Singlespeeds aren’t rational, like eating cereal for dinner. That’s not healthy; you know better; you just can’t help it; you don’t have time to put together something more complicated or nutritional. You just want to get on with it.
Cereal for dinner was an extremely rare occurrence in my childhood home and not even all that welcome since my sugar intake was sternly monitored. Delectable cereals, like Fruit Loops and Cocoa Puffs, were out of the question. For my birthday, I could choose one box of spasm-inducing sugar bombs, but that was the only time. No, cereal for dinner when I was a kid meant something bran-ful: Fiber Flakes, Easy Go.
Wait, now my analogy doesn’t make sense. Dammit.
What I’m saying is, singlespeeds aren’t rational, though there’s arguably a tiny bit of fiber bran practicality to them. Overall, they are not healthy; you know better; you just can’t help it. They’re Frosted Flakes for dinner but, since you’re an adult, you can do whatever you damn well please.
Those who haven’t totally lost themselves to practical adulthood (I’m raising my hand, here, as wholly guilty) can indulge in all manner of silly things, like riding singlespeeds. Forget not—the last time you probably had a bike with one gear was when you were a wee little one not at all in charge of your own destiny. Now you choose such a thing and I am supposed to think you’re sane?
I converted one of my hardtails to a single ring over a year ago and since then have been riding it periodically on my local trails, swearing every time I saddle up that demon horse. But I confess that I’ve grown to love the looks I get—both the “you’re batshit crazy” glances and the “right on, hardcore!” Nods of Knowingness that only come from other singlepseeders.
Singlespeeds actually have some value beyond self-loathing. One gear is good for tra*ning. Yes, I believe that’s a dirty word. In my world, no element of fun exists in tra*ning. It’s rigid, serious, purposeful—things that don’t register in my primitive mountain biking brain.
But only having one gear makes you stronger, no doubt. Want God Quads? Ditch your shifters. You can’t help that unless you get off and walk at the first instance of physical and mental pain. Singlespeeding takes me back to racing the 100 and 200 meter sprints in school—the only time I’d work myself so hard I’d puke, then convince myself I could still keep going. That’s singlespeeding. It’s not something I particularly enjoy.
So, then, how is singlespeeding fun? It’s fun in a do-stupid-things kind of way. It also makes your brain dumb: Singlespeeding will cause you to push yourself to dizziness if it means you can out-climb someone on the trail who has gears just so you can show off. Your head gets real big – way out of proportion to how big your muscles are getting (and they will get bigger – beware of this if you don’t like shopping for pants).
It also humbles you. Singlespeeding demands a balance of sacrifice. There is no soft spinning your legs, no middle ground. It’s a ride of extremes—you’re either sacrificing your sanity and strength in the pain cave, or sacrificing speed, listening to the buzz of your rear hub as you roll along, unable to pedal.
In all, you get to ride around smugly congratulating yourself for being strong (er, eventually) and bucking sensibility. And that is wholly unlike me. My excruciating level of practical rationality means friends call me a Vulcan. Even as a kid, I loathed even the mere thought of doing something that might put the faintest tarnish on my upstanding citizenship. I was straight-fucking-laced, as serious as they come. I (mostly) still am.
Now I ride a singlespeed. It sure beats drugs, which I’ve never touched. I’d rather lose control outside in fresh air on a mountain bike than feel my mind wandering off without me. I respect the temple that is my body with healthy doses of cheeseburgers, Irish red ales and scars from diggers. That’s enough.
I keep thinking I should put gears back on the bike, or at least suspension—you know, something rational. But I just can’t. Having the one-geared mountain goat in my stable makes me happy. It’s guaranteed to put a grin on my face when I’m feeling bored with local trails.
And the thing is so freaking light. Even when it hurts to climb, I can’t help but marvel at how the bike feels like a rocket ship. The lack of extraneousness means the bike and I become one much more easily—it’s so responsive it’s like another limb. That is helpful because I want to deftly maneuver around rocks rather than hitting them and unmooring my already barely-tethered brain.
People who tell you singlespeeding is about simplicity are full of it. They’re just saying that because other people say that, or because they’re afraid of derailleurs, or because they think sounding Zen-like somehow makes them come off as more sophisticated. If they tell you they ride a singlespeed because they like it, or because they just wanted to “just because,” believe ‘em.
(Thanks to local company Spot Bikes for the rigid carbon fork. It’s really nice. Really, really nice. It took a ton of weight off the steel bike and rides beautifully.)