Why ride a single-speed bike?

  • A question came up recently about why people ride fixed-gear bikes. I think you can't reasonably answer that question without first understanding why people ride single-speed bikes.

    So, why do they do it?

    I'm assuming we'll talk about leg strength, simplicity, memories of bikes from childhood, etc., but I'll let someone else write a good answer & get the rep.

    I've been wondering the same thing! I have been reading fatty's blog http://www.fatcyclist.com/ and it appears that he rides a single speed most of the time.

    Great answers so far but I am hoping we also get an answer from someone who rides single speeds in races and endurance rides.

    @Mike I'd ride a single speed in a race or endurance ride for the same reason I ride one the rest of the time. The achievement value, simplicity, and fun.

    I'm going to be a jerk and give the "true" two valid reasons. One, you care more about style than functionality. In other words, you're a hipster. Two, you are legitimately involved in track cycling. That means you're not a doofus riding a brakeless track bike around NYC streets.

    @Apreche - Why are you profiling fixed/single riders? I am all about functionality over style and ride a fixie. Just because that would be your motivation (and is quite possibly the motivation for others) don't assume that it's the case for everyone.

    I appreciate both sides of this argument, This is why I need three geared bikes and two single speed bikes. If the weather is perfect and I am riding a distance of 50km or more, I will take my sweetest bike , a full carbon / ultegra bike kept in my basement. If the wheather is less than perfect my plan B bike is a aluminuim with carbon fork / campy groupset bike for those distances. In the snow I use heavy mountain bike, I have a very "nice" Single Speed for use around my neighborhood, and to occasionaly train on local hills, and my "beater" single speed is a utility bike for anything else (an

    I would say if you have a fine and straight line path throughout your region, a fixie is good. Having gear is a plus when you go uphill. I have used both and saying this from my experience.

  • alesplin

    alesplin Correct answer

    10 years ago

    I ride a single-speed (as opposed to fixed gear) because I like to be able to coast down a hill without worrying about spinning out, or hitting a pot-hole while frantically trying to keep up with my pedals. Don't get me wrong, I love riding fixed-gear, but for where I live it's just a little impractical to not be able to coast.

    I ride a single-speed (as opposed to a geared bike) for multiple reasons.

    A: It's all I could afford. If you only have $600, you'll get a lot more bike with a single-speed than a geared bike. Or rather, you'll get a lighter bike with better hubs/wheels/etc than for a $600 geared bike. Someday I'll have the money for a decent road bike (105/Rival or better) and will buy one. But for now, my single-speed is much lighter and sturdier than any $600 geared road bike I could have gotten.

    B: I enjoy the simplicity. Want to go faster? Pedal faster.

    C: I enjoy the workout. I live in Utah, where there are some pretty big hills/mountains. The only way to get to the top is to (as my dad used to say) hunker down and gut it out. There's something quite invigorating about knowing you conquered that hill with the power in your legs instead of the mechanical advantage of your gear ratio.

    D: Even on the freewheel side of my hub, my single-speed is quiet. No gears means that unless I'm coasting, my bike is nearly silent.

    I like the loud pawl click of a cassette hub.

    Me too. I also like that while I'm pedaling I'm in stealth mode, and then when I start to coast the load clack-clack of my freewheel surprises people. (although I try to be polite most of the time)

    Reminds me of the Schwinn Stingray I got in '78 for my birthday. A fine bike, that one. Banana seat, red/yellow paint scheme.

    A is a quite good reason, I also ride a single speed and that's mainly because everything is easier: cheaper and easier maintenance (most of the time you don't to go to a bikeshops) and better bike for a smaller price. Also D is great, I still amaze myself by how silent my bike is when I'm riding alone.

    The question is not why one chooses to ride single speed over a fixed gear bicycle but why one chooses to ride a single speed (presumably over a geared bicycle).

  • Back in the thirties, Tullio Campagnolo invented the modern derailleur for very good reason.

    A single-speed is a very sensible machine if the terrain and/or rider strength allow. Simple, reliable, lightweight. But for many, not a practical solution. If widely varying terrain must be tackled, the single speed is going to be problematic.
    The objections given to multiply-geared bikes are valid, but a well-maintained gear train is essentially silent, reliable, and easy to use.
    I'm a mechanic, and my bikes shift effortlessly and positively. I "stir" my gears constantly to keep my pedal pressure and cadence at an optimum. I enjoy doing this, much as sports-car drivers enjoy a manual transmission.

    As for fixies... Used to be a standard training item for pro road racers. The idea being to build up both leg strength, spin, and smoothness. However, I think a fixie, especially one without modern brakes is as dangerous to ride now as it was at the dawn of cycling back in the 1800s. I see it as a fad item.

