A fixed-gear bicycle is one that has only one gear ratio and lacks a free wheel. An advantage of these bicycles is that you do not need to use the brakes for slowing down. All you need to do is to stop the pedals from spinning. This, in turn, slows down the back wheel and brings the bike to a stop.
The disadvantage is that you cannot coast on such a bicycle. You can either drive it by turning the pedals or slow it down by putting pressure on the pedals. You cannot allow the pedals to spin on their own because they may cause injury to your calf muscles or ankles.
It is interesting to note that you can ride this bike in the reverse direction also, because the pedals turn in the same direction as the wheels. However, no one rides like this other than stuntmen.
You can modify the bike and make it a two-gear bike by attaching an extra hub on the other side. However this calls for more effort from the rider as he has to get down and adjust the rear wheel to shift to the other gear.
The fixed-gear bicycles are used especially for track cycling, and for showing different cycling maneuvers. They are very light, require little maintenance and are especially popular among those who like simple designs.
Many companies sell frames designed specifically to be used as a fixed-gear bike. Cyclists too prefer to convert free-wheel bicycles to fixed-gear bicycle. However, you need considerable practice to ride the bike. Beginners invariably have problems handling fixed-gear bicycles.
In recent years brakeless fixed-gear riding has acquired a cult status in a few parts of the world because of the rider’s perception of “Zen” like experience of riding in a state of cruise where brakes are not needed. A maneuver sometimes known as a skip stop is possible when a rider locks the rear wheel and skids to slow down or completely stop the bicycle.
However, you must note that riding brakeless can jeopardize your life. It is important to ensure that you have at least one brake to be better prepared in case you have to ride across steep hills or slippery roads. Some riders use two brakes for better control and for insurance in case the brake cable breaks or brakes fail to work.
Fixed gear is the standard term used in the US whilst fixed wheel is commonly used in the UK. Whereas fixed-gear means only one gear ratio, fixed wheel means that the gear (sprocket) is attached to the hub without a free wheel.