Blast From the Past: Tips for fixed gear mountain biking

Ed. Note: This piece was originally published in Dirt Rag 106 in March 2004. 

For the uninitiated, a fixed gear bicycle is a singlespeed without a freewheel—if the wheels are rolling, the cranks are turning. Rudy Nadler is one of the many people who have learned the joy of off-road fixed gear cycling, and when he’s not busy painting up a storm in his studio, he can be found gobbling up miles on the ample trails in Tucson, Arizona. After Rudy took third place in the solo-singlespeed category of the 24-hours in the Old Pueblo race this past February, I convinced him to shed some light on his technique and the setup of his titanium Matt Chester. –Jeff Guerrero

Photo: Chipps Chippendale


Since you can’t really drop off the back of the saddle like on a freewheel rig, bike fit is crucial. Raised bars and a shortened stem help keep the rear wheel down on steep descents.

A taller gear (than used on a singlespeed with a freewheel) allows you to spin more slowly, which helps since you can’t stop your crank rotation on downhills.

Pay attention to your chain tension—a dropped chain will make you lose control of the bike.

Use toe-clips or clipless pedals. With platforms you risk losing contact at a critical moment—like when trying to stop.


Relax, don’t fight the bumps—just flow.

When picking your line, ride the high point of the trail. Forget about keeping up with the folks riding freewheels and don’t look at their line.

Adjust the position of your feet by letting the rear wheel slide—it’s totally natural to lock your legs up and drift a bit.

Get rid of your rear brake. Touching it on a downhill will send you into an uncontrolled slide.

Use your front brake to adjust your speed before you get to a steep drop—trying to control your speed while going down is risky business.

Keep Reading: As we get ready to celebrate our 200th issue hitting the shelves in a couple weeks, we’ve been taking a look back at all the stuff we’ve published over the past 28 years. Go back in time with us with our Blast From the Past content here.


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1 Comment

  1. Who would have thought single-speeds would have gotten such a foothold. I love the logic, make it harder to bike by only running one gear. Such a silly turn away from technology so one can have bragging rights to be part of the elite SS club. Que macho! If you want to make it truly hard and hardcore, then ditch the hydro brakes [actually no brakes at all, right, because true men ride a fixie], no carbon fiber, no aluminum, no Ti. Turn your back on all the advancements of technology that biking has adopted. Maybe a Penny-farthing is your true calling, instead of this stop-gap SS thing…

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