    Has been flagged for length and content. But it does state “simple, reliable, lightweight”, 3 positives for SS, and 16 people upvoted so far, there’s an answer in there. Looks Ok

  • It is less expensive and it has less parts that can break and almost no fragile parts compared to bikes with more gears. This means:

    • I can leave it outside in the rain without feeling guilty
    • It will last for years with nearly no maintenance
    • I can park it outside a bar with a decent lock on it and it will still be there when I stagger out at the end of the evening.
    • I can park it in the bicycle chaos at the local train station and not mind the scratches.
    • Save for the occasional flat it always works

    That said: If I lived anywhere where the were hills higher than the bridges over the canals I would probably never use it.

    p.s. I have something like this only mine is (and looks) about 30 years old (the frame anyway):


  • I rode nothing but a single speed (as opposed to fixed gear) 24" Bontrager Cruiser (like a big BMX) for approx 8 years and loved it. Daily commute (~10-15Km round trip) and most other incidental/social travel. I have only recently changed to a 8 speed Charge Tap due to moving to a very hilly neighborhood.

    For me, the beauty of single speed is the simplicity. @Jay Bazuzi called it ; )

    No worrying about what gear I should be in. Just stand up and pedal harder.
    No worrying about gears slipping or being tuned properly. Chain tight, done.
    No worrying about which brake lever to pull and how hard. Only had one to choose from.

    I also loved the feeling of being more 'connected' to the road than on a geared bike. (I've never owned a fixie but I'm told they feel even more 'connected' than a single speed.)

    And they look super-clean too. A single brake lever/cable is the only 'external' element on the bike.

    You didn't answer the question though - why single speed rather than fixed? What prompted the choice (after 8 years, didn't you ever consider the option?)

    @Unsliced: The question was why do people read single speed bikes. Fixed bikes are a kind of single speed. The question is not comparing them.

    I can see the ambiguity in the phrase construction, but given that the fixie question was explicitly cited, I assumed that the basis for this question would be around why people chose un-fixed single-speed, as the why-fixed was answered elsewhere?

    @Unsliced: Sorry, I disagree with your interpretation of the question. While I agree that this question was informed by the ‘Why ride fixed?’ question, I still view this as a separate and independent question. If the _intended_ question was ‘Why ride single speed rather than fixed?’ then that should be the title, not ‘Why ride single speed?’

    +1 I've been saving up to buy a 24" bmx inspired bike like this one http://www.sundaybikes.com/catalog/plus-4/ then I could go on "bike rides" with the family...I'd never bother with anything but single speed.

    having a ratcheting hub is nice.

    Maybe the question is ambiguous @David HAust, but the questioner, in a comment to http://bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/1980/why-ride-a-fixed-gear-bike explicitly says that this question is to answer "why no freewheel?" ...

    The one word answer to single speed vs fixed gear is "coasting".

    @Unsliced: As I said before, if 'why no freewheel?' is the question then the title of the question should be changed to that. Are users really expected to go trawling through the OPs comments on other questions to distill the 'real' meaning of this question? I don't care what the question is, let's just make it clear and obvious, especially to users who are viewing this question in isolation and not part of a larger conversation.

    I just have to point out that riding single-speed with only one brake should very much be discouraged. You should have two redundant braking systems.

    The only answer contains one hint, one honest reason to the question 'Why'. I ride them because the way they look. 'They look super clean' They look cool, ie they are fashionable.

  • Single Speeds are about a ride more challenging, not in the sense of being harder physically, but more of a chess game than a test of leg and lung strength...knowing when to pause, maybe even almost track stand to get that extra oomph you need to attack that loose steep section. No gears to help you, just your mind to adapt your riding style to the constraints of the bike. The rear end of the SS is SO much lighter. And I don't put any extra weight there either, the rear end is unsprung weight, and it rolls better the lighter it is. A geared bike's derailleur and long chain acts as a damper when you try to lift the back end...the SS pulls up willingly, like a BMX bike. Momentum is REALLY your friend on a SS, you have all the incentive to attack at the top of the hill and keep off the brake, since you may be going too fast to pedal back up to speed. Technique pays off, especially in steep sections where you may need to stand up and know how to keep the rear wheel planted. I enjoy climbing standing up, pulling on the bars at about 5RPM, while my buddy next to me grinds away on his granny ring. Having a light and simple bike helps me afford better parts, which last longer. No expensive cassettes to wear out folks! And personally, the SS makes me feel like a kid!

    Bravo for an excellent and honest answer. To paraphrase 'I ride a single speed bicycles because I enjoy the challenge.' Most of these answers are analogous to giving reasons to why they have a square wheel on a wheel barrel and coming up with reasons and circumstances to why and how a square wheel is superior to a round wheel.

