Why a fixed gear is better than a mountain bike for commuting

My main commuter bike is my Redline 925, its a fixed. But I also have my Ibex/Xtracycle when I need to carry a big load.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather commute on my fixed gear than my Xtracycle which in its core is a mountain bike.

Here’s why I’d rather ride a fixed gear bike than a 26″ mountain bike:

1. Mountain bikes are heavier.
The Ibex/Xtracycle is about 40lbs all together.

2. Mountain bikes are slower
The gear ratio on it isn’t mean for me to get some fast speeds. Smaller wheels, 26″ vs 700c…26 would lose. 700c wheels roll faster and smoother.

3. Less clutter. My fixed gear has one cable coming out of the bar, thats for my front brake. My mountain bike has 4 cables, 2 shifters and 2 brake levers. Fixed gear bikes have less hassle to deal with when riding.

So for me, I’m sticking to my fixed gear as my main commuter.



  1. Noah August 1, 2007 7:16 pm 

    I don’t know. All the “clutter” that can break on geared bikes has never really broken on my bikes during a commute. I’ve had broken spokes, flat tires, and a trashed bottom bracket (completely melted the bearing cages!) but all of those things could break on a fixie, too.

    I agree with your point on rolling resistance. Skinny, high pressure tires are perfect for people who need speed and efficiency. I’d love to see you attempt my 29 mile round trip on a fixie 5 days a week. Both of my two homebound options would make you walk. I can either choose a half-mile of about 9%, or a few hundred yards at close to 20%. Then there are the long, flat stretches of road where I can easily maintain close to 30 miles per hour for extended periods of time. Those are two extremes I deal with every day that, for my situation, rule out a fixed gear track bike as an efficient mode of transportation.

    Many urban commuters have to deal with pot-holes, storm drains, expansion joints in bridges, and whatnot. At the bare minimum, I’d say a cyclocross bike would be in order, but I see quite a few BMX-style single speeds (freewheeling with wide tires) being used out here, and plenty of mountain bikes as well.

    In the end, I kind of have a problem with your blanket statement that fixed gears are better than mountain bikes for commuting.

    In the strictest sense of the phrase, the only hard and fast law to bicycle commuting is that you use a two-wheeled human-powered vehicle for all or part of your commute. In the not-so-strict sense of the phrase, velomobiles, trikes, and motor-assisted contraptions are included.

    Unlike “mountain biking” “cyclocross” “velodrome” or “road biking”, bike commuting is defined much more by a lifestyle than by the kind of bicycle you use. That said, bike commuters are an odd bunch. We take tools, tricks, tips and hints from all other breeds of cycling. We take this stuff, we put it in a crucible, cackle a bit. Through alchemy alone, each bike commuter pulls their own magic foo out of the cauldron. Unless someone specifically copies a formula that’s already working for someone they know, no two bike commuters will ever agree on anything 100%.

    Personally, my commuting set-up looks like a cross between a utilitarian cyclist, a touring rider, and a fat guy. I have mountain bike shoes and mountain bike clipless pedals on a road bike. I wear plain old cotton t-shirts. I have the dorkiest looking helmet mirror you’ve ever seen, and my bike is always loaded with panniers on the rack when I’m commuting.

    Other people do anything they can to leave their work stuff at work, including clothes. They ride to work in full kit on Trek Madones and Bianchi 928s, carrying nothing heavier than an ID bracelet with them.

    You could have avoided this rant by adding “For me” to the beginning or end of your post title. 😉

  2. Noah August 1, 2007 7:23 pm 

    I should mention that I’m a Teeny bit biased in this situation, because in real life, many fixed gear riders I’ve come across have a serious superiority complex as if it’s the ONLY way to ride.

    While I know you aren’t totally “fixed or nothing”, your post kind of reverted me back to the rant mode I usually get into when talking to a zealous, elitist fixie rider.

