Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Rediscovering single speeding

Posted by DaveC | January 26, 2011 | 8 comments so far

I guess some jaded riders will read this and think “oh I hope it’s not going to be a flowery, self indulgent post about how great single speeding is and how Zen it is”.

Gold Superstar singlespeed hub - keeping it simple with single speed gearing

Well, if you are thinking that you might want to skip to the next post!

Come on, lets face it, mountain biking, especially in the mud, is hard work. It makes no logical sense to make it more difficult by taking all the gears off your bike and giving you a single, mainly compromised, gear to ride with.

Just to throw logic a little further out of the ball park lets run some sort of rigid fork as well. After all we don’t want to be comfortable. Maybe draw the line at heavy BDSM the night before though, we are only human.

So, having established that this is not a sensible move from a logical point of view I can wax lyrical about it.

As I started to write this I’d just got back from a ride just short of 24 miles. There was plenty of mud, there was 1800 feet of climbing according to the GPS and, for the most part, there was me and Big Al sitting at the front of the pack.

I don’t really do the front of the pack. I don’t consider myself fit enough or strong enough. I do the back of middle. On the way out you could argue the rest of the riders were just following to learn the route, but it wasn’t all new. The way home was a well ridden route and there was plenty of potential for overtaking but no, me and Big Al were at the front, keepin’ it real on our steel SS steeds, him on a Singular Swift, me on an On-One Inbred, both 29ers.

There could be many reasons why I led the pack. First one could be that the bike is 8lbs lighter than anything else I own. I also believe that the whole drive train is more efficient. No proof, just a belief and some basic physics. A chain and two gear rings. Simple.

There’s not even a tensioner, with a jockey wheel and bearing of some description to help you loose some power. Chuck at it what you will in terms of mud and it just keeps turning. With the straight chain line the wear is small even with our mud strewn Winters (and Summers!).

There is the psychological aspects to consider as well. Big Al commented to me on Sunday that there is a certain smug satisfaction as you hear expensive gear shifts grind and crunch behind you while I just stand up and stamp on the pedals a bit harder until my lungs give out. How much is that “smug satisfaction” worth over the course of a ride? Probably a fair bit.

I think there is another psychological aspect that may have real physical gains. This is where I get all Zen on you. In many ways reflecting the simple elegance of the drive train, with a rigid fork in particular, I am freed from all the decisions I might otherwise have to make.

What rear gear, what front ring, do I lock the forks out, is the fork pressure right, should I push the remote to drop the saddle down here. None of this interferes with the ride and the line. The bike tells me more.

I am at one with the bike. I can’t blame the bike for shoddy gear changes which are really down to my maintenance and set up. I can’t feel bad, other than not strong enough. Even on the flat when the others gear up and ride past I can just amble along and know I’ll “get ’em” in a bit.

The run down Secret Single Track on Sunday showed me this again. It really is a case of “Pedal Dammit” and flow with the bike. “Schweet”

But this post isn’t about trying to convert you or preach to you. I’d be a hypocrite if I did, as I’ve got a selection of geared bikes both with and without suspension, although most have no left shifter any more. It’s just that my single speed continues to make me smile and surprise me as to how great it is to ride. I thought I’d share that with you.

Long may it continue.


About the author

Dave's been riding seriously since about 1997 and is one of the founding Molefathers — along with Matt and Mark — that came up with the idea of a MTB website for Mole Valley riders.

He's had several different bikes but it's now mainly 29ers in Dave's stable, apart from an Orange 5.

Current Bikes: Orange 5, Salsa Spearfish and Kona Big Unit

There are 8 comments on ‘Rediscovering single speeding’

We love to get comments from our readers - if you've spent a few moments to comment, thank-you.

If you haven't had a chance yet, jump to our comments form if you have something to say.

  1. Dave Fisher says:

    Fully Rigid,

    Single speed,

    Fully Awesome,

    Singularly brilliant.

    Drag from shed, ride, pant, grin, ride more, pant more, grin more… hose down. Wipe. Stick in shed.

    Rinse rider and repeat 🙂

  2. Tony says:

    As the Alfine is having a draggy moment – need to service it I think – I SS’d the inbred and rode SS a couple of weeks ago for the first time in 3 years. I loved it, once I had found my one-gear style but my dodgy left knee gave me some gyp afterwards – the reason why I got the Afline in the first place – so I might give more SS a miss – gutted!

  3. kc says:

    I confess to having tried this very bike one wintry day and I would like to say Dave is talking a load of tosh…but I can’t! I was really surprised at how comfortable in all senses this bike. OK you bust your lungs on the first climb because you don’t have the technique / rhythm sorted and I tended to push way too hard too early. Once this is learnt, the purity of the response of the handling balance and the efficiency of the “machine” is really impressive. I liken it to getting in a Caterham having just arrived at the circuit in (say) a 911. The 911 is impressive, powerful, well engineered etc.etc, but put it up against a powerful Caterham on a circuit like Cadwell and the Caterham is the purer driving machine. The same seemed to be true of the SS on singletrack.

    So expect a SS addition to my stable sometime in the future.

    Great bike Dave

  4. Matt says:

    The reason I still run my Inbred despite having a very pucka Orange Five is because I get just as much fun from it.

    It’s singlespeed, and the satisfaction I get from clearing the Tower climb at Leith Hill on it is huge, even more so when I can chuck it down Personal Hygiene on the way back!

    Four inches of fork travel, singlespeed, 26 inch wheels works very well for me. I’ve tried a rigid fork on my other hardtail and reckon on the right route it’s ace too. Probably a 29er suits a rigid fork better though.

  5. PIJ says:

    Ask a Californian about mud… then tell them that we ride bikes in it… Mountain Biking as a whole, if you look at it objectively, makes no sense really now does it? Surely as long as what you do is fun, and not done just to impress others, then who cares what you ride?

    Personally hats off to the single-speeders; I used to ride single-speed on the road a few, ahem, decades ago and loved the simplicity of it all, not to mention the bizarrely fast speeds one could achieve and maintain. Alas one too many motorbike injuries mean multi-geared bikes only for me as I travel slowly into my dotage.

    But single-speeders miss out on the one real joy of mountain biking though, do they not? Carping on about how dirty their chains are, how long it took to clean and what lube they are going to use afterwards.

  6. Dandy says:

    Your article, and subsequent comments from others, tells me don’t knock it until you try it. As you know, I’m a firm believer in having paid for 27 gears I’m going to get good use from them; but too many of you are extolling the virtues of a SS that I’m going to have to give it a go.

    What I do see is that those that SS regularly seem to develop a power and technique that really transfers over to a geared bike. I deffo need some of that!!!

    So expect to see me come grovelling to one of you to borrow a SS for a week. I will wait until I get a bit fitter and have a week that does not require too much business travel, and will try a few mid-week laps of Richmond Park before risking a real ride.Let’s see if my aged knees and dodgy back are up for it.

  7. muddyjohn says:

    Dandy – you would be welcome to borrow mine for a week or two. Colin lent he his a few years ago which got me started – so it’s the least I can do to pass the favour on . . .

    Send me a pm if you want to make an arrangement.

  8. Dandy says:

    Thanks JR. Will contact you when my legs and lungs are a little fitter and I’ve shaken off the effects of PVFS. Cheers

Leave a comment…

Have your say – we'd love to hear what you think.

If you have something to add, just complete this comment form (we will not publish your email address).

*Required information.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.