Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why Singlespeed?

This is the question that those that have never ridden singlespeed ask, and with good reason. Who would really want to reduce pedaling efficiency in a sport that all to often tries to optimize it?

Who, masochists aside, would voluntarily - happily! - subject their bodies and minds to such a Sisyphean task as climbing a hill in the 'wrong' gear?

Some singlespeeders say they can't explain it.
Some say it's almost spiritual.
Others say it's just 'better'.
Many prefer the simplicity, lack of derailleur clicking and clanking, and the fact that it's quiet.
Almost all agree that it's more just more fun.

But so far, none of these answers really addresses the question very well. So let me give it a try.

First, however, I want to clear up the difference between fixie and singlespeed, for the non-bike geeks out there.

And all too often singlespeeds are confused with fixed-gears, or 'fixies'. Which is a big mistake - fixies are often ridden by urban hipsters, a far cry from the mountain biking singlespeeders, who actually wear helmets and don't care about style like they do performance.

You will not see Hipster on a trail.
A fixed gear bike has a direct drive from the chain to the wheel. The hub does not allow for coasting - the cranks and pedals are always turning (as long as the rear wheel is moving). To brake, they push on the pedals backwards - they do not generally have brakes.

The only real similarity between fixed and singlespeed is that neither has any derailleurs or can change gears. But that's where the similarities end.

On, sparty attempts to explain:

The "Why singlespeed?" thread is coming up on a year old now. There are over 200 replies in that thread and none of 'em belong to me. Over the years I've spoken up about what I think makes singlespeeding great but the very title of that thread made me feel like it was going to be a debate, and I get into way too many debates without doing so intentionally. So I purposefully avoided that thread until today. But today, reading it made me reflect on why I ride a singlespeed. 
So I've written a little story about some people you know. It's a story about how a few local (Eugene, Oregon) guys came to love singlespeeding so much that now maybe half the riders in our club, The Disciples of Dirt, ride 'em. And we're a pretty active club.
Because of the nature of historical perspectives, I'm sure this story is littered with inaccuracies.So be it. The characters with diverse and equally innaccurate perceptions will no doubt be along soon to fine tune the white lies. 
Anyway, let me begin... 
I'd been mountain biking less than a year when I met shiggy in late 1985 or early '86. Back then he went by a different handle, which shall remain deeply imbedded in ancient history -- "shiggy" is bad enough. Anyway, shiggy and a guy named Justin and I (you've seen photos on this board of Justin in pantyhose and a thong at Barbie Camp) used to ride off-road quite a bit together back in the late '80s.
We rode geared bikes back in those days. But shiggy regaled us with tall tales of a singlespeeder he'd ridden with years earlier from the coast; this guy rode a custom IRD singlespeed with platform pedals, 206mm Bullseye cranks and a pretty big gear (especially considering the rugged hills of Oregon), even taller than 2-to-1. And this guy was over 50 years old. Whoa! Needless to say, young-at-the-time shiggy was mighty impressed.
Pesonally, I just thought the guy sounded crazy. Justin was too busy riding his bike underwater in Oregon's winter puddles to care.
We pushed the idea of singlespeeding onto the back burner but shiggy clung to the legendary memories about the guy on the big bike with one gear.
Fast forward about eight or ten years to the early '90s. Josh Ogle (yeah, that Josh Ogle, of Jerichofame) was renting a dark, dank run-down dwelling not far from downtown Eugene. Josh occaasionally joined the Disciples of Dirt for our weekly night rides in the Coburg Hills north of town. One night he showed up on a homemade singlespeed (er, make that a "custom frame").
Eyes rolled.
We laughed at him. Yeah, we laughed at Josh Ogle for bringing a singlespeed to an off-road ride.
Well, shiggy didn't laugh. His inspiration had been burning inside him for years. A debate ensued.
After that, shiggy started riding singlespeed off-road. 
"What?" I thought.
Next General Coonskins took it up. I thought this was a real joke, because here was a guy who Icould beat going either uphill or downhill, and now he was going to make his life worse by limitinghimself to one gear. "He'll hate it and pitch that stupid bike off a cliff soon enough," I thought tomyself.
But that's not what happened. Late that summer, on one of the hardest group rides that our club does every year, Coonskins freakin' rode away from me like I was standing still. The only time I saw him all day was when he'd wait for us gearies to regroup. This ride has HILLS, folks. Big ones, steepones, long ones. I was stunned by 'Skins transformation.
How could this happen? My reality was becoming distorted. I did not understand. Coonskins went on to race the Cascade Creampuff. To say he'd earned new respect is an understatement. Currently, if he's not the strongest rider I know, I don't know who is.
I decided I had to get a piece of this singlespeed action for myself. I wanted to become a strong rider, too. I wanted to keep up with my friends, no matter how little sense riding a singlespeed seemed to make.
Honestly, I never expected to like it. I just wanted to get strong.
And I did. Get strong, I mean. That was six years ago. But I found that once I got strong, I liked singlespeeding, too. What's funny is I can't say exactly why I like it so much. I just do. In fact, I like it better than any other kind of bike riding. It's so rewarding. My mega-bling FS bike doesn't see much action these days.
And that's why I ride singlespeed.
Personally, now I think the title of that other thread should be, "Why not singlespeed?" Just askshiggy, or Josh, or General Coonskins -- they'll tell ya.

So hopefully that clears it up a bit. I'm a new convert, but I'm here to stay.

Post taken from MTBR.


Post a Comment