  3. Moe August 1, 2007 7:49 pm 

    As far as me goes, I like ALL sorts of bikes. In fact, I like to ride a different bike each day of the week (yeah, I have that many bikes). I also have a problem with roadies that will not touch a mountain bike or mountain bikers that won’t do a road ride. Like the saying goes “Don’t knock it until you try it”

    I also own a fixed gear bike, but I’m too old and fat to be ‘cool’. I ride it because I like how different it feels and how fun it can be to ride one.

    I also disagree with RL that tire size may have to do with how fast a rider is. You have to see the expression on peoples faces when I pass them on my 20″ inch tire folding bike.

    I don’t consider RL an elitist fixie rider, actually he is more of a mountain biker than anything else. He just really likes riding his RedLine 925 a lot.

  4. Noah August 1, 2007 8:08 pm 

    Which is why I said I know he’s not a “fixed or nothing” rider. His post just kind of invoked that verbose rant.

    I won’t take my mountain bike on my full commute, but on recovery days or bad weather days, I use it to get to and from the bus stop just because it’s different and fun. I’ll often get off the bus further from home than I should, just so I can goof off on the MTB.

    I had to borg 3 bikes together last night just so I could commute today. The resulting beast was a rigid-frame mountain bike with slick tires and a ghetto-rigged rack and panniers. It was awesome, and not all that slower than my road bike. It was definitely less efficient but it was a good ride.

  5. RL Policar August 2, 2007 2:19 am 


    Thanks for your thoughts…I did say for me…”So for me, I’m sticking to my fixed gear as my main commuter.”

    29 mile commute…I used to do a 34 mile commute complete with hills and crazy drivers.

    Fixed gear bike commuting is ideal for me. I know what you mean by elitist riders fixie riders, but at the same time that goes for any type of bike.

    Like Moe said there are some guys that refuse to ride road or mountain, I was like that until I got my fixie. For years I used to harras Moe about riding road since it was so boring. But once I got on my fixie, which in a sense is a road bike, I fell in love with it.

    One thing I’d like to recommend to you Noah, try riding a fixed gear bike and stick with it. At first Moe never liked it and even said…”I don’t get what the big deal is.” But if you see him know he loves is Dirty Sanchez and the dude loves fixiee fashion…knickers, cap and all that.

    So as for the title stating that fixed gear is better than mountain biking, to me is accurate. Here’s why. I’ve commuted with all types of bikes. Last count I had was something along the lines of 10-12 bikes. I have quite a bit of selection when it comes to what bike I can ride.

    In my arsenal I have a few vintage bikes, tandem, road, fixed, mountain bikes, heck at one point we had a recumbent. But out of all those that I’ve ridden, I simply go back to my fixed.

    Rants…I like it when people respond to my postings. That means they’re reading it. I knew that things we say will not always be accepted by everyone, but it makes for a great discussion!

  6. Ghost Rider August 2, 2007 4:47 am 

    Amen two times for Noah!!!! Fixed gears certainly fit the “simplicity” bill, and the reliability one, too (as long as they are maintained). But they may not be for everyone. Blanket statements just don’t work for the average bike commuter — we are generally a pretty pragmatic, practical breed and we just like to get the job done!

    Although I have a selection of bikes to choose from for my commute, my most frequent choice is a singlespeed/fixed gear. It’s hardly simple – there are still two brake cables and bearings to worry about. I run in singlespeed mode for the most part, since it is flat here, and let’s face it — I like to coast on occasion!

    The real reason I ride that one the most is those big 700c tires! This bike rolls SO MUCH faster and smoother than a MTB-based commuter (just like RL indicated in his post).

