By Todd Scheske, PCG Elite/Master Coach

Peaks Coaching Group Fixed Gear Winter Training

Winter training can mean very different things depending on what part of the country you’re in. Here in the northeast we have cold, snow, ice, and more cold. Those factors often make roads challenging to train on, and the cold temperatures present a number of other challenges, especially when trying to log enough base endurance miles to prepare for spring racing. There’s always the option of a stationary trainer, but trying to ride all the hours needed indoors can result in a mental meltdown by March or April.

To solve these dilemmas, or at least minimize their effects, many years ago I adopted riding a fixed gear bicycle in the winter. Not a single-speed (an important distinction); a fixed gear. There is no coasting on a fixed gear bicycle, ever. When the rear wheel is turning on a fixed gear bicycle, so are your legs. A single-speed allows you to coast just like a road bike; your gear choice is simply limited to one. The fixed gear keeps you pedaling the entire time you’re moving.

There are some valuable advantages of the fixed gear over single-speed, road, mountain, and cross bikes. Fixed gear riding improves pedal technique, leg strength, and power, all while keeping you warmer! Click through for more on these great benefits…

You cannot effectively ride a fixed gear bicycle in undulating terrain without having (or developing) a smoother pedal stroke. If you’re accustomed to stomping the pedals instead of pedaling in flowing circles, the fixed gear will push you through those dead spots and will immediately correct you if you stop pedaling. On undulating terrain it forces you to apply increased pedal force on ascents, spin a much higher cadence, and spin smoothly on descents. If you aren’t smooth, you’ll start to bounce on the saddle and feel out of control, so it will take some focus at first to remain smooth and to apply force to the pedals all the way around. This higher, smoother rpm will add a lot of snap and efficiency to your pedaling. After a few months of endurance rides, you should see a significant improvement in the number of rpm you can turn and the snap you can generate from a small gear. It is also helpful to include a few town line sprints on your endurance rides, which will add to the high rpm work and teach you to sit, move as smoothly as you can, and drive the pedals forward at all times.

All this constant force and the variable, high-rpm pedaling in a small gear keep you warmer because you are constantly generating force on the pedals and your overall speed is lower than coasting on a road bike. I’m always amazed at how much colder I get in the spring once I’m back on the road bike, even in comparable temperatures.

So what do you need to get started with fixed gear training? If you don’t have one, buy an old track frame, or even an older-style road frame with horizontal dropouts and a fixed-hub rear wheel. You’ll need some room to adjust the chain tension, so a modern vertical dropout frame won’t work very well as a winter fixie. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, Sheldon Brown offers some excellent information on making your own fixed gear bicycle on his website, sheldonbrown.com/fixed.html, along with links to even more information.

Next, figure out a gear that you can ride in a variety of terrains, keeping in mind that you’ll be riding into headwinds at times. I have found that 65-70 road inches (something around a 42×17, 39×16 gearing) works well; I can get up almost any climb with a bit of effort, cruise the flats, spin fast enough on the descents, and stay with a group ride.

I also like to add fenders to my winter fixie to keep my feet and the backs of my legs dry when the roads are wet with snow. I recommend that you do the same, because it greatly extends the time you can spend on the fixed gear by saving you from heading back inside with frozen feet. The fixie with fenders is also very low maintenance, since there are few parts collecting winter road crud and rust. A simple spray-off and some chain lube, and your bike is ready to go again. I rode one of my fixed gear bikes for nineteen winters before it wore out!

The fixed gear winter bike is inexpensive and simple, and it will add a lot to your winter endurance. You’ll pedal at least 10% more on a fixed gear bike than on a road bike. This means that you probably need to start out with shorter rides until you adapt to the constant pedaling. Also, if you haven’t had a good fitting done on your bike, get one now. Both of these are very important, as there is no bail-out if you start to experience pain from poor bike fit or lack of adaptation.

A few other tips to make your winter fixed gear riding more effective: tape off the bottom of the pedals to prevent wind coming up through the cleat bolt holes, duct tape any mesh toes on shoes, use heavier tread tires, consider Tuffy liners (or similar), and always carry a wrench for wheel removal in case of a puncture. Lastly, toss the chain come spring; it will rust into a solid chunk of metal by next fall.

Stay warm and enjoy the ride!


