From Bicycling Magazine, June 2014, page 28:
“A fixie (or fixed gear) is a singlespeed without brakes and without the mechanism that allows the bike to coast when you’re not pedaling.”
That is a description of a track racing bicycle, which is only one kind of bicycle with a fixed gear. The caption in the picture with the article repeats this description.
Let’s get definitions straight:
- A fixed gear is a connection between the pedals and the driving wheel without a mechanism which allows coasting.
- Antique high-wheeler bicycles have a fixed gear;
- Children’s tricycles have a fixed gear;
- Sturmey-Archer sells a three-speed fixed-gear hub, and so, some fixed-gear bicycles are not singlespeeds;
- “Fixie” is not synonymous with “fixed gear”. Rather, “fixie” is slang for a bicycle with a fixed gear.
- Fixed-gear bicycles for the road, as a matter of common sense, safety and traffic law in many jurisdictions, must have a brake.
Though it is possible to slow a brakeless fixie by resisting the rotation of the pedals, this braking is not as effective as with a front handbrake, and can be lost due to the cranks’ outrunning the feet, or the chain’s coming off.
The photo with the Bicycling Magazine article shows a brakeless fixie on a street — illegal in many places, and with impaired safety due to the longer stopping distance and unreliability of braking. Also, the cyclist is using toe clips and tightly-adjusted straps with the end of each strap passed through the slot at the bottom of the buckle. The straps cannot, then, be adjusted while riding — OK on the track where a starter holds the bicycle upright, but not on the road. I have to wonder whether the cyclist in the photo was assisted in starting, or is being held upright for the photo by someone outside the picture.
Why am I taking the trouble to write this? Primarily, because the Bicycling Magazine article may induce people to take up riding fixed-gear bicycles without brakes on the road, and fumble with toeclips and straps, and crash, and be held at fault for crashing for lack of a brake. I am distressed that editors at Bicycling Magazine would pass on an incorrect description which generates confusion and might promote such behavior.
A thorough and accurate discussion of fixed-gear bicycles for use on the road may be found in Sheldon Brown’s article.
For the record, I own a fixie, shown in the photo below, and it is street-legal, equipped with dual handbrakes. If I had only one brake on this bicycle, it would be the front brake — but for riding with a freewheel, or on steep descents, I have installed a rear brake as well.