed/ Fixed Gear Bike: State Bicycle Company The Undefeated II
- Best Budget Single Speed/ Fixed Gear Bike: Pure Cycles Original Series
- Best Beginners Track Bike: Vitus Six Track Bike
- Best Fixed Gear Crit Bike: State Bicycle Co Black Label 6061 v2
- Best $1000+ Fixed Gear Bike: Cinelli Vigorelli Aluminum Pista
The Best Value Single Speed/ Fixed Gear Bike
State Bicycle Company The Undefeated II
We had to replace the State Bicycle Rutherford 3, a bike with a beautifully retro aesthetic, and that is why we have looked for a new bike with the same aesthetic line, in addition to at least the same or better features than the Rutherford 3.
And we have a winner, the State Bicycle The Undefeated II. A bike with a spectacular design and fabulous features that will make you fall in love with this bike.
A 7005-Grade Double-Butted aluminum frame with tapered head tube and a fork made entirely of carbon fiber that together make this bike lightweight and resistant in equal parts.
But that’s not all, since if we consider the Undefeated II the best value single speed / fixed gear bike it is due to all its features that we find in its gear. All designed in light materials such as aluminum.
The Essor USA Aerodash crankset is made of 7075 aluminum and uses an external bottom bracket to transfer maximum pedaling power. The chainring is also designed in 7075 aluminum and together they give us a gear ratio of 48×16.
We finish the analysis of the Undefeated II with the wheels, which incorporates an Essor USA v2 Bolt Wheel Set with Michelin Dynamic Sports tires. As we can see, many features of great quality and value for a single speed / fixed gear bike that will make you enjoy this type of urban and retro bicycle.
And as we have already mentioned, we cannot forget the aesthetic part of this bike, which amazon.com offers us in a Photon Blue color and which maintains the line of the compact and comfortable drop-bar of the Rutherford 3. If you are interested in this bike, you can find more info in the link below.
The Best Budget Single Speed/ Fixed Gear Bike
Pure Cycles Original Series
The Pure Cycles Original Series range of bikes manages to bring the bike messenger style of bike to you at a highly affordable price point. The bike comes with a basic hi-tensile steel frame and fork but with the requisite skinny tube profile to keep the bike looking retro.
To help you gain a little speed, you’ll find the bike comes with a set of 40mm deep wheels. These wheels will help you slice through the air, and they add a little bit of that Red Hook vibe to your bike.
The wheels like those on the State feature a flip-flop hub and come shod with Thickslick tires to allow you to skid your way to a halt with impunity.
With the tires also at a 28mm width, you’ll find the Pure a comfortable bike to ride. It will help you get to work and as it has two water bottle mounts help you get much further afield as well.
The Best Beginners Track Bike
Vitus Six Track Bike
Part of the clue to the Vitus Six Track Bike’s design is in its name. The Six harks to the six-day track racing events of Europe and the bike also gives nods to fixed gear crits.
The frame and fork are both constructed from 6061 T6 aluminum to make sure that this bike is all about speed.
With an SRAM Omnium chainset, the Vitus Six comes right out of the box looking like many track superstar’s bikes. The Omnium is a super stiff chainset that will lose you none of your power as push on your pedals.
With a black frame fading to a polished rear end this bike looks like some of the many great track bikes of the past, and with the spoked wheels, this look is enhanced.
You’ll be wanting to get a tri-spoke and disc wheel for this bike for when your racing, as this Vitus will more than reward you for doing so.
The Best Fixed Gear Crit Bike
State Bicycle Co Black Label 6061 v2
The bike is designed to help you give no quarter and to power your way around tight city corners with no brakes and at full speed.
The Black Label v2 is all about fixed gear crit racing. It is a bike that you can never fit brakes on, legally you may have to, it just wants to race. It comes with a massively beefy 6061 aluminum frame and a carbon fiber fork. The bike is stiff; every pedal stroke will bring forward momentum.
The bike comes with State’s brand new CNC chainset, which while being stiff has a pleasant old school look to it, which contrasts nicely with the frame.
It also helps to make the front chainring look massive, intimidatingly so. Which must be great if you’re using the bike for racing, and you should be given that is precisely what this bike is designed for doing.
The Best $1000+ Fixed Gear
Cinelli Vigorelli Aluminum Pista
If you want to make an entrance, you can’t go far wrong with the Italian Cinelli Vigorelli Aluminum Pista.
The Vigorelli dropped out of Cinelli’s lineup for a couple of years, and now it has come back with a bang, it is lighter, stiffer, and more aggressive. Everything you could hope for in a premium fixed gear bike.
Like the State above the Vigorelli comes with an aluminum frame, you can also buy a steel version, and a carbon fiber fork.
The frame and fork are painted in a style that only an Italian bike manufacturer could get away with, we can’t exactly say the design is subtle, but it is definitely a Cinelli style.
The Cinelli carries on the Italian theme by having the bike bedecked in Miche parts. You’ll find Miche wheels and a chainset.
As well as the Miche parts you’ll find an Italian Prologo saddle, this means that only the tires are not Italian. Being Michelin, they are French, so the Vigorelli is a very European fixed gear bike.
State Bicycle Rutherford 3 (Co 4130 Core-Line) (last year’s Best Value Single Speed Bike)
State has slowly built their way up to being one of the most recognizable single speed bike companies available. They have a bike should you want to race fixed gear crits or take off into the wilderness and get lost. Here though we’re looking at the State Bicycle Co 4130 Core Line.
The 4130 part of the name tells you exactly what the frame and fork are constructed from, 4130. If you’ve ridden BMX, you’ll have a love for 4130 steel.
