Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in Issue #185 but due to a printing gremlin, the final few lines were cut off. It is reprinted here in its entirety. To read the reviews of the two singlespeeds in the issue, order a copy today.
Words by Eric McKeegan, photo by Kyle Tingly
Let’s get this out of the way first: singlespeeds = dead. Sure, the SSWC thing still happens, and sometimes it is still a proper shitshow. But other than that, the culture that arose around bikes with one gear is stone dead. That fact that riding bikes with a single gear was enough of a thing to create a culture is pretty impressive—a counterculture to already countercultural mountain biking, if you will.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Or not. There is a lot of booze involved in the history of singlespeeds, so things can be hazy, and this isn’t a history lesson. My own history of singlespeeding started in the basement of the Anaheim Convention Center in California during a mid- to late-’90s edition of Interbike with a little company called Spot Brand. I asked the same dumb questions that legions of other riders would ask me later on, once I built up a one-speed to call my own.
Because why wouldn’t you ask questions? The key part of the mountain bike movement revolved around adding gears to singlespeed cruisers. Why would anyone want to take them away?
As time went on, it became more than obvious why. For some it was a full-on double-middle-finger salute to the increasing complexity of modern (at the time) mountain bikes. For others it was the simplicity of one rider, one bike, one gear. And for a lot, it was a fad that made for an attractive bandwagon to clamor aboard.
Bandwagon or not, there was room for all, and singlespeeds began to redefine just what was necessary to have fun on a bike in the woods. Singlespeed-only races and festivals sprung up worldwide; magazines and websites devoted countless words to the experience.
As a kid, I was never into punk rock, but singlespeeds may have filled that void for me later in life. Yes, they are inanimate objects, and not a bunch of kids singing angry songs, but singlespeeds made me feel like I was part of a family—an obviously illegitimate and dysfunctional one, but a tribe all the same.
For a time, assembling a singlespeed was a rite of passage. But as time went on, that rite of passage became as easy as going down to your local bike shop and selecting one from the dozens of models from every major and minor bike company out there. Singlespeeds became mainstream. Hell, while researching this screed I found an article about singlespeeds in Men’s Journal from 2002, proof positive that the movement wasn’t underground anymore.
But eventually the bottom started to drop out and new fads to jump aboard sprung up (read: fat bikes). Stock singlespeeds are getting hard to come by, but it seems more and more hardtails include slider dropouts or a PF30 bottom bracket, both of which make for easy singlespeed conversions. Should singlespeeds have burned out rather than faded away? Maybe, but instead, mountain bike society accepted the tattered, drunk and belligerent group of one-speeders as part of the whole.
Where does that leave us? Right where we started. As the sticker says, “If you ride a singlespeed in the woods and nobody sees it, is it still cool?” The bandwagon has moved on, but in its wake, we still have some damn fine one-speed bikes to ride, and the two we have reviewed in the current issue of Dirt Rag represent the extreme ends of the spectrum.
The Trek is mainstream, lightweight and stripped down to rigid goodness. The REEB is beefy, suspended and dropper post equipped, ready to chase your Nomad-riding buddies down whatever scary chute you have the stones to ride. While singlespeeding may not be rebellious or counterculture anymore, that doesn’t mean we don’t love riding them today for all the same reasons we did more than 20 years ago.