  7. Cornfed Jay August 2, 2007 5:28 am 

    You know, whatever gets people out on a bike riding to work is the best bike for bike commuting. All this talk about road bikes, mountain bikes, fixed gear..blah, blah blah makes the whole thing confusing to the new bike commuter. Once people start riding and stick with it they will figure out if they need to upgrade their ride to make the trip more enjoyable. We need to reduce all the specialized crap like the weight weenie road biker, or the fixed rider with spoke cards and knickers. What are you telling people that visit this site trying to research this ride your bike to work thing by posting fixed gear dismount videos?? That you have to be some kind of circus performer to be a bike commuter? Also, what is the deal about the weight of a bike? I had a guy at the local bike shop try to sell me a $25 water bottle cage because it was carbon fiber and weighed a few ounces less than the $4 metal version. I said, “Look at me…I weigh 245 lbs…if I want to go faster and and be lighter I’ll drop 10lbs, or 20lbs”. You guys do a good job of reviewing everything out there for bike commuters, but I think holding back on all the specialized stuff is a better method. The last thing I think you want is to turn aspiring bike commuters off by portraying bike commuters as some weird sub-culture where you have to learn to ride a track bike, wear special clothing and put baseball cards in the spokes…..

  8. RL Policar August 2, 2007 5:32 am 


  9. Ghost Rider August 2, 2007 5:44 am 

    Jay, good points…commuters don’t need anything fancy to get the job done, as I think we’ve demonstrated in the past. However, commuters are often bike geeks — we like tech goodies and new innovations as much as anybody, and we ought to cover products like that in addition to the basic staples a bike commuter might need. There’s room for both here!!!

    You gotta face it, though — bike commuters ARE a “weird sub-culture”…our coworkers and friends don’t often understand why or how we do it, and we commuters in general don’t fit into the typical cycling categories: roadies, trailheads, urban hipsters, etc.

    As far as weight, though — there is a huge difference between riding a 70 lb. tank and a gossamer 18 lb. bike, regardless of how much you weigh. Still, your point is very valid…losing body weight is by far the best way to “reduce your load”…and better for you, too!

  10. Noah August 2, 2007 5:51 am 

    I may give fixed a shot sometime in the future, but the only pro-fixie points that hold water are reliability and ease of maintenance. I do burn about an hour or two of my time every other weekend or so, doing a check-up and tune-up on my road bike. This time spent doing somewhat tedious maintenance is a price I pay for reliability.

    I’d certainly spend less time bolstering my bike’s reliability if I was commuting on a fixed gear. Check the brakes, headset, and bottom bracket. Wipe and lube the chain and brake cable. Good to go. I can see the appeal there.

    Simplicity is superficial. Sure, a bike with only one brake lever and one cable, no bar tape at all (don’t need it with good gloves), and just clipless pedals is a beautiful thing. But the beauty is skin deep and I’m not commuting so other people can drool over my bike. Those 4 cables aren’t getting in my way and the derailers/cogs are providing an immense benefit to me.

    Weight is moot. I load 20 pounds of stuff onto my bike to get to work and I’m 50 pounds overweight myself. Shaving 3-5 pounds off of my bike won’t make me any faster. I did an experiment where I brought just a pound or so of clothes rolled up on my rack, versus 20 pounds in huge panniers. I wasn’t any faster.

    So, four to six hours a month spent caring for my bike buys me a bunch of gears for slogging up the steepest roads while sitting in the saddle or hauling serious ass without a cadence that rivals an idling car engine and, the ability to coast if I want to. Personally, I think that’s a good trade. 😛 It’s not that I don’t think I could ride a fixed gear to and from work. It’s that I know in my heart of hearts that my 27-speed road bike will get me to work faster and without as much effort.

    Keep in mind, I haven’t ridden a fixed gear except in parking lots, but from my perspective, I can’t see the payoff.

    RL, if you lived in KC, I’d trade you bikes for a week. I don’t have any other way to obtain a fixie right now.

  11. LLrider August 2, 2007 5:58 am 

    So….in short. Ride what is good for you.

    Everyone take a deep breath…ahhh. :)

  12. Cornfed Jay August 2, 2007 6:39 am 

    RL – 235lbs now…I was serious about dropping lbs to ride faster.

