The Single Speed Addiction

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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