What is it with single speed mountain bikes? What’s the temptation, and why would you bother in the first place?
I mean isn’t that why the God of Bikes invented gears, so we could all make it to the top of the hill without having a heart attack?
Why would you want to go slower, as you inevitably must have to do both uphill and downhill? Surely there’s no advantage to having one other than wanting to be ridicules by everyone else on the mountain?
Oh, so many questions and seemingly without any answers. And yet, despite the seeming oblivion that must await the single speed resurgence, more and more people seem to be switching on to the idea of single speed. Why?
Of course I am already a convert. I rode a single speed mountain bike throughout the 80’s and through most of the 90’s, but back then, no one ever batted an eyelid at me.
Now when I mention to my cycling buddies I’m thinking about building myself one again, they all look at me like I’ve just gone face down in the mud full on nuts crazy.
When I say, ‘but I owned one for years….’ They reply, ‘Your BMX wasn’t a mountain bike. It doesn’t matter you used to ride it like it was…’
‘F*ck off,’ I always say.
But they have a point. If single speed gearing on a mountain bike was as good as its proponents said it was, and gears were not all that most people think they are, then more people would have them wouldn’t they.
And yet, almost all of us learned how to ride our first bike with just one gear.
But aside from that, you know Single speeds actually have quite a lot going for them.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m firmly in the ‘everyone should own one of every type of bike, or more,’ category, depending on their situation.
The point I’m trying to make here, is the same point I always seem to be making, no matter what it is I’m writing about when it comes to bikes…The only thing that matters, is what you think. Nothing else matters.
Don’t listen to what you read on the forums, or hear from clueless Lycra clad moron out on the trail. Just go with what you feel yourself.
And here’s the thing that really gets me. Why are people so surprised when they ride a single speed and find they actually like it?
Well, so here’s a light hearted list of 28 reasons why single speed mountain bikes are the best thing to have hit the mountain bike community since they invented gears…
- They are in vogue right now – Let’s start at the start. I should begin by saying I’ve never really understood the concept of things being ‘in vogue.’ Nor does anyone else, especially when it comes to mountain bikes.
Things in the cycling world don’t really move at the same pace as fads do in other walks of life. Just google “26” vs 29”” and see what comes up.
So I don’t know if the whole single speed bandwagon has even really got started yet. But that said, more and more people are trying it so maybe there’s something to it…Of course, it could also be a revolution that’s already died out.
- It’s simple – Pedal and ride, and there’s no need to be mucking around with gears, wires, and derailleurs etc. Pedal and ride.
There’s no need to worry about gear selection as you go into a tricky downhill section, you can just hammer in thinking about what’s coming at you instead.
Not that worrying about your gears is that much of an issue anyway, but it’s only when it’s no longer a concern you realise how much time you spend thinking about shifting up and down the gears.
- Why does anyone need 36 gears anyway? – In truth most people couldn’t tell the difference between 10 speeds and 50 speeds when riding in the first place.
Yeah, I know, you can. Of course you can.
It’s everyone else we’re talking about here, especially the Sunday gear heads who spend their working week googling mountain bikes and only get out for a few hours on Sunday.
- It’s cheaper – Oh Hell yes, it’s cheaper. That’s especially if you can do it yourself. I was about to say that downgrading any mountain bike to single speed is quite an easy task, relatively speaking, but that would be the wrong choice of the word.
Customise! That’s the word. Let’s start again. Customising any mountain bike to single speed is quite an easy task, and also quite cheap to do.
- It’s just you and the bike – And it can all get really Zen really quick. No tech, no nothing; just you, and the bike.
- You’ll have no choice but to be aggressive – There is none of this spinning bullshit to get round obstacles.
- It makes for a nicer light bike – Really? I don’t know, but that’s what all the single speed mountain bike fanatics I know are saying.
The smart zealots who build their own custom build do have this niggling tendency to leave their bikes with the option of reattaching or leaving their rear derailleurs on, just in case though.
Even if they don’t, how much weight can be saved by removing a cassette in the first place…Well that is the reason some people spend thousands on carbon bits and bobs for their bikes to save grams, and here’s some uppity maniac saving the weight for free…
- It’s a great way to build a mountain bike on a budget – I hear that. Several years ago, after I busted my nice expensive (for me, at the time $400 would have been a fortune.) Kona doing stupid stuff on the downhill, I couldn’t afford to replace it.
Had I known that single speed mountain bikes were a thing, and that I could have built a better bike on my own, for next to nothing just by having a semi decent frame, I would have done. I curse the internet for not really being a thing when I was young.
- Maintenance isn’t a hassle – The more stuff you have on a bike, the more tech. you cram on it, the more likely it is to break and the more time you’re going to spend tightening stuff and maintaining it.
Get this: Single speed mountain bikes have next to nothing to look after apart from a chain, and two cogs. It’s also really easy to see what’s gone wrong when it goes wrong. For someone like me, who likes the nice and easy path through life, it’s a bit of a no brainer.
- Keeps life interesting – You’ve decided to try something new. Why not? Sometimes constantly shifting up and down gears and rising the same trails again and again, going down the same hills, pulling the same jumps can get boring, no matter how fast you get up there doing it.
Let’s be honest, that’s what most of us do in any case: We get out there and we ride the same stuff again, and again, and again.
