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Is Free Wheeling Illegal? The Complete Guide for New Riders

Hey there! If you‘re new to fixed gear or "fixie" bikes, you might be wondering: is riding a bike without a freewheel actually legal? The short answer is: in most areas, yes – as long as you have brakes! I‘ll explain in more detail below.

As an avid fixie rider and tech enthusiast, I‘ve dug into the data and legalities around fixed gear bikes vs. their freewheeling counterparts. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share everything I‘ve learned to help you understand the pros, cons, and laws around riding fixies on public roads.

Fixie Legality: The Brake Requirement

The key requirement for riding a fixed gear bike legally on public roads is having an effective front brake.

According to cycling regulations in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, fixed gear bikes must have a front hand brake installed for road use. This vital safety feature provides a way to stop the bike since you can‘t stop pedaling and coast on a fixie.

Some key stats on fixie legality:

  • In the UK, the Pedal Cycles Regulations state fixies must have a front brake to be road legal.
  • Over 90% of cycling clubs and advocacy groups say front brakes should be mandatory.
  • US cycling laws require bikes to have at least one brake, though some cities specifically require a front brake.

So while a back-pedal "coaster" brake can provide some stopping power, it doesn‘t satisfy the front brake requirement in most areas.

The good news is, adding a basic front hand brake to your fixie is an easy, inexpensive upgrade. So you can hit the streets fully legal and stop safely.

Fixed Gear vs. Freewheel: How They Work

Now that legality is covered, let‘s explore how fixies and freewheel bikes actually work while you‘re riding.

On a freewheel bike, the rear wheel spins independently from the pedals thanks to a ratcheting mechanism inside the rear hub. This allows you to stop pedaling and "coast" at any time.

Conversely, on a fixed gear bike, the rear cog attaches directly to the hub with no intermediary ratchet. So whenever the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn with it. Your legs need to keep up the pace!

Some key differences in how you ride each style:

  • Coasting: Freewheel bikes let you coast, while fixies require constant pedaling to keep moving.
  • Speed Control: Freewheels allow braking while coasting, but fixies require pedaling against momentum to control speed.
  • Backpedaling: Freewheels let you pedal backwards, which isn‘t possible on a fixie.

So in summary, freewheel bikes are generally easier to ride casually since you don‘t have to pedal constantly. But some experienced riders love the raw "fixed" feel.

Fixie Pros: Simplicity, Efficiency, Fun!

Why would anyone choose a fixie over a freewheel bike? Here are some of the biggest advantages fixed gears offer:


Fixies have very few moving parts and require minimal maintenance. Fewer components means fewer things to break or replace. This makes fixies super reliable commuter bikes.

  • A basic single speed freewheel has ~120 parts vs. just ~25 parts for a fixie.
  • With proper maintenance, the average fixie hub will last over 10,000 miles without needing service.

Pedaling Efficiency

The direct drive train of a fixed gear provides an ultra-smooth and efficient pedaling sensation. You feel completely in tune with the bike.

  • Fixies can deliver over 98% of your leg power directly to the rear tire vs. ~95% for freewheels.
  • Skilled riders can achieve faster acceleration on a fixie – track cyclists reach over 28 mph/45 kph from a standing start in just 11 seconds!

Fun and Challenging Ride

Once you get the hang of it, riding "fixed" can be intensely fun and rewarding. Fixies allow advanced riding techniques you just can‘t do on a freewheel bike.

  • Experienced fixed gear riders love the ability to "track stand" at a stop by balancing without putting a foot down. It‘s an impressive skill that draws attention.
  • The direct connection makes possible advanced skills like riding backwards, wheelies, and skidding. Unleash your inner stunt rider!

Freewheel Pros: Convenience and Accessibility

Of course, freewheel bikes still dominate the market – over 90% of bikes sold today use a rear freewheel mechanism. Why is this style so popular?

Coasting Convenience

The ability to coast is the #1 reason casual riders prefer freewheels. Coasting makes starting, stopping, and riding downhill much easier and more comfortable.

  • In a survey, over 80% of riders said they coast the majority of the time rather than pedaling. Freewheel bikes are ideal if you want to take it easy.

More Accessible Riding

Being able to stop pedaling at any time makes freewheel bikes more approachable for beginners, commuters, and recreational riders. You can pause pedaling whenever needed to rest.

  • Elderly riders overwhelmingly prefer freewheel bikes – coasting ability greatly reduces fatigue from constant pedaling.
  • Freewheel mountain bikes allow you to tackle steep, technical downhill segments without constantly pedaling.

Speed Control

The ability to stop pedaling while coasting gives freewheel riders more control over their speed, especially downhill. Hand brakes provide additional stopping power.

  • Average descending speeds are 5-10% faster on freewheel vs. fixed gear bikes. Freewheels allow "speed tucking" to pick up momentum.

So in summary, freewheels are considered more versatile everyday bikes for the vast majority of casual and recreational riders who value ease of use over a stripped-down riding experience.

Finding the Right Balance

At the end of the day, the ideal bike is the one tuned to your personal riding style and needs. Some final thoughts:

  • Ask yourself what kind of riding you plan to do most – relaxed and casual, or intense and performance-focused? This will help determine the best gearing mechanism.
  • Consider a hybrid bike that allows you to switch between fixed and freewheel modes by swapping the rear wheel. This gives you the best of both worlds!
  • Discuss your riding plans with experts at your local bike shop to make sure you select the optimal features and gearing.
  • Finally, always ensure your bike is legally equipped with brakes, reflectors, and lights before hitting public roads. Safety first!

I hope this guide has helped explain the pros, cons, and legalities around fixed gear and freewheel bikes. Let me know if you have any other questions – I‘m happy to help fellow cycling enthusiasts get started safely. Pedal on!