So you’ve decided to get into cycling. Great decision! Obviously you’ll need a bike. But what kind? There are so many!

Most prebuilt bikes you can buy have a freewheel mechanism and gear shifting capabilities designed to make it easier to climb and descend hills. Single speed and fixed gear bikes, on the other hand, forgo these complications in favor of a simpler build and riding style.

As a beginner cyclist, what’s the best choice for you? There are many benefits and drawbacks—and we’ll get into those in some detail–but the short answer is this:

Without the cost, weight and maintenance burden of unnecessary components, single speed bikes are an excellent choice for beginners who don’t need the full range of gears that make multi-speed bikes more appropriate for really hilly routes.

That’s not to say you can’t ride single speed if you live in a hilly area—just that it will be more challenging.

Note: This article is about non-competitive road and city cycling, whether it be for leisure, exercise, commuting or otherwise. The answer varies for other disciplines such as track, triathlon, cyclocross, and mountain biking.

What is a single speed bike?

Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s quickly go over the difference between multi-speed, single speed and fixed gear bikes.

  Multi-speed Single speed Fixed gear
Number of sprockets 4–12 1 1
Number of chain rings 1–3 1 1
Has a freewheel? Yes Yes No
Has a derailleur? Yes No No

Unlike conventional multi-speed bikes, single speed bikes have only one chain ring and one rear sprocket, no derailleur and no gear shifters. This means you can’t “change gear” while riding a single speed or fixed gear bike; you’re stuck with only one.

Fixed gear bikes are simply single speed bikes that have no freewheel mechanism—so it’s not possible to coast. They are also referred to as fixed wheel bikes or fixies.

The inability to coast sounds like a limitation but really it’s a feature: the direct connection between the rear wheel and pedals contributes to a smoother, more satisfying ride quality. But it does take some getting used to.

Availability of complete bikes

The majority of bikes sold online and in store are multi-speed. Many big sellers also offer single speed complete bikes too, but your options are going to be limited.

Most second-hand buying options will be multi-speed as well, since it is the more popular option.

So in this narrow sense, multi-speed bikes may be more accessible to the beginner cyclist.

Single speed and fixed gear specialists do exist but they are few and far between. See if there are any bike shops near you that focus on single speed. If not, your best option may be to shop online.

Flip-flop hubs

When shopping for fixed gear and single speed bikes, you’ll often see models that come with what’s called a flip-flop hub. These are like normal hubs except that one side has a freewheel and the other side is fixed.

What this means is that you can swap between fixed wheel and freewheel by removing the rear wheel, flipping it around and reattaching it. This can easily be done at home with a 15mm wrench. Complete bikes with flip-flop hubs are usually sold in the freewheel configuration.

This is a fantastic option for those who want to try out single speed with the option of switching to fixed gear later on. Of course, you can always flip it back over to the freewheel configuration (but few people do!).

So, flip-flop hubs allow you to experiment with riding single speed in both the freewheel and fixed wheel style without committing to one or the other. On the contrary, buying multi-speed means committing to only the freewheel style. In this way, single speed is more flexible that multi-speed: the beginner has one less decision to make.

Learning to ride

Absolute beginners may have an easier time learning to ride a bike if it’s a single speed, since the distraction of gear shifting is not present.

Shifting gears is yet another skill you’ll have to learn. Granted, it’s not a difficult one, but it adds another dimension to the riding process. The effect is an increased cognitive load that makes it harder to focus on more important skills like balance and navigation.

Unlike multi-speed bikes, you don’t really have to worry about jamming or dropping your chain on a single speed. The last thing you want as a beginner is for your equipment to be making things harder than they have to be.

These common types of drivetrain failures are a symptom of complicated gear shifting mechanisms. In my experience, complete multi-speed bikes in the budget range (where beginners are more likely to shop) are particularly prone to this.

Budget friendly single speed bikes, on the other hand, don’t really suffer from chain dropping and jamming issues. I’ve said before that [buying single speed is spending money where it counts], and this is another example of that, further demonstrating that single speed is the economical choice.

[buying single speed is spending money where it counts]: /should-i-buy-fixed-gear-bike#buying-single-speed-is-spending-money-where-it-counts “Should I Buy a Fixed Gear Bike? What About Single Speed?”

Road safety

Inexperienced cyclists should be careful when riding on busy roads regardless of what kind of bike they are on.

With that said, it may be wise to practise with a freewheel (i.e. not fixed gear) until you become a confident road user and have had practice riding fixed gear away from busy roads.

The reason for this is that it’s easy to forget that a fixed gear means you can’t backpedal.

When I first rode fixed, I would often reposition my legs subconsciously (by backpedalling a little) and be jolted upwards as the bike pushed against my feet in a way that I didn’t expect. It took me a few days to unlearn the backpedalling habit.

Most mechanics focus on multi-speed

One of the nice things about single speed bikes is that they are easier to maintain and rock solid reliable compared to multi-speed bikes at a similar price point. With fewer parts, there is less that can go wrong. However, it does happen. And if it’s serious, you may need to take it to a mechanic.

As I mentioned in the first point, single speed is significantly less popular than multi-speed and so most bike shops focus on the latter.

This is rarely a problem, though, since any job that doesn’t directly involve the drivetrain will be the same.

And in my experience the mechanics are perfectly qualified to work on a fixie as well. For example, I had a new sprocket fitted at a local bike shop with no issues. But, of course,




Riding along on flat terrain is just as easy (if not easier!) on a single speed bike as it is on an equivalent multi-speed one. However, it’s no secret that cycling uphill can be a challenge without all those easier gears to resort to.

Beginner cyclists should consider the overall hilliness of their local area as well as their current (and potential) level of fitness, and ask themselves whether they are up for the challenge.

One way to answer that question is experimentally: if you have a multi-speed bike available to you, shift it into your all-round favourite gear and stick with that gear for the entirety of a hilly ride. This essentially simulates the single speed riding style. See how you get on!

Don’t overthink it

I hope that has addressed some of the vague kinds of questions that might strike someone as they are getting into cycling. Although I have tried to give a detailed account of the pros and cons as I see it, there may be differences I have neglected to touch upon.

At any rate, try not to get too hung up on the details: the important thing is that your bike doesn’t get in the way of you riding it.

Maybe it’s the simplicity and zen of fixed gear riding that draws you in. Or perhaps the comfort of knowing you’ll always have the perfect gear ratio to shift into is what motivates you to get out and take on those hills.

The best kind of bike is not the one with the most efficient drivetrain or the fewest cables: it’s the bike that simply makes you want to ride it.

So try not to worry too much about the nature of the drivetrain. Besides, you can always upgrade later down the road (no pun intended).