I like to write about topics that gather a lot of attention at my camps. Last week at our annual Transition Camp, one of the most popular training techniques talked about was riding a fixed gear road bike in the off-season. Making fixed gear rides a regular part of your training program can have enormous benefits as well as being fun because you are adding something new to your program. Let’s talk about some of the advantages and then I’ll give you some tips as to how to put one together.
1. Improving your pedal stoke
This is the obvious benefit. After a long hard season in the saddle, our pedal stoke can use some help. It loses its suppleness, especially as we get older. Supple and smooth pedaling is essential to being successful on the bike and too few athletes address this important issue. Fixed gearing is such a simple way to do it. Even a short ride has purpose in that you are constantly pedaling and learning to pedal through the two “dead” spots of the pedal rotation.
Yes, fixed gearing can help your power by riding in the hills and over rolling terrain. Most athletes just ride them on the flats. Ride them in the hills! All you have to do is try it and you will see why. The gear you choose is essential. You don’t want too much gear that it causes problems in terms of climbing (like falling over!). You want to choose a gear that is difficult, but not impossible. I have been using a 39×16 for years in the hills around the Gold Country. Yes, it’s tough at times, but it pays off in the long run. Better to start out with something easier and build up. I recommend 39×18 or 17. Remember, by being in the hills you will naturally get the benefit of spinning your brains out on the descents. I tell athletes to start by taking it a bit slower, by sucking up as much wind as possible (like a parachute) and feathering the brakes. Build up slowly to those super high speeds where your legs are spinning at 125+ rpms.
3. Muscle Endurance
Think about it for a minute. You pedal and pedal and pedal for hours with NO freewheeling. One result – muscle endurance. I have never seen a direct calculation as to how long a fixed gear ride translates to a regular road bike in terms of pedaling time. I am sure someone has done one. My gut feel is it’s about three to five. A three hour fixed gear ride is equal to five hours on the road bike.
4. Keep the pedaling smooth when you are tired
This goes hand in hand with the muscle endurance. You know that feeling of tiredness at the end of a long training ride or race? Fixed gearing helps you stay relaxed in those situations. You find that even though you may be wasted, your pedaling is smooth! What a great benefit!
5. Transition Pedaling
Bike racing is a lot of transition pedaling. Slow cadence to super fast cadence over and over again. When riding a fixed gear you can go from 60rpms to 140 in a matter of seconds while going over the tops of hills. It trains the legs to react to those situations.
Now that I have hopefully convinced you to ride a fixed gear, here are some tips on setting one up:
– Since you will be riding it on the road and hopefully increasing the amount of time spent on the bike, make sure your crank length is the same as your main road bike. It helps you make the transition easier from bike to bike.
– EBAY! – You don’t have to spend a lot of cash on this machine (save it for those new wheels next year!). Go to EBay and under cycling, do a search on “fixed gear”. There are always bikes and parts available. My bike is an old 1987 Lemond and it does just fine. The beauty of a fixed gear is that there are not many moving parts, so it’s great for bad weather days and easy to clean. You can get an old frame and get a bike build for around $300.
– Most important is the back wheel. Not a bad idea to get one of the reversible hubs where you can have two cogs. Make sure they are close (i.e. 17,18), so the chain length is not affected.
– Some feel more comfortable with two brakes. My bike uses just the front and I feel comfortable stopping in pretty much any situation, as you use the force of your legs to “backpedal” and slow down.
– One of the best things you can add to your fixed gear bike is a road version of the Rock Shox seat posts (aka – prostate saver). This one speaks for itself! One of these, combined with a comfortable seat will save you from a lot of pain and agony!
The best way to learn is to just get on one and start riding (maybe don’t clip in for a while). You will find out soon enough what happens when your mind loses focus and you “try” to stop pedaling at 30K/hour. Trust me, you won’t do it again for a long, long time! Another tip would be to try it on a set of rollers to get comfortable before going out to fight traffic. Just remember, as in most new things we attempt, we get used to it.
No rocket science here. Just a great way to focus on something in the winter that will have direct benefits all season long. Hell! I ride mine once a week in the summer, just to keep my pedaling supple and change up bikes! Organize group rides on fixed gear bikes. It’s difficult to be on a fixed and ride with a group of regular road bikes. By doing it with other riders with the same goal, it can be so beneficial and so much fun!!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com.