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Road biking can effectively be broken into two groups: racing and non-racing. Sure, roadies will argue that subtle differences are significant, but show your grandma a Tarmac and a Roubaix, and she’ll likely tell you they’re the same bike… unless, of course, you show her a pink and blue bike.

Mountain biking, on the other hand, has quite a few niche groups: uphill, downhill, all-mountain, small mountain, enduro, fat bikes, and skinny bikes. Half of those are technically made up, but show your grandma a fat bike and a downhill bike, and she’ll likely comment on more than the color.

There are major differences between each sub-group that results in significantly different biking experiences. One sub-group I couldn’t wrap my head around for the longest time was the single speed group. What would drive one to mount a bike based out of the early 1900s and then attempt to tackle dirt and rocks? In short, the masochistically stupid. So when my husband told me he wanted to build a fully rigid single speed, chocolate milk shot from my nose as I laughed in his face.

Photo: dgaddis

Photo: dgaddis

For a couple of months, our pillow talk consisted of why a single speed mountain bike would be an amazing addition to our collection of bikes. “It would be fun,” he pitched. And he could even get a frame size we could both ride. It would be “our” bike… but I couldn’t see the point in spending money on yet another bike (well, at least this particular type). In reality, we both have single speed mountain bikes. It’s called not shifting. Oh, but he wanted a fully rigid bike, for a “completely different riding experience.” Again, we already had this capability. Simply locking out both the front and rear shocks magically accomplishes the same objective: bouncing your eyeballs out of their sockets on even the smallest of rocks.

One of the tight, rocky sections in the Sandia Foothills that will jar your bones on a fully rigid mountain bike.

One of the tight, rocky sections in the Sandia Foothills that will jar your bones on a fully rigid mountain bike.

Christmas drew near, and I began to run out of ideas for presents for my husband. With nearly daily comments on how awesome a single speed mountain bike would be, I caved. I saw the writing on the wall, and bought him a fork.

This was supposed to be a slow build. One of those where you pour over the internet for hours upon hours looking for the absolute best deal on every piece, from the grips to the tires. The kind that takes you numerous months before you get to the point where it resembles a bike. Not my husband. He just so happened to find an amazing deal on everything.

A month later, he’s wheeling (most of) the bike around the house, lamenting about how fantastic it will be once he gets the last few parts… it’s so close, he can practically taste the soon-to-be single speed bliss. He even had his buddies swinging by the house to take a gander at his beautiful creation. One evening, I made an off-the-cuff comment that he should just go ahead and finish it so I can stop hearing him rant about it.

Relationship advice for you guys: when your wife says something of this nature to you, she means the opposite. Failure to pick up on this sarcasm will cost you dearly. Within a week, “our” bike was ready for its inaugural ride, the husband was super happy, and I was super pissed.

I hate climbing. With a passion. But in the southwest, you can’t get away from climbing. It’s typically considered an “easy” trail system if it only has 1,000 feet of elevation gain. On top of that, I’m still trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy fitness levels. Needless to say, I tend to spend a great deal of time in my easiest gear, or the “great-granny” gear, as I refer to it. However, I hate pushing my bike uphill more than I hate climbing them, which is the main reason I waited quite a while before taking “my” single speed out for a ride.

My new companion, "Skinny Minnie," posing for a picture in her one gear glory.

My new companion, “Skinny Minnie,” posing for a picture in her one gear glory.

While out on the trails one day with my full suspension bike and its 20 gears, I ran into a whole group of guys enjoying a suffer-fest on their single speeds. My conversation with them made me realize that if I truly wanted to get in shape, I needed to ride the blasted bike!

I wanted to hate the bike. How could a bike stripped of almost all technological advances in the past 100 years be any fun? It was inconceivable to me. I fully expected to spend most of my time pushing the inferno around, cursing at anything and everything. But the opposite happened. I even broke 8 of my personal records on Strava. (Honestly, isn’t that why most of us bike? In a vain attempt to become King or Queen of the Mountain for a day or two until our records are shattered?)

I’m not quite sure why the Angry Singlespeeder is so unhappy, because this bike is an absolute blast!

A few years ago, dgaddis in this article convinced five of his most gullible nicest friends to give his single speed a spin around the local trails. Those that ride single speed mountain bikes regularly weren’t too surprised to hear that dang near all of them wanted one! The single speed addiction doesn’t require much to get you hooked.

I realized quite a few things on my first few rides:

1. Having one gear can actually make climbing easier.

You can’t spend half a day spinning up a hill. To me it’s similar to removing a Band-Aid. Sometimes ripping it off fast is best. Also, no matter how often you ride, it will take a while before you stop phantom shifting.

2. If you want to portray being a “hardcore” mountain biker, sport a single speed, especially as a woman.

I realized that I can forget the downhill bike and full face helmet. All I need to do is pass by on rigid single speed for full street cred.

