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Monday, April 4, 2011

Cycle on a Single Speed

One of my singlespeed bicycles.  A Dahon Helios converted to 66 gear inch single speed.
How do I stay active throughout the week?  As a married man and father, I try to utilize my time efficiently and not take away family time where possible.  I incorporate cycling to work as part of an active lifestyle.

I commute 40 KMs roundtrip on a singlespeed freewheel bike which formerly had an 8 speed Shimano gear cassette mounted. I converted both my Dahon folding bike and a Softride (carbon suspension beam bike) into singlespeeds.

The Dahon has 20" wheels, runs slicks and is fendered and racked. The Softride does not have fenders and runs 650c x 23 slick tires. The Dahon is geared at 66 gear inches while the Softride is at 69 gear inches. I would normally cruise around 90 rpm and between 28-32 km/h on either of these bikes. A converted SS freewheel bike tends to be simpler, lighter and marginally more efficient to ride.

In my opinion, riding a singlespeed:

- provides safer, less distracted cycling for the rider. There are no gears to change. You feel the proportionality of effort. Faster cadence, faster speed. Never have to worry if you are in the right gear. The right gear is the gear inch you have chosen which allows you to climb the highest hill on your route while maintaining a reasonable speed on the flats. You are therefore, incapable of being in the "wrong" gear. 

- provides better mechanical reliability. A better chainline which is shorter and straighter yields better reliability. On my bike, the chain could derail when the chain bounced as I crossed railroad tracks. Having a chain derail is not a a big deal as it is soon fixed but it is a hassle as either your glove or finger is going to get dirty. A shorter and perfectly straight chainline yields a pleasant sensation that is absent on a derailleur bike. Its quieter and more efficient. With a singlespeed, the front or rear derailleur never needs trimming to avoid contact sounds. The better chainline, tall cog teeth means that derailments are a thing of the past.

- is cost efficient. A converted singlespeed running a generic cog is cheap - $6 Canadian is what I pay. Contrast this to replacing a set of SRAM or Shimano or Campy cassette gears. In all fairness though, a cassette of gears I bought last year cost $40. Most of us could afford that without breaking the bank.

- You know what they say, "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." You get off the saddle and learn to feel the bike and handle the bike through various cadences. The connection with the bike feels more alive rather than merely sitting in the saddle and changing gears to spin within a narrow cadence window like a recumbent. For this reason alone, I feel a singlespeed bike whether freewheel (SS) or fixed gear (FG) provides a richer and more textured riding experience than a geared bike. One could mostly duplicate this by never changing gears on a derailleured bike, but that would be the difference between dating a girl while Facebooking for potential hook ups and commitment. 

- all other things being equal, you will climb hills faster on a singlespeed\fixed gear than on a geared bike. On a geared bike, riders tend to gear down and spin. Whereas on a SS\FG, the rider strengthens their muscles and cardio by learning to pull on the handlebars for leverage while seated or stand on the pedals with the aid of gravity to aid their climb up hills and bridges. This movement provides a rest from being seated allows for variation during the ride. With a singlespeed you can coast down a hill while on a fixed gear you will have to spin down the hill. I recommend using brakes on an fixed gear.

- singlespeed\fixed gear bikes are easier to clean especially in winter.

- singlespeed\fixed gear bikes are cheaper to maintain over the long run.

If simplicity, predictability and reliability appeal to you, try riding a singlespeed.  It delivers a great workout and trains the rider to accept certain limitations in exchange for pure freedom of expression within defined mechanical constraints.

I won't even mention the weight savings of removing gears as I don't think it as important. By the way, the best upgrade to make your bicycle go faster is to change to lighter wheels and tires.  


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