Training: Get your fitness fixed

By Nik Cook | Monday, December 1, 2008 4.00pm

There's training, and then there's taking a radical approach to get radical results. Rather than train on the same bike and the same roads in the same spare hour that you always do, why not get fixed? Riding a fixed gear will make you a stronger and better cyclist.

A few winters ago, I added a fixie to my bike stable as a hassle-free commuting steed. People’s reaction to it ranged from concerned curiosity: “So how exactly do you stop?”, to almost aggressive dismissal of my sanity: “That’s just stupid, dangerous and irresponsible!” However, the more I rode it, the more I loved it. 

I’m not going to get all pseudo-spiritual and harp on about the seamless connection of man and machine making for a meditative experience and transcending mere transportation. What I loved was the fact that it was ripping my legs to shreds every time I rode it. It gave me leg speed I’d only previously dreamed of and tapped power from muscles I’d never previously used on a bike.

I started doing 2-3 hour rides on it, seeking rolling hills and taking masochistic pleasure in the pain I was able to inflict on myself. Come the end of the winter, I was a transformed rider, smashing previous personal bests and riding mates off my wheel with ease.

So, how can going fixie transform you?

1. Fixed disciplines your cadence/pedal stroke

A smooth fast cadence is the most efficient way to ride. On the flat and slight downhills a fixed forces you to spin your legs and develop the fast and even pedal stroke that the French refer to as 'souplesse'. 

On steeper descents your legs will learn to spin at super high speeds, laying excellent foundations for developing the capacity for a truly great sprint – just look at Mark Cavendish's average leg speed in any of his four Tour de France stage wins recently.

2. Fixed addresses your top end grunt

Hitting a rise, there's no option to shift down so you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and power up the hill. Without the bail out of gears, every muscle involved in cycling will be recruited, strengthening not only your legs but also your backside, core and even upper body.

3. Fixed develops your speed and strength

Aside from developing physical strength, it'll teach you that an amazing number of climbs can be dealt with in this way giving you higher average speeds and a devastating attacking option. 

Some longer climbs on a fixed do turn into full-on, out-of-the-saddle honks, but these will build pure cycling-specific strength in a way that no gym training can match. 

4. Fixed puts you in a coast-free zone

Once you start riding a fixed you'll be amazed at how much time you used to spend free wheeling. Aside from the obvious down hills, coasting into your drive, rolling up to traffic lights and catching a sneaky breather cresting climbs are all times when you are out riding but doing nothing. 

With a fixed you have to earn every kilometre, making it one of the most time-effective ways to train. When I first got my fixed I found an hour's ride on it trashed me whereas the same ride on a geared bike would barely be a warm-up.

5. Fixed hones your riding skills

Riding a fixed hones your riding instincts and anticipation skills. I found riding in London on the fixed, my 'near-miss count' went down to almost zero as it made me more focussed on my riding.

My ability to look ahead, assess the viability of gaps in traffic and my balance all improved as I challenged myself to ride without having to dab down with my feet. I learned to track-stand which, apart from looking a picture of poise at traffic lights, it's a pretty useful skill to possess.

If you want to get fast, get fixed.

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