If you haven’t any bike in the State Core Line will have you falling in love with the material. It is strong, light(ish), and gives a great riding feel. It means your frame and fork should outlast all of us.
You’ll also find that every bearing on the bike is sealed. Sealed bearings make the life of the home mechanic that much easier and will make your bike that much more durable.
As well as sealed bearing hubs, you’ll find that the back hub is of the flip-flop variety.
These facts alone make the State a very good buy for those who want to dip their toe into the single speed world, but you can also get the bike in more colorways and sizes than you can imagine.
They definitely have a bike to suit your aesthetic choices and your height.
What is the difference between a single speed and a fixed gear bike?
A single speed bike and a fixed gear bike look very similar, and sometimes they can even be the same bike. They both have one gear, but on a single speed you can cost and on a fixed gear you can’t.
A fixed gear bike uses a rear cog that is fixed to the wheel. That means that when the wheel is turning, so is the cog. The only way to stop the cog turning your chain is to stop the cog spinning.
That means you have to learn to pedal around corners. As soon as you stop pedaling, you’ll either have to stop the wheel, or you’ll crash.
A single speed is a bike with one cog, but the cog is not fixed to the wheel, per se. The single speed can either be a freewheel or a single speed spacer kit on a traditional hub.
On a single speed, you can coast, and that makes corners a little bit easier. Now we said that a single speed and a fixed gear could be the same bike.
What is a flip-flop hub?
When you hear people talk about a single speed bike or a fixed gear, you might hear them talk about a flip-flop hub. A flip-flop hub is a hub that has two drivetrain sides; both are threaded.
You can then put a fixed gear cog on one side and a freewheel on the other. You can then pick if you want to freewheel or not that day.
Flip-flop hubs are also 120mm wide. That means they will only fit in bikes that have track wheel rear width. A road bike needs a 130mm hub and a mountain bike 135mm hub, although both these standards are now getting wider.
You, therefore, can’t fit a flip-flop hub to a bike that isn’t designed to run one.
Why the shorter cranks?
Single speed and fixed gear bikes will generally have shorter crank lengths than standard bikes. There are 2 main reasons for this.
The first one is that you’ll be pedaling more and sometimes a lot faster. Shorter cranks are then easier on your knees, none of us want painful knees.
The second reason is that if you ride fixed, you’ll have to pedal around corners. A shorter crank then means you can lean the bike more before you get a pedal strike.
It is then a lot safer to ride a shorter crank length.
What is a fixed gear crit?
A fixed gear crit is like a cross between a track event and a mass start road event. You’ll be racing on a drop bar bike, with no brakes, through city streets in a fixed gear crit.
These races are a great spectator even as they are fast and furious. You don’t only need to be fit, but you also need to be mentally strong to plan your attack and keep pedaling all the time.
The simplicity of bikes with one gear
Fixed gear and single speed bikes are great fun to build. They are also pretty simple to build, and you can easily build a full custom build in a morning or an afternoon, with plenty of stops to drink a coffee.
Many single speed brands have worked out this idea, and many are only available as frames so that you can easily create your own dream build.
The coolest frames
Cinelli Mash Parallax frameset
We’ve already looked at the Italian cool that is Cinelli so what about their collaboration with the San Francisco collective, Mash SF?
You must be slightly mad to want to run a fixed gear bike around San Francisco, and that is one of the reasons that everyone came to know Mash. Riding fixed gear down mad hills is an easy way to grab people’s attention.
The Parallax is an aluminum frame and carbon fork combo with another very distinctive paint job. The frame itself comes with some very steep seat tube and head tube angles, so this is a frameset that you have to give your full attention to when you ride.
If you do, you’ll be rewarded with sublime riding experience.
You want to ride offroad
Calling the Surly Straggler a single speed bike seems a little disrespectful. The Straggler, like all Surly bikes, defies tags and niches. It can be run single speed or geared. It can be run with more packs and racks than you can imagine carrying and it does it all well.
Surly is one of the bike brands of choice for cycling connoisseurs but don’t think that puts this cyclocross/expedition steel frameset out of your budget. Surly stuff is all well priced for what it is, and you’ll get a frameset that will last forever and hopefully inspire you to cycle around the world single speed like Murkus Stitz.
How to look after your single speed bike
As there are no derailleurs on a single speed or fixed gear bike, you’ll need a good way to keep your chain in tension. Thankfully we have an article all about how to do that. The next thing you might need is a few specific tools.
Park Tool FR-6 Freewheel Remover
If you’re running a single speed bike, the chances are you’re using a freewheel. At some point, you might need to remove your freewheel, and this freewheel removal tool from Park Tool will do the job for the majority of freewheels. There are a few different systems.
The FR-6 works for freewheels that have 4 notches and an inner diameter of 40mm. These will be the most common freewheels available in bike shops. You may see them listed as BMX freewheels as well as just freewheels.
You can also get 4 spline freewheels in a 32mm inner diameter. These freewheels are compact or micro freewheels. You tend to see them more on BMX or jump bikes. They don’t offer the same feeling as good big 16t or 18t freewheel.
They also tend to break more often and stress your chain more as there are fewer teeth for your chain to wrap around.
If you’re a fixed gear rider, you’ll be needing a lockring tool if you want to change gear. Yes, you don’t strictly need to use a lockring on a fixed gear as the cog will tighten when you pedal it is still nice to know you have the extra security there.
The Pedros Trixie is more than just a lockring tool, though. The tool also comes with a 15mm pedal wrench, 8, 9, 10mm box wrenches for your wheels nuts, and a 4 and 5mm Allen key to allow you to tighten most fasteners on your bike.
More importantly, you can even use it to open a bottle of beer; well, we all need a good recovery drink after a long day out.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.