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Bike Gears Explained

Part 1: Fixed gear / single-speed / multi-speed /internally-geared 

Fixed Gear

In the beginning, all bikes were fixed gear bikes. Imagine a penny farthing or a kids tricycle; the pedals are directly connected to the front wheel. So if the wheel is turning, the pedals are turning. You can’t freewheel or coast, meaning when the pedals are turning, you’re legs are turning too.

On a modern fixed gear bike, the pedals are separated from the wheel but connected by the chain. At the pedals, there is a big sprocket called a chainring, the chain goes around that and around a similar, smaller sprocket on the rear wheel. This smaller sprocket on the rear wheel is fixed to the wheel and can’t turn without the wheel turning. There’s no ‘freewheel’ in the system.

So just like the penny-farthing or the tricycle, if your wheels are turning your pedals are too. That’s a fixed gear.

Fixed gears are harder to ride as you must constantly keep pedalling, no laziness with one of these. This is fine on a competitive track and there are advantages to riding a fixed gear, but generally, it’s better to get comfortable on a single-speed bike with a flip-flop hub when riding on the road. before trying to ride a fixed gear later.

A ‘flip-flop’ wheel is a kind of wheel that has a fixed gear sprocket on one side and a freewheel on the other. If you install the wheel one way, your bike will be a fixed gear. Take the wheel out, flip it around and reinstall it and it’ll be a single-speed. The Reid Harrier and Wayfarer can all be used as a single-speed or fixie, with both coming with a flip-flop wheel.



single-speed is similar but the rear sprocket can spin backwards on the wheel and it can stop spinning while the wheel keeps spinning. This is because the sprocket is attached to a ‘freewheel’. When you coast along without pedalling, it’s the freewheel you can hear making that lovely clicking sound. So you’ve got one gear and you can coast without the pedals turning – that’s a single-speed.

Both single-speed and fixed gear bikes have just one gear but we call the ones with a freewheel ‘single-speeds’ to tell them apart from the traditional ‘fixies’.

In general, single-speed bikes and fixed gear bikes are the easiest to maintain as they have the fewest parts, so they make great basic commuters and cruising bikes. Singlespeeds are much easier to ride and are great for new riders as there are no gears to worry about, so it’s as simple as hop on and pedal.


Multi-speed Bikes

A conventional multi-speed bike is a bike with many gears, this is the typical bike you may have come across. It will have 5 to 10 sprockets on the rear wheel and usually 2 or 3 sprockets (chainrings) at the pedals. Different combinations of sprockets give harder (taller) or easier (shorter) gears. Gears are changed using a derailleur, which actually derails the chain from one sprocket to another. Examples include all Reid Road BikesMountain Bikes and Fat and 27+ Bikes.

Multi-speed bikes are the bee’s knees and a real bonus if you have hills to climb, loads to carry or just want to make things a bit easier on yourself! For road-riding at high speeds or mountain-biking, a multi-speed bike is pretty much essential. The higher gear you’re in the easier to pedal uphill and likewise the lower gear you’re in, the more resistance on the pedals, meaning you will still be able to pedal at high speeds. For the rider with a hillier hometown, mark this down as the gearing for you.


Internal Gears

An internally-geared hub bike is a bike with multiple gears built into the hub of the rear wheel. Earlier versions had 2 or 3 gears all hidden away inside the hub. Modern versions might have 3, 5, 8 or more gears. These bikes might look a bit like a single-speed because they have no derailleur but they still have a range of gears. The Reid Ladies Vintage Deluxe runs a 3-speed Shimano internal hub.

Internally-geared hubs have most of the advantages of a conventional multi-speed bike, plus you can change up and down without pedalling which can be nice at the lights! However, they tend to be more expensive and they generally have fewer gears and a narrower range of gears. They often have the clean lines of a single-speed but are still heavier, more complicated and less robust. However, our Ladies Vintage Deluxe being the crown jewel in our vintage bike collection has a lightweight alloy frame, is simple to ride and has everything you want out of a retro cruiser.


Part 2: So which one is best?

Most bike riders would love a whole range of bikes so they could pick the best one for the kind of riding they’re going to do. Like your wardrobe, you’re not going to wear a fleece to the beach or sandals in the snow, so why do the same with your bike?

But if you can only have one bike, which should it be? Generally, new riders find singlespeed or basic multi-speed bikes will suit their needs best, like our range of commuters. Personally, my daily commuter is a singlespeed because my ride to work is pretty flat. However our International Account Manager Troy’s journey is a little bit more hilly, so his bike of choice is our Urban X2.

The best way to figure out what you’d like is to try a few different geared bikes out, talk to someone that knows a lot about bikes or head down to your local IBD (Independant Bike Dealer). Talk to the guys there about what kind of riding you’ve done in the past and what you’d like to do in the future. In the meantime check out our full range so you’ve got an idea of what to look out for 😉 Of course any questions about gearing or any of our bikes in general, please get in touch.

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