The Mountain Bike Life

My work schedule since January 1 has been unreal. As a rule I don’t keep track of hours that I work because it can be downright depressing but I can say there have been more 60 hour work-weeks than I care to admit to. And from our extremely long, or so it seemed, winter I am beat and out of shape. Finally, after months of hard work and cardiovascular inactivity, the snow has melted and the trails are beginning to firm up. This is the time I look forward to but also the time I dread as I try and pull my body out of the slow moving deep hibernation and into faster moving perspiration. So how will I do it? On a singlespeed. “Why the singlespeed!?!” you ask. “Isn’t riding a bike one gear this early in the season the equivalent of kicking yourself in the nuts!?!” Well…yes, yes it is. But it’s good and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve owned this Soul Cycles Hooligan since 2006. Definitely worth the $150 I paid for the frame.

There’s been a lot of debate over the years about gears vs no gears and the camps have been very polarized to one or the other. We’re kind of doing the same thing with tire size and handle bar width now. I like to keep an open mind about trying new things but I just could not understand how only having one gear was better. What I have found is it’s not better…just different.

Singlespeed bike doesn’t care about sticks on the trail, singlespeed bike doesn’t give a $#!&!

Now I know not everyone can have a whole garage full of bikes for every occasion. I am certainly not rolling in dough but I have been lucky enough to acquire several bikes by saving money, buying used and doing the work myself. My reasons for having more than one bike are simple, they each have things they do well and things they don’t. I love all my bikes the same but they all have a specific purpose. The right tool for the job. That purpose for the singlespeed is making me a stronger rider. It is a fitness and skills building machine! Nothing else will get you in shape quicker than a singlespeed bike.

Momentum is the key. If you don’t want to be walking up hills you have to ride faster. Because you have to keep up your momentum, you become better at choosing good lines. This is crucial if you ride rigid. Up until a few years ago I had been riding a rigid singlespeed. A mountain bike with one gear and no suspension, freakin’ crazy right? Actually I really liked it. Steering was always crisp and responsive and the bike is so quiet, no chain slap here. Also bike maintenance was a snap, nothing ever went wrong, I just replaced parts as they wore out. Unfortunately, constant pain in my wrists, elbow and shoulder from previous injuries will no longer allow me to ride a rigid fork…at least not for a while. Personally I like a little cush up front when riding some of the rocky and rooty terrain we have here in the Northeast, so I put a used Rockshox Reba on it. Now I don’t feel like I fell down a flight of stairs after one ride. Awesome.

Now the only real problem I ever had with the bike was with the eccentric bottom bracket. Singlespeed bikes will either come with sliding rear dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket. Both with take up the chain slack effectively, provided you’ve selected the appropriate gearing and modified the chain length accordingly. But for some reason, the aluminum single piece BB would not stay where I put it and would eventually move. Not a huge deal and it was easily fixed but it was annoying. I ended up replacing it with a new one and I’ve had much less trouble with it. Still I’d prefer sliding dropouts I think. My next SS will definitely have sliding dropouts…and will also be a 29er.

BB placement in an eccentric is off center so rotating the eccentric will raise and lower the cranks slightly but also add tension to or loosen the chain.

  • Only one gear
  • Bike is simpler. Less parts means less maintenance and no replacing dérailleur hangers.
  • Quiet ride, no chain slap and makes it easier to get into the zone.
  • Instant trail cred – show up on any group ride with a SS and people respect you even if they don’t like you.
  • Helps you choose better lines to keep up your momentum. Might even make you a faster rider overall.
  • Gets you out of the saddle more often. More of a full body workout.
  • Initial cost is low – you can find these bikes for a good price on eBay or Craigslist or build your own from spare parts you may already have along with some SS specific parts.

  • Only one gear
  • Less cush for the tush – no sofa couch here, you’re going to have to work for this one.
  • Quiet ride, wildlife may not hear you coming. Hope there are no bears in the woods.
  • Not the smoothest on technical decents, these sections tend to slow me down.
  • Eccentric BB (on mine anyway)

For me the pros outweigh the cons. I’ll be honest, I got lazy riding a full suspension bike. If the trail got difficult, I just dropped my gears to something that was easier. This did nothing for my fitness, I just wasn’t working hard enough. The first ride on my singlespeed was an eye opening experience. There is no relaxing on this bike, If you drift off and stop paying attention you will pay with a fun trip over the bars or a nice leisurely walk up the next hill. It’s work but the feeling you get once you clear that difficult section without dabbing or climbing that steep hill without stopping is exhilarating!

Bar and stem selection made a big difference in how well I performed on the bike, more so than my other rides.

It’s actually amazing how such a low tech piece of equipment can make you a better rider. There are techniques that I have learned to make it, or rather me, climb better. Some of these techniques can be implemented on geared bikes as well and I think it has made me a better technical rider overall. So that’s what I am riding right now, how about you?

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