Cyclists enjoying singlespeed culture
It’s the first question out of anyone’s mouth: why be single?
The answers from singlespeed cyclists are eerily similar to those from anyone else who prefers singleness of any sort: it’s just simpler.
Some call it a subculture, some call it a retroactive revolution (in the same spirit as the resurgence of disco, perhaps). Whatever you want to call it, singlespeed cycling is making a comeback.
So, in a day and age when one can purchase a full suspension mountain bike that weighs less than 23 pounds and has 27 speeds of index shifting that makes riding up the side of a mountain, well – maybe not effortless, but a whole lot easier – why on earth would anyone want to ride a bike with just one speed?
“It reminds you of scooting around on your BM bike as a kid. That’s the most fundamental allure of it,” said Mike MacDonald, who
bought a singlespeed last year but hasn’t been completely converted. He said he rides three of his five weekly rides on his singlespeed and the other two on his fully geared bike.
“Everyone seems to start out on a singlespeed as a kid,” he said. “Simplicity is a huge factor. We’ve seen an advance in technology with recent developments in suspension and index shifting, but also an advance in the maintenance.”
MacDonald points out that, while most local singlespeed riders embrace the lack of maintenance required for their bikes, their singlespeeds are not the only kind of bike in their possessions.
“I’ve seen a pretty wide range of people that ride singlespeed bikes,” he said. I wouldn’t say they’re in a certain income bracket or have an environmental stance. If anything, they’re just curious what it’s all about and want to try something new. It is cheaper, but for most people, it’s an additional bike. It’s another example of conspicuous consumption – another add-on goody. Singlespeed’s have been touted as something that will improve your pedalling and spinning efficiency because you have constant pressure and are in constant motion.”
Many bike mechanics have taken their full-speed bike’s transformation into a singlespeed into their own hands. Several companies – such as Spot and White Industries – specialize in singlespeeds, and larger companies are latching onto the trend. Breckenridge resident Dave Gelhaar recently bought a singlespeed made by Cannondale. The 1FG model weighs about 22 pounds and cost Gelhaar $1,400.
“You pretty much just have your brakes and your freewheel coasting and you’re looking at the trail,” he said. “Riding a singlespeed – it’s simplicity and soul. Even the races have been fun. It’s good to see seven or eight people racing on singlespeeds.”
One Speed Racing
Riding a singlespeed on occasion is one thing. Racing is a different story. In some places, the singlespeed racing division has established itself as such an irreverent subculture that its riders will routinely stop in the middle of the race and slam a beer. Summit County singlespeed racers, on the other hand, take competition a little more seriously.
“It’s become kind of the avant garde thing to do,” said Mickey Florio, who is leading the 2003 Summit Mountain Challenge race series in the singlespeed division and typically beats all of the geared competitors in the men’s sport class. He built his singlespeed, which has no front or rear suspension, “on a whim” for $200.
“If you don’t want to be in the “in’ crowd, you get on a singlespeed,” he said. “There are groups of singlespeed guys that are trying to turn the racing and mountain bike world upside down. More power to them. But, if I pay money to get in a race, I’m going to go as fast as I can. It’s something mainly for real bike enthusiasts and something different and fun to do. There is a scene, but the most militant feeling I’ve heard from people is that they think they’re extra cool because they’re riding a singlespeed.”
The exclusive attitude is one that transcends any sport – snowboarders sometimes shun skiers, skiers shun snowboarders, telemark skiers shun everyone else and so on. None of Summit’s prominent singlespeeders seem to share this attitude. In fact, there are those like Tim Graczyk, who won the 2002 SMC series on his singlespeed and whose singlespeed performance can hold a candle to any expert rider on a multispeed bike, decided to drop out of the singlespeed race category this season. He is now one of the overall men’s expert leaders in the series, having podiumed in every race on his new, dual-suspension, 27-speed Trek Fuel.
“I started with gears,” Graczyk said. “I bought a singlespeed a couple years ago. But it’s hard to race a singlespeed against people with gears. I got to the point where I was tired of being beaten by my bike. If I wasn’t racing, (the singlespeed) would probably be the only bike I’d have. If you’re out just riding around, in a way a singlespeed is a lot more fun. In a way it’s also easier. It clears your mind and you don’t have to think of anything. You just oil your chain and go.”
As for the one-speed adjustment, riders say it takes some getting used to.
“At first, you might start going for the gears,” said Matt Powers, another top-notch local racer who occasionally opts to race with one speed. “You hit a hill, and your thumb starts flailing around and nothing happens. You work to accelerate. They’re just so different. You totally have to charge hills and climb out of the saddle. You play the momentum game differently. I don’t mind people that do just one thing, but I ride a geared, full-suspension bike just as much.”
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