  • I'm in the process of converting my 18 speed 1989 Peugeot Sahara into a single speed. It's going to be a purely commuting bike, although it was originally intended as an "ATB" (the first incarnation of today's mountain bikes).

    I agree with David, there is more of a connection to the road, a lot of that feeling being down to, I think, the slimmed down simlplicity of the bike - less tech between rider and road.

    There are fitness benefits too with just having one gear, although I wouldn't want to take it on trips of any great length.

    Also, in the fixed vs. singlespeed pitched battle, for me it's down to being able to free wheel and having the luxury of brakes!

  • If I had a single speed instead of fixed gear, I could do one thing that I really miss:

    Bunny hop a curb. That's something I've had to do more than once on a regular road bike just to avoid cars and it's something I do all the time on a variety of bikes just for convenience. For the life of me, I can't do it at more than a crawl with a fixie. I can shift weight over a pothole or the like, that's not too bad, but getting airborne is impossible for me.

    The Fixie keeps me off some of the types of locations I rode all the time in college: extensive sidewalks, railroad tracks, potholes, etc... Not a problem where I live, but it would have been years ago.

    I agree big time. I love riding fixed but it's almost impossible to get air to clear gutters, potholes, seams in concrete paths, etc

    Timing - Get yourself ready so that whichever foot is the front foot (at the launch moment) is still and give the back foot a big lift. You'll need cleats or toe cages or straps to lift the pedal. Its all timing, where your front foot is the fulcrum and the back foot is the power, and the cranks are the lever. I've never managed to do it.

  • I can see both sides of the argument for geared bicycles vs. non geared bicycles. On one hand, you have more versatility in terrain/speed/ease of pedaling, while on the other you have the beauty of simplicity. To answer your question, many SS (single speed) riders argue that because you only have one gear, you have much less maintenance with your bicycle. This means you don't have shift cables to lube or adjust/tune, and you don't have to worry about damaging a derailleur as there isn't one. A damaged derailleur is often a result of dropping a bicycle or banging it against something. You also have the simplicity of not having to choose between various gears. For a rider newer to cycling, this can be beneficial as you are much less likely to "drop" a chain off the chain ring, or be stuck in between gears, or end up in a gear that is either too high or low. The only maintenance one might foresee-ably have is cleaning and relubing the chain every other week to keep it in good working order, and checking the chain tension to make sure that the chain stays on properly. An SS set up can also be helpful in strength training and cadence training, as it is likely that one won't have it geared perfect for every slope. It may be too big to climb hills easier, therefore strength training, and it may be too small to go all too fast on flat ground, therefore cadence training. I hope that this was enough of an objective opinion for you to make a decision

  • Cost.

    I ride year-round in Oregon in the woods. In the sunshine (yes, it happens more than you'd expect in Oregon) I ride my full-suspension bike with many gears. In the winter, I ride my rigid, single-speed bike.

    The rigid, single-speed is much easier to clean, and when parts do wear out, they are much cheaper to replace. Plus there are many fewer parts to wear out. Riding in the woods in the winter puts a lot of wear on a bike.

    A quick search shows the following prices:

    • BMX chain: $5-$10 10-speed chain: $20-$40
    • BMX free hub: $20-$25, 10-speed cassette: $30-$60
    • no derailleurs, 10-speed derailleur: $15 (front) $50 (rear)
    • no shift cables, new cables/housing: $15

    Plus there's the mechanic cost (and time). I can do the work myself, but I'm dog slow, so I take it to the shop - and that adds more $ to the picture.


    Of course those prices are just ball-park prices, you can find 10-speed parts for less than some single-speed parts, but you'd be getting low-end 10-speed parts and higher end single-speed parts.

    Edited to remove costs not associated with gearing.

    An interesting perspective, but you're confusing the issue by mixing in suspension. 90% of your upkeep costs are suspension-specific, no?

    $400 for "fork upkeep"? I'll admit that, after a dozen years, I spent $250 getting all my bearings repacked, cables replaced, brake pads replaced, new cassette and two new rings, but I doubt that $20 of that could be charged to the fork bearings, and there was no suspension to worry about.

    Edited to remove the suspension costs. They are significant, but it's true they have nothing to do with the choice of single speed in general.

  • I rode a single speed bike in a 24hr enduro mountain bike race. Out of a group of 5 friends I was the only one to finish as all their bikes broke, generally from the rear mech getting clogged up with mud jamming and getting ripped off the frame. Much better for reliability!!

    When I was resting in the paddocks the number of people I saw carrying their bikes past with their rear mechs hanging was quite surprising.

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