Riding Single Once Again
The history of the bicycle is a long one. Bikes have come a huge distance from their push bike ancestors, all the way into the full suspension, carbon fiber, fully geared terrain-flattening bikes that they are today. With all the innovation constantly going on with bicycle drive trains, why is is that so many people seemingly throw away all of this innovation and ride bikes with no gears? Single speeders are kind of crazy in that regard, however, the lunacy is hard to understand until you actually try it for yourself. I recently had the fortunate occurrence of a single speed frame falling into my lap. After not having ridden a single speed mountain bike in years, I of course had to build it up and subject myself to the lunacy once again.
I think that riding a single speed is something that a lot of riders should dabble in at least once. One of my favorite bikes in my first years of serious mountain biking was a fully rigid Bianchi C.U.S.S. (the Celeste Ugly Single Speed). It was a wonderful bike that I rode into the ground. Eventually the frame developed a fatal crack and had to be retired. It has been several years since I had that bike and with my riding maturing and getting better the whole time, I was excited to get back into single speeding once again. I knew that it was going to be a rough couple of rides before I felt solid on top of a single speed again. Even though my riding skills have gotten better over the years, my fitness is far from great, and I live in a more climb intensive environment than where I grew up riding my C.U.S.S. Either way I was excited to slowly get back into single speeding once again.
It is easy to see how most people fall in love the simplicity. You do not worry about finding the right gear for that tough climb or the downhill switch backs. You just ride your bike. If you want to go faster all you can do is pedal harder. There is a lot less maintenance that needs to be done, less that can go out of adjustment, and you have a much cheaper running bike at the end of the day. Of course this simplicity is not with out its own set of complications and hindrances.
Only having one gear is intimidating. My first ride out there were numerous climbs and technical features that I knew I was not going to clear. Riding in the mountains anywhere you know you will be faced with some long and steep climbs. On many of these steep sections I certainly found myself searching for an imaginary shift lever. Nearly anytime I would take a breather, upon hoping back in the saddle; I inevitably would try to down shift, only finding no comfort from a lower gear available. You quickly realize though that the only way to get to the top is to just stand up and grunt it out. After my first weekend out riding, I was shattered. My legs ached. My lungs hurt. But I was still looking forward to the next ride.
One thing that I enjoy about doing things the hard way is that it keeps you humble. When you do not have the ability to switch gears on a whim, you start to notice the flaws in your riding. I noticed that what was slowing me down the most was my exit speed on turns. I was so used to dropping a gear or two going into a corner that I was not powering out of banked turns nearly as strong as I should have been. Having to put so much energy and effort in to getting out of the corners made me realize what I really have to work on. I also had to lose my ego really quickly. Going out with some experienced riders I just had to swallow my pride and know that I was not going to be the first one up the climbs, and I was not going to be the first one back down either. There were also a few times where I had no choice but to walk. Such a humbling experience kind of felt good in it’s own strange way. This just adds fuel to the fire and now I have my next set of goals in mind for this riding season.
I think that once you get past the challenges and the foibles, a rider has no choice but to really be impressed with his or her self. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how well I was able to climb sections I knew would be a problem. Or by how long I was actually able to ride. I am far from a racer, or a hardcore single speed junkie, so I was not beating myself up for the things that I could not do, but simply pumped on everything I was able to do. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the humbling experience, and am super stoked to have a new biking challenge to conquer this summer.