bikebritain Says November 4, 2010

Is it time to go Single Speed?

I am not a good cyclist. I don't mean that I am particularly reckless or I fall off alot (although I did recently come off my MTB at the local BMX track, smashing my phone up in the process) I just mean I prefer to get on my bike and ride it. I am not really interested in the mechanical side of cycling, other than I want my bike to work properly every time I get on it. True, I want it fitted with good quality components, but when it comes down to it, I just don't enjoy the maintenance side of being a cyclist. I am sure many people derive satisfaction from making their rear cassette look as though it's never seen a speck of dirt in it's lifetime. But honestly, that's not me. Maybe this makes me lazy, but I'd just rather be 'doing', than cleaning and making pretty. 

So we've established I don't like maintenance. What else?  

The derailleur. It's evil.

Why, you ask? Well, when you have a deraillieur you live under the tyranny of always wanting more gears. You can never have enough. Cast your mind back to your first bike. It probably had no gears. When you got your next one, maybe it had a Sturmer Archer 3 speed hub. That was replaced with a 5 speed down tube gear shifter - perhaps on your first racer. 5 gears subsequently led to 10. You might have followed that up with an MTB. Suddenly 10 gears becomes 18, 21 or more. Back on your racer, you've bought a 20 speed, but now you've been riding 'proper hills' maybe now need a triple point is, it never stops! It doesn't matter how many gears you have, there's always a reason why you need a few more. Not only that, it's so easy for gearing to go out of kilter. Again it probably says more about my technical expertise than the bike itself, but adjusting a derallieur so that it works reliably and does'nt slip is the bane of my cycling life. Clicking, clanking, slipping, not finding the right gets very frustrating. (Maybe I should go on a Cytech course......) Anyway having rigorously followed the blueprint described above, where did this leave me? Earlier in the the year I had been toying with the idea of buying a replacement MTB. Funny thing was every time I've taken it into to be serviced, each mechanic said it's a half decent bike and there was no real need to retire it. So I never have. Even this Summer when I was almost convinced I would finally consign it to the 'great MTB in the sky', I ended up getting it maintained. Now I use it primarily to tow the AT2 around. Fact is I still really like riding it, (it's got Grip Shift which I still think is quite cool), even though it weighs a tonne. So I'm keeping it - again. 

Enter the Single Speed.

Something else I cannot claim to be; a purest. I like the idea of a single speed but the prospect of a fixed wheel as's just not practical! A friend of mine, 'Sick Man', (for reasons I won't go into now) bought a single speed fixed wheel Condor some years ago. Doesn't even have brakes. Now that's purest! Thing is, if I buy a bike I want to know that I can use it oustide my house as well as round a cycle track. Otherwise the chances are I probably won't use it very much. So I decided the way to go was to buy a bike that was different to the other 2 I already had, but would offer some practical benefit and be alittle different. Of course a single speed needs minimal maintenace (tick one) and has no derailleur (tick two) so it was about as simple as I was going to get! 

I knew the Single Speed culture had become very popular in recent times but until I strated looking properly, I had no idea there was such a choice. All the major manufacturers make single speeds but there are lots of small niche players as well. manufacturers like Foffa, Traitor, Create, Charge, Genesis and others. I must have looked at at least 15 different bikes on the journey to buying my single speed. The Speciliased Langster came really close as did the Genesis Flyer. The create bike probably offers best value - a single speed bike for about £250. Amazing. But what won me over in the end was Trek's 'District'. Funnily enough the version I initially saw in the shop didn't really appeal. It was painted in a dirty green and brown colour a scheme that did it no favours. Nevertheless, it provided the right combination of things I was looking for. OK - no disc brakes - and they had been on my wish list, but it did have belt drive - so that immediately made it different to every other bike I'd seen. (I had only read about belt drive on Van Nicholas bikes).  I could also get it in a rather snazzy grey and orange colour scheme - which looked fantastic. It had really deep (perhaps 35, possibly 40mm) rim wheels combined with 'race' thickness tyres. Flat handlebar, a racing type saddle, plus it was fitted with a free hub so I could coast down-hill. In summary - this bike looked the business. Sold!

At the time of writing I have only ridden it about 10 km - from the shop (Freedom Bikes, George Street, Brighton) to home. I have taken it up a couple of hills - and it's a challenge but manageable. It is really fun just cycling, not thinking about what gear I need to be in. I am going to buy some combination pedals so it's shoe and clip-in friendly. And after mocking the chain guard, maybe I'll keep that on so I don't mangle my trousers in the belt-drive. In a few days it will get bedecked with front and rear lights and I've bought an attachment for the bike trailer so I can take the boy out in the AT2 on it. Not sure if I have the leg power to do my Brighton hill circuit on it....though general training on the single speed should improve my fitness for the other bikes. 

So the answer is 'Yes!', it is time to go single speed - and rejoice in the simplicity of riding a bike without complexity. I cannot wait.

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