If you think of singlespeeds as merely the mountain bike of choice for disheveled mechanics, it’s time to think again. No matter who you are, singlespeeds are—first and foremost—fun. They strip away equipment excess and offer a simpler, more challenging experience.
Singlespeed riding also improves your skills. Without the aid of gears, the rider must read the trail well, focus on technique, and sometimes just channel raw power to clean more challenging sections; this is what makes the singlespeed such a great teacher. Ride one, and it will make you a better, stronger mountain biker.
Here are six qualities of singlespeeds that might convince you to pick one up, along with a few recommendations on models to check out.
Have a Lower Price Point
Of course, you can go nuts and build a $10,000 custom carbon fiber singlespeed if you really want, but one of the best things about these machines is that they’re cheap(er) than their geared peers. You can buy a brand-new, complete singlespeed relatively cheaply because they’re simpler and have fewer parts. Up market, you can find singlespeeds with nice frames and good suspension forks for less than a geared bike with those same bits.
Singlespeeds are less expensive to own as well. A steel cog for a cassette hub can cost less than $10; a really nice cog like . A freewheel for threaded hubs, like a sells for about $30; Compare that to a cassette. Plus, a one-speed chain will cost you less than $15 when it’s time to replace. As a final cost-saving bonus, there are no derailleur cables or housings to replace, and no shifters or derailleurs to fail.
Require Less Maintenance
There’s less stuff going on with a singlespeed, and less stuff means less to maintain. Go rigid and the only routine maintenance you’ll need is airing up the tires and lubing the chain.
Naturally, the rest of the bike will require checkups—the bearings, brake pads, and wear items like grips—but one of the best things about singlespeeds is that they spend less time in the shop and more on the trail. And on the trail, they’re more crash-resistant: with no vulnerable shift cables or derailleurs, a singlespeed is more likely to keep rolling after a crash than a geared bike.
Because they’re so low maintenance, singlespeed bikes are also easy to build. Take your old hardtail frame—or buy a used one for cheap—and pick up a tensioning converter system and voilà: You have a singlespeed. They’re a great way to recycle old parts like forks with un-tapered steerers or wheels with quick release or Boost-incompatible hubs.
Offer a Fresh Look at Your Favorite Trails
Singlespeeds are great for combating burnout. Ridden the same trails…like, a million times? Try those trails on a singlespeed and the challenge will refresh and motivate you. And I guarantee you will discover things about those trails you never noticed on your geared bike. Plus, because they’re more difficult to ride, the short rides you squeeze in on a singlespeed become more satisfying.
Provide a Deeper Understanding of Momentum
Ride a singlespeed, and you will learn to pray at the altar of momentum. When you can’t change gears, that means no easy spinning at slow speeds. If and when you bog on a singlespeed, you’ll either need to power out of it (ouch), or stop and walk.
Consequently, you will begin to ride in ways that maintain momentum, which means choosing better lines, building speed at every opportunity, letting the bike roll and carry speed, and braking less. You will see the trail in a new way, and when you apply the lessons learned to your geared bike you will be smoother and faster than ever.
Give a More Zen Experience
Singlespeeds are usually very quiet; they have a straight chain that doesn’t slap or rub, and there is simply less stuff on the bike. This also makes the drivetrain very smooth.
And when you combine a quiet and smooth drivetrain with the riding style you will naturally adopt—a flowing, swooping style that maintains your momentum—you get a riding experience that is enjoyably meditative.
Boost Your Strength and Fitness
I don’t love working out, but I do love riding a bike. We all know that riding has fitness benefits, but riding a geared bike can make you lazy in some ways: You can stay seated a lot, and you can spin a highly efficient low-torque, high-cadence stroke.
Singlespeeds don’t let you get away with easy riding. You will need to stand up and grind out high-torque, low-cadence revolutions; you will need to pull the bars hard and thrust your body to keep the bike moving. And this provides different fitness benefits than riding a geared bike.
Now to be honest, you can get the same fitness benefits by doing structured workouts in the gym or with your geared bike (put it in a high gear and don’t shift). But going back to the earlier point, I’d rather get those fitness benefits as a side effect of the fun and challenge of riding a singlespeed, instead of hanging out in a gym.
Interested in trying one out? Here are four we’d recommend.
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