Secret Base Reviews: Single Speed Bikes

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Single-speeds rule, gears drool

A single-speed bike is a bike that is forever in one gear. It’s simple. You don’t have to worry when to shift up, when to shift down, or if you’re in the right gear or not. You just ride, baby! You wanna go faster? Stand up and mash those pedals. You wanna go slower? Squeeze your brakes like on every bike. That part’s not different.

I used to ride my single-speed to work. Nowadays, I ride to make me feel like time is actually passing — for that reason alone I’d love my single-speed forever. But there’s so much more.

It’s lighter than a bike with tons of gears, which is great for setting a solid pace, and also for carrying up the stairs of my building. I could not handle a bike that’s even one pound heavier — just ask my neighbors who have seen me struggling repeatedly and asked if I needed help, repeatedly (would rather die than accept).

Single-speeds tend to be cheaper than geared bikes, which is great because then you have money for other important stuff, like a decent helmet, or a sturdy bike lock, or candy.

There’s less maintenance with a single speed because there’s less stuff to break. You can fall pretty hard on your single-speed and not damage it. Trust me, I tried to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge (wooden) when there was snow on the ground (snow). The bike was fine, and I got to learn what a hip pointer is, so it all worked out.

Okay, so I’m sort of burying the lede. It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Hills are, indeed, very difficult on a single-speed.

Without the ability to shift gears, you have to stand up on those pedals and just grind your way up the hill, straining, gasping for air, occasionally making noises that you’d call “weight lifter noises” but most passersby think belong to some sort of small, scared animal. It can be grueling. For proof heres a photo of some hills I climbed, and a photo of how I felt afterwards.

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I wiped my nose before snapping this pic, you’re welcome

But, truth be told, I kind of like that it’s hard. I want exercise, so isn’t it good to struggle and work hard? If I had gears gliding me up the hill would I even get a workout? I’m trying to bike for like an hour and half max. I’m not trying to go on some sort of six-hour 100-mile sojourn, just to burn some calories. I don’t have time for that! I’ve got a dog and a tv at home!

And, uhhhhh, the sense of accomplishment? Unrivaled. Everyone else needed some mechanical assistance to get up here, but I just powered myself up because I’m actually the best athlete in the world. (I’m just saying it FEELS like I’m the best athlete in the world at the time of ascent. I know I am not.)

There are ways to make hills not so bad. If you can pick up enough speed before the climb, you can get halfway up the hill before you even realize you’re dying. Oh, shoot. That kinda brings up a true negative aspect of single speed bikes. For me, at least.

In order to keep my momentum … I will run stop signs. And sometimes lights. I mean, I’m careful about it, I look both ways and stuff, but technically it’s very dangerous and I suppose the final review score should probably lose some points as a result. (We won’t be sending THIS article to my mom. … she’s several articles behind anyway).

But say you don’t wanna risk life and limb for momentum. No worries. Even if you have to get off and walk your bike, you can do so with minimal shame because hey! You only have one gear! What are you supposed to do? It’s a built-in excuse for failure.

I do have some experience on a geared bike. Before I bought my lil whip I was laboring through New York on a citi bike, which has three gears and weighs 45 pounds. I’m not exaggerating. I just put it in the hardest gear and left it there. I didn’t like having it in the easy gears, it felt too loose, like I was sitting on a tall stool, swinging my legs freely, and that that flailing just happened to propel me forward a little bit at a time. Now, I’ll admit there’s a chance that if I learned how to use gears I’d like them. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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