    Everyone else makes great points…haven’t heard from Nick yet…;)

    I’ve converted two co-workers to ride their bikes to work during nice weather. I’ve also recruited 4 co-workers to ride their first MS150. In each and every case the only thing holding them back was they thought they had to wear spandex or have some super Lance Armstrong bike to ride. Once I told them I was leading the “Spandex Revolt” at the MS150 and wearing baggy shorts I immediately had two people who were on the fence sign up. The other two co-workers riding to work ride inexpensive bikes that use to just sit in their garage. This in my opinion is the best way to overcome the “weird sub-culture” that GhostRider seems to infer that all bike commuters belong to. I whole heartedly disagree. There is nothing weird about me riding my bike to work, particulary when my co-workers see me in a good mood in the morning, see that I’ve lost weight, hear that I don’t have to buy as much $3 a gallon gasoline..etc…etc. The more we act like what we do is weird the more people will agree…ok sermon over.

  13. Ghost Rider August 2, 2007 6:53 am 

    Jay, I’m not saying that WE think we’re weird…your point about your co-workers seeing you happy and healthy is good, but know this: folks still think you’re weird. I get it all the time at work — ”you rode in THIS weather?” “You ride on THESE streets?”. Wishful thinking notwithstanding, it’s just a fact of life that we are considered strange by most others.

    Bike commuters are a tiny minority in this car-centric country, and that almost automatically makes us a “fringe element”. We don’t act weird, but are perceived that way nonetheless, and that’s kind of a bummer, but something we have to live with and try to overcome when we can (by encouraging others to try bike commuting so they can see for themselves that it’s not so weird after all)!

  14. Nick August 2, 2007 7:22 am 

    Well, I only ride fixed gear bikes at the moment, but I wouldn’t claim any sort of superiority for it, it just fits my needs much better. If my commute was a hilly fifteen miles, I’d use a road bike.

    The bulk of my commute is down 2nd Ave or Broadway in the morning, and up 1st Ave in the evening. For me, a light, nimble bike that’s narrow and corners well is important. I know that Moe will disagree about the cornering, but… that’s just another reason not to use platform pedals on a fixed-gear. I’ve never gotten pedal strike, as my bike would have to be at a full 45-degree angle before that would happen. Platform pedals are wider and more likely to strike the ground on a corner.

    Being able to control my speed with my legs means better control in start and stop traffic, and a narrow bike lets me slip between cars easily, though I’ve had to get good at twisting and lowering my shoulders to avoid rearview mirrors. But not everyone rides the way I do, so not everyone should use the same bike for their commute.

  15. Jon August 2, 2007 8:48 am 

    Well, I have the best of both worlds (and the worst, too, I suppose) since I commute on a fixed-gear mountain bike – a pink Gary Fisher Mt Tam frame. I carry panniers on my rack, and a song in my heart, every day!

  16. Val August 3, 2007 8:37 am 

    One of my favorite moments as a bike shop owner was the common request “I want a commuter bike.” The only real answer was to turn it right back around and ask “Okay, what’s your ideal commuter bike?” There were as many right answers to that one as there were customers, but the hard part was to get people to think about it. The initial attitude was that a “Commuter Bike” was a specific product that you just ordered in the right size, and then commuted on. Figuring out exactly what that needed to be for each person was always fun.

  17. misc. August 3, 2007 5:21 pm 

    I got nothing to add than… I love my Surly Cross Check for commuting and f#@king off on the weekends.

  18. Stu November 28, 2007 6:01 pm 

    Noah, you cut down on the gears and it cuts down on the fat! My fixed keeps me fitter for more riding… 50 lbs overweight is not for me.
    I’d rather ride hard on 1 gear than coast with 27, especially for commuting. I ride the road bike on week ends and the fixed Mon-Fri. Fixed gives you more feel for the road, especially greasy, wet ones and more control of the bike in traffic. I save my MTB for trails..fat, nobby’s are useless on wet asphalt!