3. Never tap the brakes unless absolutely necessary.

Momentum is your best friend on a single speed. Additionally, never slow your cadence to try to recover on a climb. Recipe for disaster, trust me.

4. Going fully rigid is nice due to the fact that all of your energy is transferred to forward motion, especially when you only have one gear to turn.

However, every single rock will feel like a boulder, making you focus significantly more on the trail in front of you. Still, it does add a whole new dimension to mountain biking, and it can transform your boring local trails into a new beast to tackle.

5. It has made me a better rider.

After just a few rides, I added power to my legs, increased my endurance, and even improved my ability to keep my line on the trails.

I can’t stress enough how much fun I have on “our” single speed mountain bike. It has become my go-to bike. Whether you have to borrow or buy one, give it a try! One word of caution though: you may be hanging up that full-suspension bike for quite some time. You’ll also likely find yourself scoffing at all those pansies on the trails with their unnecessary gears and derailleurs.

Your Turn: Do you own a singlespeed? Why or why not?

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# Comments

  • dgaddis

    Singlespeeding is the BESTEST!!! No one gets it, until they try it, then they’re hooked. And it’s really not as hard as everyone thinks. Since I wrote that “one is enough” article, Brian now has 2 SS bikes, and both Trent and Tom converted their old bikes to SS’s and they get regular trail time.

    As for the rigid beating you up, tires and tire pressure are CRITICAL! Put the biggest front tire on the bike you can find, set it up tubeless, and drop the pressure way way down – I use between 15-18psi in 2.3″-2.55″ wide tires. Even a few psi one way or the other can make a big difference.

    • Greg Heil

      Heh, so I’ve tried it, and I haven’t converted… yet. My beef with single speeding is that you just can’t go as fast downhill as you can on a geared bike. Sure, if you live in an area where you just have short, rolling hills that don’t allow you to carry speed, that’s fine: but when it comes to big mountain descents, it’s a whole different ball game. I have an “As fast as possible” downhill policy, and a singlespeed just doesn’t cut it for that.

      However, I *could* maybe be talked into one for my short after work loops…

    • dgaddis

      Eh. My downhill speed is very rarely limited by how hard I can pedal, it’s usually limited by the terrain and the trail – you can only go so fast around the corners, and typically gravity is more than enough to reach those speeds.

      If you actually timed yourself on the descents, on trail (not a gravel road), I bet the difference is a lot less than you think. And you can more than make that up on the climbs!

      Seriously though, it’s a rare day someone rides away from me on a DH, and if they do it’s cause I’m using the brakes more than they are LOL.

    • Greg Heil

      When I rode with singlespeeders in Dahlonega every week, I’d ride away from them on almost every downhill… just sayin’!

    • dgaddis

      You probably would have done that on a SS too though!

    • Greg Heil

      It wasn’t for a lack of handling skills: one of my buddies, Max, is a dirt bike racer and a fantastic bike handler, but when it comes to those big mountain descents, the gearing on his single speed just can’t keep up. (Note: he’s also running a 120mm fork, so suspension wasn’t the issue.)

      In fact, I’ve even noticed that on the Bull Mountain descent, having more suspension and a dropper post didn’t make me faster. It’s rocky, but not technical enough that you really need a ton of suspension. Rather, my fastest times down Bull Mountain were when I was riding my hardtail 29er, setup with a rigid seatpost and a 2×10 drivetrain. On bigger bikes, I’d drop the seat, work the suspension, etc., and while I might have fun and FEEL faster, I wouldn’t actually log faster times. Instead, my fastest times were when I sat down and just focused on pedaling and adding more speed to the equation, even when descending at 25-30mph on singletrack. With a singlespeed drivetrain, you just can’t add any more speed after a certain point, since you get spun out so quickly.

      I’m not saying that singlespeeds aren’t awesome, I’m simply saying that there’s no one bike that is THE best at everything. Singlespeeds have their place and have certain conditions where they are definitely fantastic, and they can undoubtedly be ridden even in the massive Rocky Mountains (and people do), but that doesn’t mean that they automatically dominate every other bike. 🙂 They most definitely have their limitations.

    • cycling8r

      So basically, Greg, you’re saying you’re just a beast on the bike??! 🙂 It does stink to spin out of gear and not be able to hammer it, but it’s taught me how to carry my speed better. No one bike is perfect for everything, that’s why the law of biking is you need “n+1”, with “n” being the number of bikes you already own 🙂

    • cycling8r

      That’s a really low pressure. I typically run 25-28 with a 2.2″, which is way more than I need for my weight, but I’ve seen my husband tear through way too many tires and rims that it’s more of a cost-efficient approach. I’ll have to give the lower pressure a try to see how much better it rides. I’m just not sold that rubber can soak up a measurable amount 🙂 Hopefully I will be proven wrong!

