Cycling has a lot of niches. Road bikes, cyclocross, hard tail full suss, hybrid, downhill, 4x and more recently fat bikes. The list goes on and the cycling aficionados will have noticed that I missed out one obvious group. That will be because it’s my new favourite thing.
to be more specific a fully rigid singlespeed mountain bike.
I suspect my journey to owning a singlespeed isn’t unique. On first mention they are madness, there is no reason for them, relics of the past when you had no money, when you were a kid. Why would you choose to only have one gear, a gear that will almost always be wrong. So I dismissed them as not for me, I didn’t have the right beard to ride one, nor the legs or the need. I needed my gears to ride faster and riding as fast as I can was fun, Strava segments were there to be chased. I was KOM on several local segments !!
I recall a moment at Mountain Mayhem last year, 2013, the first one at Gatcombe Park. I was riding well, on my third lap I think when I was riding with a whippet on a rigid singlespeed 29er and on the climbs he rode away from me. I caught him on the singletrack but away he went on the next climb. I distinctly remember thinking that I would be faster if i could climb like that but then he would have been 20 years younger than me so I thought nothing more.
Then the Yeti needed a refresh. Almost 5 years of constant abuse and it needed some TLC so I got Al at Plush Hill to fit new wheels, brakes and drivechain. During a conversation I found myself saying that the spares would probably be built onto a cheap winter bike – probably a singlespeed.
So the die was cast. 3 months later and an email arrived, from Al, asking about my interest in a great deal on a frame and a few other bits. A deal too good to turn down.
So the photo above was what I bought – all for £99. Bargain. A good deal on some Salsa rigid forks and a RaceFace crank and I had all I needed. The old wheels and brakes plus a chain and SS kit thrown in by Al and I had a new bike for £250.
So my thoughts on singlespeeds have clearly changed. My thoughts on riding to meet up for a Sunday morning ride are the same: they are mad, stupid and I should be on a bike with gears.
But this changes as I ride.
Bear with me here but they stretch out the cycling experience. The easy bits are much easier, the ok bits are the same and the hard bit are much harder. What I mean is the road sections of our usual rides are easier, you spin out so you can’t go any faster and you recover, take it easy, safe in the knowledge that you can’t go any faster. I run a 32 x 16 ratio so a lot of the flat single track is fine and it’s the same as on a full suss bike. Hills or more technical sections are much harder, you soon realise that momentum is king and so you give it all you have and keep the cadence and momentum up.
I didn’t think it was possible to ride all the local loop on it, without getting off at some point, some steep or long hills – maybe the bridge with steps we ride but I’ve done it all, and only 5 or so minutes slower than I might have done (on a 1hr 40 ride)
When I’m done I ache, my legs, shoulders, arms, hands all over…
… but satisfaction and the grin are much bigger.
As I said at the start, it’s my new favourite thing.