  19. obtaistinvimb January 23, 2008 5:53 am 

    Nice site 😉

  20. megan August 8, 2008 12:08 pm 

    I love riding fixed~! The challenge keeps me fresh and alert. It’s a little harder and I feel like I can stay in good shape even if I don’t do much beyond my daily 15 mile hilly commute. It’s hipper!

  21. Thomas December 9, 2008 3:26 am 

    I’ve got 2 commuter bikes: a touring bike and a mountain bike. The touring bike is superb for the summer. It’s pretty much a road bike with mountain bike components. Man do I love those V-brakes. That was the major selling point for me: awesome braking power. It comes in handy when you’ve got heavy stuff to haul. If I’m caught in the rain, it’s good to know that you’ve got brakes you can trust. I’ve got bar end shifters, 24 gears at my disposal and nice set of 700c wheels to cruise on. I could load the bike up for anything really. 80lbs of gear for a touring trip with killer hills? Nothing to it. A speedy ride downtown with just a water bottle? check. The name of the game for the perfect commuting bikes is versatility and reliability.

    As for the winter, by mountain bike comes into the scene with a rigid fork, fat tires and v-brakes. It snows quite a lot where I live and you need a bike that can roll over everything and take a punishment. It’s true that the rear derailleur freezes but at least the front still works. 3 gears is better than nothing and in winter that’s all you really need. In the summer, I also use my mountain bike for some “urban” commuting sessions like jumping up and down stairs, wheeling, hopping over curbs. It makes the whole commute more interesting.

    I don’t quite agree with the fixed gear being more efficient. I’ve gone on long rides on my mountain bike with fixed gear riders and can keep up just as well. See fixies may be more efficient because of skinny tires and a direct drive, but mountain bikes have gears and can coast. I will definitely be faster going up and down hill.

    I don’t see how cables can clutter anything. They don’t get in the way at all. What’s wrong with shifting gears and coasting? It’s great and efficient! Sure there is more maintenance but that only deepens the relationship you have with your bike. You know how to tune it and repair parts that are broken. You treat the bike with care, the bike takes care of you on the road. And seriously adjusting brakes and derailleurs isn’t that hard and things don’t break often at all.

    So what I’m saying is no I don’t think fixed gear bikes are better than mountain bikes for commuting.

  22. andy March 25, 2009 7:27 am 

    there is one aspect of fixies that seems to have been overlooked. a great way to get into fixed gear riding is by finding an old road frame and fork that nobody wanted anymore and turning it into a one-speed pedallin’ machine. for me, this is ideal because it really turns reduces the desirability of the bike when it is glanced at. who would want to steal my 1970-something pos? when they tried to pedal away and realize that there are no brakes, this, hopefully, would deter the theft. because of the simplicity and low cost of getting into fixie riding, my vote goes for the fixed gear, especially when the bike is left alone for 8+ hours.

  23. OKDOK April 12, 2009 1:59 pm 

    After x years of commuting experience, I’ve whittled my choice of main rig to a traditional MTB, fit and assembled to my liking. Had a few Fuji tracks before , singlespeed.

    Why I went back to mtb?

    -Got bored of one gear… craved multi gears again. Wanted faster top speed on flats and easier time on hills with loads in backpack.

    -Wanted disc brakes for rain and snow braking performance. Done one winter season with disc brakes and wondering why I didn’t do this 10 years ago.

    -Wanted fatter (still slick though) tires to give option of deflating a little bit for better black ice traction in winter.

    Yes there’s more maintenance, but when you learn it all, it becomes pretty easy. To me, maintenance comes with anything. You live with it and learn to enjoy it. The strive towards “no maintenance” seems kind of greedy to me… like you want your cake, and eat it too?