    • Greg Heil

      I definitely wouldn’t mind adding a singlespeed as another +1…. depending on how the bike situation shapes up this year, my hardtail 29er might continue to see less and less use. I might have to consider a SS conversion 😉

    • awshuckss

      Yes, your articles were a HUGE influence on my conversion. Great articles, and thanks.

  • skibum

    Do I SS? No.
    Why not? It’s not that I wouldn’t love to. But I already have three bikes and neither budget nor garage space allows for more. And I’m not giving up one of the ones I have. If I do expand, it’s likely a fat bike will come in before the SS. (of course, I guess I could get a SS FB!)

    • cycling8r

      The bigger question here is why have you not expanded your garage?
      Choosing a fat bike over a ss… clearly you’ve been drinking the kool-aid here on singletracks 😉

  • rsb201

    I to caught the SS bug over the winter. I just wanted a new challenge. Something completely different than my specialized FSR. So I pieced together a rigid steel kona 29er and wow, so much fun. It’s like riding a big BMX bike. Challenging indeed but with great reward.

    • cycling8r

      Sounds like the same bike we built up! 🙂

  • awshuckss

    Single speed to me was coaster, bmx, commuter, flip flop hub bikes. When I started mountain biking I had a hard enough time with my 3×10 let alone a single speed! Then I saw the singlespeed forum on MTBR and caught the bug before I even tried it. I had this old (89?) Hardrock I had gotten off CL for commuting purposes but once I discovered single speeding and saw all the info on converting I knew I had to do it. Now my 26″ rigid Hardrock with canti brakes sees just as much trail time, if not more, as my 3×10 Marin 29er.

    I enjoyed the conversion and singlespeeding so much that as soon as I finished that conversion I was looking up parts to start a rigid 29er build. Friday I bought the rest of the parts and I cannot WAIT to ride this bike when it’s done. Although my 26″ Hardrock conversion will always have a special place in my heart!

    • cycling8r

      It really is an addiction, isn’t it?! Post pics of your build! I love to drool over other people’s bikes 🙂

  • LuckyCharm4x4

    So, the moral of the story is… your husband was right? Let’s chalk one up for the guys here. Haha.

    Great read though, I was cracking up. I used to think the same thing, “If I wanted a SS I just won’t shift”.

    • cycling8r

      Yes, he was. But shhhh…. don’t tell him 😉

  • Steven Duenow

    My first ride was a ss rigid redline monocog. I wanted nice components, but coming from a roadie, I didn’t know if I’d love mtb. I’m in mn, where my local trail was heavy technical climbing, but I wanted the components I had to be nice and stay in budget, plus I thought it would help me learn to ride better. I couldn’t stop riding, I was on the trail every day. I rode that for a year. My next bike wasn’t in question, I found a deal on a salsa selma, full rigid at first, then I added an 80/100mm fox fork, things got even better. I wrecked that bike in a big crash in SD. Salsa gave me an El mariachi radii for gears, I went ss again and this is my number one bike. I have a trek super fly geared that I hardly ride, my other main ride is now a redline conquest ss conquest. I was the only guy at the trails on a single 2yrs ago, now more and now are finding how fun singles are and I love how many guys come up and talk to me about it when we ride.

    Most importantly, there is something great about passing 20 guys on their full suspension bikes in full gear and pulling away in a technical climb

  • selt

    You don’t ride a SS to be faster, you ride it because it’s a challenge and fun. I picked up a Crave SS this summer as an everyday beater and have loved every minute. I did Jake and Bull on about the 5th ride. That was a bit much for me on the bike but I had fun. I’m an overweight and generally hungover mountain biker and I get a kick out of passing people with gears and suspension though. 🙂

  • canyon333

    I’d like to thank you, cycling8r, for this post, because it was one that helped convince me to try rigid ss. I’ve had my 2014 Kona Unit for about a month now, and my geared w/sus bike has not been ridden once since. I’m riding all my regular trails and more, just….differently, and having so much fun it’s silly. And like you, after a few rides, I feel noticeably stronger. And, I’m riding better. Plus I’m passing people like crazy which is blowing my mind, ’cause I never did before, sittin’ and spinnin’;)
    Anyhow, great post–very inspirational!

  • Bill Grrr

    I converted my old Rock Hopper to a SS when the rear derailleur snapped off in a crash. As I was living in a city at the time I had a ridiculous 48T chainring up front with a 19 cog! Tough, but ridable in hilly Brussels with 26″ 1.25 road tires. I recently moved out of the city and wanted to make it more suitable for singletracks in my local woods. I wussed out and installed a 38T chainring and put back my MTB tires. This 2:1 ratio works for me. SS suits the terrain I’m riding perfectly. Now looking for more old school CroMo mountainbikes to convert – just for the fun of it! I love not p*ssing about with the gears and just focussing on riding, the weight loss on the bike is a bonus. Just as someone commented above, it’s like riding a big BMX. Guaranteed to raise a smile 😀

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