Three years ago I purchased a fully rigid Salsa El Mariachi Single Speed 29er, and am often asked why.
There are three main reasons I went single speed: simplicity, trail cred, and becoming a better rider.
Let’s discuss the first reason for single speeding…simplicity! No derailleurs, shorter chain, and fewer gears all mean less maintenance and fewer repairs. Add on a rigid frame and your maintenance basically boils down to checking tire pressure and occasionally cleaning and lubing the chain and two gears. Period.
The second reason is trail cred. I have to admit one of the best parts of riding is cresting a major climb and seeing weekend riders out of breathe on the side of the trail, and rolling right by them. You just hear the beginning of their conversation, “Dude, that guy is on a single…”. Or, during the climb as someone stops off trail to let you by, the blank stare and slack jaw of the rider who can hardly believe you are riding up this trail with one gear.
The third reason is really a whole smattering of things that I combine into becoming a better rider…The first thing you learn as a single speeder is to become more efficient. Most people see a hill coming up and gear down to find the right cadence to get them up. On a single speed, you pedal your ass off so you don’t have to slow crank up. This works best on rolling hills, and as you progress you become a master of momentum. Putting in three strong strokes on the pedals to give you enough speed to coast up the next hill is so much more efficient than merely coasting downhill and then standing up mashing the pedals for the next 10 strokes. You will also never worry about being in the right gear. If you can sit and pedal, you will. If you need to stand, you will. If you max out your cadence, then you coast! And if you can’t pedal, you walk, but that doesn’t happen often. One thing you will never do is wait for a gear to change up or down.
The next thing you learn as a single speeder is to read the trail. You can make your ride easier and smoother if you just look close enough at the surface you are on. You look for a smoother line to conserve as much momentum as you can, which also is very beneficial for the rigid frame rider. Once you’ve read a trail, you then pick the best line. These two things go hand in hand. It’s not always a straight shot. It’s not always the easiest line. It’s not always the smoothest line. But, ideally, it’s the line which keeps you moving fastest.
Finally, you learn as a single speeder that you can ride those really technical sections with more confidence. You continue to execute your mastery of momentum. And on top of that, you know exactly where your bike will go, or put another way, your bike goes exactly where you want it. I would say at least 50% of my falls and rapid unclips on previous bikes were the result of the suspension doing something unexpected, like completely compressing on a small object or rebounding like a kangaroo over something thought to be more mundane. And another 25% were aided by being in the wrong gear. The last 25% were probably me just going too fast or grabbing a drink of water.
A few more highlights about my bike…
It is a 29er, which means big wheels. These things are basically cheating as they roll right over things that would make 26-inch wheels halt to a stop. I have converted my wheels to tubeless, which for lack of a better comparison, basically gives you the equivalent to about 1-inch of suspension travel as they absorb any of the little bumps in the trail. For those who have yet to experience tubeless tires, the best way to describe it is that tubed tires bounce and tubeless tires absorb.
One last point…I’m not saying that I can’t ride better, faster, and harder on a $5,000 full suspension carbon framed bike. I’m sure I can. However, my bike cost $1,500 and only calls for some occasional chain lube and bearing grease once and awhile. I may someday go back to a suspended ride, but for now I’m having too much fun on my single speed!
By Will Raatz – BCC Boardmember