You can ride a bike with 11, 22, and even 33 speeds, why would you ride a bike with only one gear? Some people would call this stupid. At one of the biggest singlespeed only mtn bike races in the US, the promoter, Darkhorse cycles, has some fun with this notion. The text on the water bottles given away at Singlespeed-A-Palooza states in bold letters "This Sport is Stoopid!" I believe the misspelling of stupid is intentional. At Honey we are huge fans of riding singlespeeds. I have been riding a singlespeed of some type or another for two decades. Not a town bike or fixie but a race bike. Either mountain or cross. Riding a singlespeed mountain bike brings mountain biking as close to surfing as possible in my opinion. Once you strip away the gears and lose all that complexity it becomes a very Zen like experience.
It also makes you a much better mountain biker. How is that possible? Indulge me for a moment. On the east coast, in Boston where Honey is based, we ride mostly in the woods. We don't have what you would call mountains. We end up riding lots of rocks and roots and punchy climbs and drop offs. Things that don't seem very rideable. They are definitely not rideable if you don't approach them the right way. To ride rocks and roots properly you have to use momentum and aggression. You can't spin small gears up over some huge rock wall. You have to attack it. A singlespeed forces you to do this and teaches you some high level skills on a mountain bike.
We made a very special Honey singlespeed mountain bike for last weekends SSPalooza held in Montgomery, NY. We will do a full profile of the rider and her experience in the coming days. She is on the shorter side so we chose a 650b for her Honey. We like all wheel sizes at Honey. We feel each has its advantages and disadvantages. The whole idea behind Honey is to cater the bike to the rider so the rider has the best possible experience while riding. More smiles per mile if you will. In this case, 650b made a lot of sense. It put the rider in the perfect position on the bike and it let us use a bigger wheel/tire size to our advantage for rolling over the rocks and roots we knew the rider would have to deal with in New England. This was her first experience on a singlespeed. The rider is an experienced cross racer so she was used to riding on the dirt but as we stated earlier singlespeeding takes a certain mindset. In this case I think it really helped her. On only the second ride on the bike she raced SSPalooza in the sport women and came in 10th! That is incredible. A huge testament to what a strong rider she is but also spoke volumes about how well suited the 650b was for her. She was able to let the bike do the work. The course at Stewart State Forest is a lot more buffed than what we have around here in Boston. But it was still a power course with lots of technical sections. At Stewart the issue is speed. You come in so fast off the rolling singletrack and then have to deal with some shale rock drop off. It was a great first test for the bike and its rider. They both handled it like PROs.
But how can a singlespeed be faster? Momentum. When you realize speed can carry you up a lot of things you have to change your mind set. You have to let go of the "I will shift down and use my brakes all the time" style of riding. With a ss you have to keep telling yourself to stay off the brakes. If you see a little punchy climb you have to go into it at full speed and carry that up and over it. It also teaches you one of the most important aspects of riding a mountain bike on techy terrain. Backpedaling. Backpedaling and its cousin the track stand are so key in getting up and over rocks and over logs. And on a singlespeed it allows you to use leverage to get the bike over those obstacles.
Singlespeed-A-Palooza was such a great weekend. It was so much fun being at a race full of singlespeeders on all manner of bikes. Old cruisers, 29ers, some full suspension. Seeing friends, making new ones. Very cool. That obviously is the biggest reason to try singlespeeding--- its fun! I saved that for last because it seems so obvious. Taking away all the gears and the drivetrain makes riding so much more fun. Gone are the days of having your rear derailler ripped off by some stick, way less broken chains, servicing the bike becomes a lot easier, and you just revert to what it was like when you were a kid and only had one gear. We will be back down to Stewart State Forest in late June for the Stewart Super 6-pack. It is a great 6 hour race put on at the same venue by our friends at MTBNJ.com.