What is the best gear ratio for a single speed bike?

Single speed bikes are a dream when you’re cycling around the city. And they’re super easy to maintain too.

But unlike a multi speed bike, fixie bikes and single speed bikes have just one gear setting. This is represented by a number that we call the gear ratio.

Gear ratio varies from one bike to another. So here we take a look at how different ratios affect your ride. And discuss the best ratio for a single speed bike.  

man in white trainers on Atlantic Blue Steed Bike Thoroughbred in front of orange and blue wall

What does gear ratio mean?

Pick a fixed gear or single speed bike and you’ll find that there’s just one gear setting. This is called the gear ratio.

Some of the most common gear ratios are 44:16, 46:16 and 44:18.

But what do those numbers actually mean?

Ratios vary depending upon the number of teeth there are in the bicycle sprockets. A bike with a 44:16 gear ratio has a front chain ring with 44 teeth and a rear sprocket with 16 teeth.

You sometimes also see gear ratios shown as a decimal number. For example, a 44:16 gear ratio can be calculated as follows:

44 ÷ 16 = 2.75

This decimal ratio represents the number of turns your wheel makes for each revolution of the pedals. In this case, your wheel turns two and three-quarter times for each pedal revolution.

A larger chainring with, say, 46 teeth in front and the same 16 teeth at the back equates to a higher gear ratio:

46 ÷ 16 = 2.875

And this leads to a slightly different riding experience – as we’ll find out in a minute.

What are gear inches?

When deciding on the best gearing for your single speed bike you may come across the term gear inches.

This is a more precise calculation that takes gear ratio and tyre width into account.  

You can calculate gear inches using this formula:

(Chainring Teeth ÷ Rear Sprocket Teeth) x Rear Wheel Diameter = Gear Inches (GI)

If you’re comparing bikes that have the same gear ratio but different tyre widths then gear inches is a useful stat.

But in the vast majority of cases, gear ratio is the only figure you need to know.   

What is the best ratio for a single speed bike?

man with ginger hair and beard sitting holding a onyx black single speed bike Thoroughbred Steed Bikes

The best gearing for a single speed bike depends upon a couple of different factors:

  • The terrain
  • How fast you want to go
  • How quickly you want to accelerate
  • How much pedal power you’re prepared to put in

This means that the “best” ratio really comes down to personal preference. But here are a couple of guidelines to consider.

Best gear ratio for a single speed mountain bike

The best gear ratio for a single speed mountain bike is generally at the higher end of the scale.

Higher ratios make pedalling hard when you’re going up hills. But crucially, they prevent your pedals turning like crazy on the descent.

Best gear ratio for single speed road bike

The best gear ratio for a single speed road bike is at the lower end of the scale.

That’s because low gear ratios make for easy pedalling. And they offer good acceleration. Perfect when traffic lights turn green and you want to make a speedy getaway.  

All that being said, if you usually travel on long, straight stretches of road, road bikes with a higher gear ratio mean less leg effort over the course of a ride.  

Best gear ratio for speed

If you want to make a single speed bike faster, then high gear ratios are the way to go.

It’s tougher to get your wheels turning from a standstill. But you’ll reach a much faster top speed than you would with a lower ratio arrangement.

What is the gear ratio of a Steed Bikes fixie?

Both our Thoroughbred and Stallion single speed bikes have a gear ratio of 44:18. Many years of fixie riding have led us to the conclusion that this is the optimal gear ratio for urban cycling.

You can handle moderate hills with ease. You get fast acceleration. And you can count on an easy, relaxed pace as you travel from a to b.

Ready to find your perfect fixie? Then check out the Steed Bikes range today.  

friends with their Steed fixie bikes by a canal in the sunshine

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1 comment
  • I am interested in a single speed; however I do not want the pedals moving as I descend hills. I want to coast down hills. Are any of your bikes set up to allow this?

    Mark on

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