Todd Scheske Peaks Coaching GroupTodd Scheske is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and a category 1 cyclist. He has won several masters national medals, state road championships, and regional victories. Over the past twenty years he founded four different elite cycling teams and served as their program director and team director, while also promoting bike safety and healthy lifestyles to youth in community programs. He runs a successful junior program and produces a USA Cycling Talent ID camp. Todd can be contacted directly through www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com.

Photo credit: frankinstienbikeworx.com

22 COMMENTS

  1. “Sh!t, I’ve known that for ten years” Bob Seger

    Seriously, the fixed gear kind of acts like ABS and gives you a better feel for traction and a fantastic leg workout when going downhill.

    Barry Roubaix also has a fixed gear class, which is a fun way to prepare for the summer season.

  2. @Robert

    Because you use the ability to change gears to easier ones and the ability to coast as a crutch because of your mental weakness.

    That’s why, to overcome your mental weakness, you need another crutch to prevent you from using your other crutch to prevent you from coasting or changing to easier gears.

    Or something.

  3. @Robert

    Try borrowing one from a friend and then ride down hill on it… After a while when you’re going over like 30mph your pedals are turning so fast and crazy you can barely control it to begin with. After a while you can control it, but it certainly builds up your legs in ways you didn’t even know were possible.

  4. Wasn’t there s study out stating that fixed gear bikes don’t actually improve your pedal stroke? Your legs will go around and around no matter how sloppy your pedal stroke is. I love my fixed gear for training, but it is for building endurance, and strength, not for improving pedal stroke.

  5. I don’t dispute anything in the article, but it’s nothing that wasn’t standard practice back in the ’70s when I was young. These days it’s easy to buy a cheapo fixed gear bike from almost any purveyor of bicycle products, either to use for winter training or as a beater bike, which is what I did; no conversion needed. I changed out the crappy saddle, though: there are limits to what my old butt can take (no jokes, please).

  6. Won’t improve your pedal stroke. Power-Cranks will do that, by virtue of independent arms forcing each leg to work all the way around the stroke.

    My left/right strength imbalance was actually accentuated by long fixed gear rides because it shoves the leg around whether you like it or not, and doesn’t give a damn if you’re using the same muscles on both sides.

    Yes, you can use it to ride down steep hills and basically do leg presses all the way down, I just found it was limiting my training, not accentuating it.

  7. “Fixed gear riding improves pedal technique, leg strength, and power, all while keeping you warmer!”
    There is no scientific basis for any of these claims someone who already races, but it is great training advice – from 30 years ago.
    Note that there are no pro-level cyclists who train this way anymore.
    You’d do better if you’d like to improve pedal techniques with a multiple geared bike doing specific leg drills.
    If you want to improve leg strength and power do a weightlifting program in the off season, one designed by a certified trainer specializing in weight lifting (not a CYCLING coach) that translates into on-bike power in the end phase.
    Welcome to the new millennium.
    I’m not going to argue about staying warmer, I have no data at all concerning this, and I doubt Mr. Scheske does either.

  8. The problem with single speeds and fixed gears is when you pickup a strong tail wind, you are spinning a 120RPM cadence with ease, yet can’t go any faster nor add any resistance…it’s wasted time if you are training.

  9. Hey dubtap, I think it might be better if you at least provided a picture of a Laurens Ten Dam that is current, not from Rabobank, who ended their sponsorship around 2012. The one you provided might even be from his first contract with them, in the early 2000’s. What you posted supports what I said, so it doesn’t support the point of your sarcasm.

  10. I find it funny that this article came out just now as I just purchased a fixed gear for exactly these purposes plus a few others. I have a terrible pedal stroke that is completely unused on the back side and I am seeing that if I pedal as normal Ill get jolted at that point which is something I have been trying to fix for years.

    Now the coolest thing I have noticed about fixed is the control you get on the bike, you feel one with the bike instead of using it. I finally know how all the hipsters preform those tricks. Heck I feel more in control on my track bike which has a saddle to bar drop of almost 6 inches than on my MTB which the bars are above the saddle. This is kinda making me want to get a SS MTB so I can ride fixed on the trails.

    @Bernie I know that nowadays you could get better results from doing drills and weight lifting, I used to, but if your not a racer or just someone looking to have fun, a fixed gear might give you some of those advantages without having to dedicate extra time or making cycling boring.

    Finally who cares if it works or not throwing a completely new type of cycling into my daily routine has made cycling for cycling sake fun again just like when I was younger.

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