Monday, May 04, 2009

One Speed Wonder

Last year I finally got tired of the pounding my body was taking from my bicycle. I was commuting to work on an old Marin road bike. The aluminum frame sent every little bump straight through me. The Shimano Tiagra gearing needed constant fiddling to keep in tune. Too often I'd be peddling up a hill and the derailure would slip into a higher gear.
I wanted to get a steel cyclocross frame with Shimano 101 gearing an a carbon fork. I also wanted to keep the price around $1000.
It quickly became obvious that my desires and reality didn't mesh... The bikes I looked at were all closer to $1500. I saw a few that were closer to the right price, but they were just newer verions of what I already had. I was looking an upgrade.
When I thought all was lost I saw an '08 Redline cross bike for under a $1000. The only catch was that it was a strange thing called a single speed. After getting a brief explanation about single speeds from the sales guy, I decided to pass.
Shortly after passing on the Redline, I was talking to a coworker and said he commutes on a single speed. He was a total convert. A few days later the VP of engineering at my company, who is an avid biker, was raving about his new Masi Special single speed.
I decided I had to get more information and go on a few test rides. The Internet and Google delivered a cornucopia of information. The best site I found was Sheldon Brown's. It listed the pros and cons of single speed cycling realistically.
Finding single speeds to try out proved to be a little challenging. Despite the buzz growing around single speeds there are not a lot of suburban bike shops that carry them. Landry's on Rt. 9 in Natick had a few. One was a very inexpensive Swobo that was all steel. It was a nice ride, but the low quality of the steel scared me.
Belmont Wheelworks had several different models. I tested out the Redline 902, the Masi, the Specialized Langster, and the Specialized Tricross. The handle bars on the Redline were terrible; the Masi wasn't a good fit; the Langster was comfortable and well mannered; the Tricross comfortable but not so well mannered.
After waffling between the Langster and the Tricross for a few days I decided that the Tricross was a better match for what I wanted. I don't go off road a lot, but I do like to be able to hit a trail every now and then. The roads between my house and my office are also pretty crappy.
A year later I love my single speed! It took a few rides to adjust to the lack of gears. Now that I'm adjusted, I don't miss the gears. Peddling is more soothing without needing to think about shifting. The chain doesn't slip; the gears never skip. I never feel the need for speed. I also feel stronger in the saddle.
I don't mind the trade offs. In fact I sort of enjoy some of them.
The single speed will never sustain 19 mph. It cannot climb long steep hills. It cannot haul heavy loads. The gearing is just not right for any of these things.
I kept the multispeed bike, but I haven't ridden it once. I did a few 30 mile rides on the single speed and enjoyed it. I cannot see going back to the multispeed bike anytime soon.

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