Project SingleSpeed Racer: Part One, What is Project SSR?

I’ve heard a lot of reasons why some riders prefer a singlespeed over a geared bike, but one that doesn’t come up often is that they are faster. Welcome to Project SingleSpeed Racer (Project SSR), a regular blog feature where I will be exploring if that could be true. Over the course of the coming months I will be looking at singlespeeds from the perspective of technology, efficiency, performance and racing. This project will focus on building the ultimate singlespeed race bike to take on all comers, with or without gears. As the project progresses we will look at how to maximize the advantages of singlespeed bikes and attempt to scientifically measure the results.

In mainstream cycling, singlespeed riders have often been looked at as oddballs. Just a few weeks ago a race promoter called me a “self-limiter”. It’s a little odd that we are looked at this way, as it is well known that a single geared drivetrain is more efficient then a multi geared one. In track cycling sprinters reach speeds over 40mph and Madison racers change pace at will, with a single fixed gear. No one ridicules them for not having 20 gears. Travis Brown has been one of the few mainstream cyclists to challenge the assumption that singlespeeds were slower. He convincingly won both mountainbike and cyclocross races on a singlespeed. Rather than spawning honest questions about how he was able to do this, most people just labeled him a freak.

The idea behind this blog is to explore as rationally as possible how racing a singlespeed is different than a geared bike, and if by taking advantage of those differences it can be faster too. I will be mixing component reviews, interviews of people involved in singlespeed technology, singlespeed specific training approaches and race feedback.

Michaux Maximus

Your blogger winning the 25 mile overall title at the 2008 Michaux Maximus, with one gear.

A little background on your blogger; I’ve been riding and racing bikes since I was 12 when my friend David and I started exploring the trails around our hometown of Ashland, Oregon. I’ve competed in trials, ‘cross, XC and road racing. In 2007 I won the Expert 30-34 National XC Championship at Mt. Snow. I currently race in the Mid Atlantic area at the Elite level, usually on a singlespeed. I live in Jim Thorpe, PA with my wife, Pro track cyclist Liz Reap Carlson, and our two smelly dogs. My paying job is engineering interactive museum exhibits for science centers and children’s museum. In this capacity I mix engineering, scientific theory, and user interface design. So basically, I’m part bike racer and part science geek, with an anthropology degree thrown in for good measure.

Tune in next time for a look at how riding and racing a singlespeed is different, from an efficiency and physiological standpoint.

– Lath Carlson


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