Well, except this guy I used to write for. It turns out he spends most of his time travelling Europe these days because he made an absolute killing by selling his website and associated businesses.
For the last year or so, he’s been travelling around in a camper van with his bike strapped to the back just moving from trail to trail. I hate him. Not just because he gets all the girls, but because that is literally his life.
He’s ten years younger than me as well, godammit. But the point I’m really trying to make is that most of us don’t have chiselled abs, all our own hair (men), and have to work for a living.
Therefore we ride the same stuff week in, and week out. By getting our hands on a single speed, every trail suddenly becomes new again. How you approach every corner, every rock garden, and every berm is a brand new experience. Try it.
- You’ll look like you know what you’re doing – Even if you don’t. That’s true. People will either think you’re crazy or really know what you’re at.
Either of these options works for me.
But in truth, this works really well. And if anyone questions your ability, you can just tell them, ‘I was after a new challenge, I’ve done everything else.’
At this point you should look out across the trail with a thousand yard stare like you are remembering all the comrades you used to ride with who didn’t make it.
- You’ll be a much better mountain biker at the end of it – You have to be. Even if you’re not, you won’t be able to admit to anyone.
If you ever talk to anyone who has devoted themselves to the crazy world of single speed, they will swear blind they are a better rider because of it.
There’s some truth to those statements of course. Because you have no gears to fall back on you will have to force your way through the more challenging sections of trail and just deal with the pain afterward.
Without doubt you will question the insanity that had you choosing single speed at the time as you power your way up a hill, but you will feel stronger, fitter, and more developed as a rider afterwards.
That’s because going uphill you will be standing the whole way up the hill, and having to rely on your skill and technique more. You will have to anticipate what is coming up ahead in a way you don’t have to on a geared bike.
- Beats walking – Of course it does. Anything beats walking, except golf. Golf never beats anything. It’s a terrible sport, and should be made illegal everywhere.
Of course one of the downsides of single speeds is that you may find yourself walking up hill a lot, especially near the end of the climb when your legs just give out.
- Because it is possible to get up a mountain with one gear – Honestly it is.
- It’s the greatest excuse, for everything – If you struggle with anything, you can just say: ‘Ahh, one gear.’ It works in any situation, even in a nightclub or while fishing.
- It look special – There is something rather nice looking and elegant about a nice well-made single speed mountain bike.
There’s no bits hanging off it, and the lack of shifters up on the handlebars or errant gear wires will give your bike a nice aesthetic overall feel.
It may also make you look more like a pro. It might not though.
- Pain – Feel the pain. Pain is good. Expect the first few weeks of adjustment to a single speed to be absolute Hell. Going up hills will see you up on your feet the whole time.
On the plus side you can expect to burn a lot more fat.
You will love the feeling of tired, exhausted muscles at the end of the day though. Feel the grind. But it will be quiet…
- Peace and quiet – Is there any worse sound than that of a slapping ticking annoying chain, or gears crunching when they shift? No there is not.
That might be the single biggest thing you notice, after the pain in your legs.
It can make a real change to notice the sound of your tires on the ground over and above everything else. It can almost make you feel kind of Zen like…see above.
- Get on and go – This come down again to the whole maintenance thing. Just get up and go. Pedal and ride. It can be really nice to just be able to get up and pedal away the moment you unhitch the bike form the back of the car. Pedal and go…See above.
- No choice but to push hard – Because if you don’t, you’ll be walking. To be honest, I sometimes prefer to push my bike up a mountain anyway rather than sit there and spin my way to the top in any case.
- Do as much workout in 1 hour… – …as you might in 3 on a geared bike. See above.
- No need to worry about the bike… – …or which part of your bike you’re going to rip to shreds. Because there’s very little to tear off the bike.
If you wipe out, there’s more of a chance the bike will all still be there when you get back up.
- It makes you special – Isn’t that nice. Everyone should be special. Now you can be. It really feels like you’ve really accomplished something good when you manage to hard pedal your way to the crest of a bitch of a climb.
People will respect you, albeit grudgingly, if you manage to get to the top of a trail on a single speed.
- It’s like finally being able to ride a grown up BMX – Could this be the real reason behind single speed mountain bikes? Are the single speeders really just nostalgic for their childhood, for a simpler time when movies were good, and we all knew that Communism was the enemy?
- You have to ride it like it’s a BMX – There’s none of this going down the gears and spinning like a circus hamster all the way to the top.
On a single speed, you get up on your pedals and you stand all the way to the top. You will use more energy, but you will be faster because of momentum, and you know that if you stop, you’re going to be pushing your bike all the way to the top.
- Your legs will get really, really strong – You will look like you work out constantly after just a few weeks. Of course you won’t need to go to the gym ever when you ride a single speed, because you’ll be doing all your working out on the trail.
All that side to side movement you generate up in your pedals will also give you a really good upper body workout too.
- It’s efficient – Well, obviously. Your chain doesn’t have to sneak its way around gear pulleys that are at an angle, so all the power you put in, is transferred directly from your legs to the ground.
The chain will also loop straight back around the rear cog so the force can also be applied directly to the wheel.
- Most people who own a FS MTB…. – …Will wear armour and probably have more money than knowledge in any case.
Some of the best MTB riders I ever met, were the ones who rode SS. It’s a great leveller. Too many riders rely on their bikes to get them out of trouble, instead of relying on themselves.