Wednesday, June 27, 2007

one speed fits all

If you have followed my blog very closely, you might remember that I once owned four bikes, none of them being singlespeeds, and I now own three and a half bikes, all but one of them being singlespeeds. (the half bike refers to a steel frame I was recently given which I'm currently building into another singlespeed).

I thought I'd try and explain why this is a good thing. First a disclaimer though, I have NOT gone fixed. My two singlespeeds, along with the one I'm building, are freewheel singlespeeds.

Part of the joy of singlespeeds is taking the simplicity of biking and making it even simpler. You look down and only see your brake cables jutting away from your bars, not the four cables you'd see if you had gear shifters as well.

On the road you notice that you have far less to worry about. Coming up to a yellow light you don't shift down in anticipation of starting again when the light turns green, and you don't shift up as you're leaving the intersection and picking up speed. You just pedal. A little bit less. A little bit more.

A few weeks ago, when I was on my Kona hahanna singlespeed, I was trailing a cyclist through Toronto who was on a mountain bike that definitely needed a tune up. I wasn't in a rush so I was just doing the biking version of ambling along, hanging about 10 or 15 metres off his back wheel. His chain was rubbing something the whole time and giving off that light twitter of chain on metal. And when he shifted it took fifteen seconds of clickety-clackety for the gear to hit home. Meanwhile I was behind him riding along in perfect silence. Just turning the pedals. a little bit less. a little bit more.

I've got both my singles set up with a 44 tooth ring in the front and a 15 tooth cog in the back. both my bikes are WAY faster than they were before, though I have to admit that they also have new wheels which are much better than the wheels they'd had previously.
The Cannondale, pictured above, just FLIES these days. I have Easton Circuit wheels on it, which a local shop was selling for 1/2 off their regular price. The Circuits are basically an entry-to-midlevel road wheel, but goddamn, they spin up quick and just LOVE to hold on to their momentum.

Yesterday, for example, I was on the Cannondale heading west on the Danforth from Main Street around 5:30pm. The Danforth at 5:30 puts a cyclist into that position where the best way for you to survive the traffic is to be FASTER than the damned traffic - i.e. going faster than the cars so they won't even think twice about squeezing around you. With the Cannondale set up as it is, and with the new wheels, I was frequently looking down and seeing my speedometer at 42 and 43km.

The drawbacks of singlespeeds are obviously hills and intersections, but heck, even the hills aren't as big a problem as you'd think, unless you're trying to go up the Scarborough Bluffs hill or up Pottery Road.

Anyway - I totally recommend getting your hands on a singlespeed. And if you have an old mountain bike with worn out gears, the BEST thing you can do to give it a new life is just to strip everything off it, then put on a new ring, cog, chain and tensioner, and ride around like a kid again.


Darren J said...

You've convinced me to ride my single speed tomorrow.

I lost track of who's blog I saw this on: Build a single speed bike, from the Make Blog.

The best comment on there about single speeds was: You can stop worrying about being in the right gear because you're always in the wrong gear!

Do you have clipless pedals on your cannondale, or are those just regular flat ones?

Melissa said...

you just need to swear more.

Tuco said...

Hey Melissa, yeah if I use more F** words I'll probably achieve that "R" rating on that blog rating site.

Darren I LOVE being clipped in. My Kona and my Cannondale both have the Wellgo half-n-half pedals (one side SPD, the other side just flat), and my cross bike has regular SPD mountain pedals.

Love the "always in the wrong gear" quote. It's funny though how your legs adapt to the gear and try hard to make it always be the right one.

Jerome said...

One speed is all you need can be very true, especially for city riding. If you haven't ever tried riding a fixed, it's certainly a great option too. I built one up last year, and forget even having brake cables coming off of your bars. Go Brakeless and have the purest form of mechanical beauty! It's about the skids kids! Most that go single don't regret it and often don't go back. Same is true for fixies. Either way, there's much to be said for simple ride.

Andrew said...

I've got an old frame that I've been meaning to tinker with. I was thinking of trying out an 8spd hub gear, but a single speed might be fun to try out too.

Anonymous said...

I take it that where you live is fairly FLAT? I live in Charleston, West Virginia, and if I had a singlespeed there would be parts of the city where I simply could not go by bike. And, as the goal is to use the bike instead of a car, a singlespeed would defeat the purpose.