Can You Add Gears To A Fixed Gear Bike?

There are many instances in which bike owners convert multi-gear bicycles to single speed bikes. Also, some riders add gears to their mono-speed machines. All the same, can you add gears to a fixed gear bike without damaging the bicycle?

You can add gears to a fixed gear bike if its dropouts are wide enough to accommodate a multiple speed hub. If the frame is narrower, you can go for internal gear hubs or consider cold setting your bike’s frame.

However, you can only cold-set steel bike frames because they can take a substantial amount of strain without getting damaged. Other materials like aluminum and carbon fiber lose their integrity.

can you add gears to a fixed gear bike - A man repairing a bike rear wheel

What Is The Difference Between A Single Speed And Fixed Gear Bike?

At first, beginners may not figure out the difference between a single speed and fixed gear bike. A single speed bike is a bicycle that has one chainring on the cranks and one freewheeled cog on the rear wheel.

With the single speed bike, it’s possible to coast when going downhill or negotiating around corners and objects.

O the other hand, a fixed gear bike (fixie) is almost similar to the single speed, only that the rear cog is part of the wheel hub. Consequently, you have to pedal at all times since the cog doesn’t have a freewheel.

In addition, for a fixie, the drivetrain also works as the brakes to the bike.

How Can You Add Gears To A Fixed Gear Bike?

We found out that you can add gears to a fixed gear bike without any adverse effects from the introduction above. But how do you do it?

When you want to convert your fixie into a geared bike, you will need a new drive-set and a new wheel as well.

Also, make sure you have the relevant bike tools with you. For example, how do you hold your bike as you remove the old drive train?

 You can use the Home Mechanic Bicycle Repair Stand (View on Amazon), which has a fully adjustable clap to fit1” – 3” tubes. It also has an adjustable height to help you elevate the bike to a comfortable position as you work.

Generally, there are different ways in which you can add gears to a fixed gear bike.

You can either go for a single-speed gear, internally geared hub, and the other way is going for a derailleur system. The method you use should mainly depend on the width between your bike’s dropouts.

The frame may not have any challenges when using a single speed gear since its O.L.D is not wide.

How Can You Add Gears To A Fixed Gear Bike

Using Internal Gear Hub To Add Gears To A Fixed Gear Bike

For dropout widths of 120mm and below, spreading the chainstays to accommodate a derailleur set may end up being disastrous.

In such a scenario, it is advisable to go for a gear hub.

An internal gear hub looks more or less like a single-speed hub, only that this one is thicker to accommodate the gear wheels.

Unlike in the normal derailleur system, the gears in a gear hub are not exposed.

However, for you to use a gear hub to convert your fixie, you don’t only change the hub. You change the whole drive train and the wheel too. Notably, the fixie rim may not synch with the new gear hub.

For you to have an easy time working on your bike, you need a set of tools. To save you the pain of buying separate tools, you need to go for the Park Tool SK-4 Bicycle Starter Tool Kit (View on Amazon)It comes with 15 bicycle-specific tools and a comprehensive guidebook for working on bikes.

Pros of Internal Gear Hubs

The internal gear hub may not be as popular as the derailleur drivetrain, but it has its advantages that include:

  • Requires Little Or No Frame Adjustment

As earlier mentioned, a rear hub is ideal for a bicycle with narrow dropout widths. Also, for bicycles made of materials other than steel, an internally geared hub is the best choice. All you need to do is get one with an O.L.D that fits your bike.

  •  Can Shift Gears When Stationary

When using the standard derailleur gear system, it isn’t possible to shift gears when not pedaling. If you do, the drivetrain will produce some disturbing noises.

As for gear hubs, they allow you to shift gears even when not in motion. Actually, they are the best when you have to ride through heavy traffic jams.

In addition, you can shift through multiple gears at once without worry.

  • Low Maintenance

Unlike the derailleur gear system, internal gear hubs require minimal maintenance. Especially when they are new, all you do is maintain proper chain tension and lubricate the drivetrain.

Again, since the gears are inside the hub, there are few chances of being damaged by external objects.

  • They Can Use Belt-Drive

Instead of the conventional chain drive, you can opt to use Belt-Drive because the gear hub system doesn’t use a derailleur. In addition, belts require less maintenance as compared to chains.

Using A Derailleur Gear System

Disadvantages Of Using Internal Gear Hubs

Using a gear hub is a great way to add gears to a fixed gear bike, but it has its limitations. They include:

  • They Are Heavy

Internal gear hubs add substantial weight to a bicycle; the more gears it has, the heavier the hub.

For riders who like keeping their bikes extremely lightweight, a gear hub may not be the best option.

  • Have Fewer Gears

One of the major drawbacks of using a gear hub is that it has fewer gears than ordinary freewheel cassettes. So, it is technically hard to fit many gears in a small space.

Most internal gear hubs average at 2 to 3 gears.

  • Expensive To Replace

Most of the internal gear hubs are complex to repair. Therefore, you have to seek a mechanic’s services or replace the hub. Unfortunately, the hub is more expensive than a freewheel gear cassette.

  • Regular Chain Tensioning

Since the internal gear hub doesn’t use a derailleur, you have to regularly tension the chain. Also, every time you remove the gear wheel, you have to readjust the chain tension.

Using A Derailleur Gear System

You can also add gears to a fixed gear bike by going for a derailleur freewheel gear system. Unfortunately, most of the multi-gear freewheels fit on dropouts that are 130mm wide and more.

Therefore, to add gears on a fixed gear bike, you will need to first cold set the frame. At the same time, it is good to note that you can only cold-set steel frames.

What Is Frame Cold Setting?

Cold setting is tactfully pressing or pulling the chainstays apart to widen the distance between the dropouts.

There are several ways of increasing the O.L.D, but the safest and most precise is using a threaded rod and nut.

We had talked about how to cold set a bicycle frame in the article Can You Add Gears To A Single Speed Bike So, you can take a look at it for more insight.

How Much Does It Cost To Put Gears On A Fixed Gear Bike

Advantages Of Using The Derailleur Drive Train

The most commonly used gear system is the one that uses a multi-gear freewheel and a derailleur. This gear system is popular because:

  • They provide a wide range of gears
  • The drive set is cheaper than internal gear hubs
  • Derailleurs gear systems are easy to repair
  • The derailleur system is more efficient
  • They are light in weight, allowing for faster acceleration.

If your bike O.L.D is wide enough, you can go for a cassette with more cogs for maximum efficiency. For example, the SHIMANO Cassette X.T. 9-Speed 11-34 Sprocket can accommodate chainring rationing of up to 34 gears.

Disadvantages of Derailleur Gear System

  • Derailleur systems are fragile
  • They aren’t compatible with belt drives
  • You Can’t shift gears when stationary
  • Chans get easily damaged 
  • The gear system is Easily affected by weather elements
  • Requires frequent maintenance

How Much Does It Cost To Put Gears On A Fixed Gear Bike?

Actually, converting a fixie into a multi-gear bike may not make much financial sense. Buying individual drivetrain parts for a bike may add up to almost the same cost as buying a multi-geared bike.

On the other hand, the cost of putting gears on a fixie bike depends on the gear system you choose.

For an internal gear hub system, you might spend about $1200 to $1600. On the other hand, the derailleur gear system will cost about $200-$500.

Final Take

If you have been wondering whether you can add gears on your fixed gear bike, now you have the answer. You can either choose to use an internal gear hub or derailleur gear system.

The first thing to consider is the material used to make your bike frame. If it isn’t steel, you better go for the gear hub.

However, if the frame is made of steel, you could cold-set it to accommodate the derailleur gear system.