    BTW I never see the fixie’s leave downtown Toronto. Where are they 20-30km outside the downtown core? Also not too many north of bloor either… I guess the valley hills are too much? I don’t see too many of them riding in the middle of winter either.

    To me it seems like 70% a fashion/trend thing. But it will stay around because in local flat downtown areas, with lighter loads, that is where they are indeed ideal.

  24. jason May 17, 2012 8:00 am 

    IM PRETTY SURE I WOULD BEAT YOU WITH MY MTB ,SLICKS TIRE CARBON FORK 8 GEARS. 22 pounds and a lot more maneuverable o yeah and discbrakes.

  25. RL Policar! May 17, 2012 8:57 am 

    Name the time and place…

  26. jason May 18, 2012 2:49 pm 

    Ok we got probaly a problem . I live in europé and I supose you live in the US . THOUGH I DO NOT FEAR THE CHALLANGE .

  27. RL Policar May 18, 2012 2:54 pm 

    Tell you what Jason, if I’m ever in Europe, I’ll hit you up. And do the same if you’re ever in the US. :)


  28. madmanmardy January 1, 2013 2:55 pm 

    I ride fixed because I love how you feel conected to the road I rid a std mtb for 10 years before I got my first fixie and wont go back to comuting on my mtb

  29. Andrei February 24, 2013 8:48 pm 

    I rode them all. Every kind of bike. Fixies are a different experience and really fun to ride. But I find myself riding my full suspension mtb everywhere. I guess I just prefer a more comfortable ride rather than speed. My average speed is 15mph riding relaxed. The suspension system is incredible, the disc brakes are my favorite part of the bike. They stop so dam good that I never went to v-brakes again (They are only mechanical lol). Also ride my other mtb that has no suspensions but is much lighter and equipped with disc brakes. Also has a 11 speed cassette. Was going to get a road bike but I’m satisfied with what I got :) I raced with different people who love riding their fixies and I won every single time. I blast off starting in gear one and working my way down. I may be weird to you, but vice versa. That’s just me. The point is I ride. I enjoy the heck out of it. Even in winter. I enjoy maintaining my bike and cleaning it. I like the fact that it’s more complicated and has many different components on it that work together to give me the ride I enjoy. I don’t own a fixie right now because that would be a waste. I wouldn’t be riding it since it would just sit there. I feel more connected to the road with my mtb than a fixie. With a fixie I can’t be relaxed and constantly have to move. I honestly do not find anything attracting or “cool” about it. Its too simple for me.

  30. Joshuaj666 July 7, 2013 2:31 am 

    I started out cycling by commuting to work and bck on a specialized crosstrail hybrid that i put 28 road tires on. last march i got a mercier kilo tt. i now cycle 100+ miles a week over 5 days. it used to take me 40 mins to ride 6 miles on my hybrid. i know can do 10 miles in less that thirty on my fixed bike. I love the fact that i EARN every inch that bike moves. I pass most roadies that i encounter and i dont know what your talking about when you say you climb faster on a geared bike?!?! now i’ll admit that i get passed by roadies desending, but i find that i climb much faster on my fixed bike as i get far more gear inches per revolution than a geared bike does in its granny gear. maybe the hill is easier for geared bikes, but im getting up it faster, and im getting stronger! i ride ten miles at a time and really focus on keeping my cadence consistant and try not to ever stop, but if i do hit a red light along the way i get to trackstand, which is very rewarding feeling! lets see you stop at redlights without setting your feet down on your mountain bikes ; ) also the amount of control a fixed has in heavy city traffic is unparalleled. mainly the fixed forces you to ride, while freewheel allows you to just sit there perched , coasting, but not actually cycling…. why are you on a bike if you dont want to spin the fucking cranks?! I’m convinced that not ALL, but the majority of people that arent into fixed bikes never gave it a chance.. cause MOST people i know, including myself, have never gone back to a geared bike with freewheel after truly giving fixed; the true essence of cycling, a real chance.

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