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  1. #1
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    Single speed cycling. Pro's and cons?

    Quote Originally Posted by datako View Post
    There is a school of thought that gears are not necessary. (Warning - single speed evangelist here!)

    I live in the Highlands of Scotland where we have some lumpy bits, and I have done considerable distances on my single speed bikes. For example I have done a 100 mile day on my Hammerhead across Scotland and back. It was geared at around 60" for the occasion. A 60" gear is what used to be in the standard range back in the days when there were only single speed bikes. With that gearing I can ride up any main road hill that a fully loaded truck can climb. There's just a few really steep backroads that are too steep, and on them I reckon gears would only get me further up the hill by a few yards.

    One thing that many people do not realise is that you have to do exactly the same amount of work to go up a hill at a given speed regardless of your gearing.

    Generally speaking, if a regular cyclist rides a single speed for about a month, they will be no longer bothered about gears.

    Why? - because you have an infinitely variable power transmission built into your legs (within your power range, that is). Geared cyclists are accustomed to delivering their power within a narrow range of rpm/cadence, whereas single speed riders learn to use the full range of their legs.

    I'm not rabidly anti-gears, I have several geared bikes, but those I use the most have no gears.

    Where would I want gears? Touring with a heavy load, or racing in a peleton, otherwise there's no point.

    And before someone says it won't work because where they live is too hilly/too flat, the point is to gear appropriately for the use. I use around 48" for my mountainbikes, 60-65" for my general roadbikes, and about 84" on my track bike (used on road).

    So to answer the original question, 60" gearing for road work.
    I've read about this 'cult' of single speed fanatics, but have always fobbed it off in a norrow minded kind of way as some kind of masochistic torture fused with cycling! But Datako's fine comments above from another post (which I did not want to steer off topic) really hit me with some brilliant yet simple logic.

    If someone could expand on this or point me somewhere that could answer any questions I have, that would be fantastic

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    Masochistic, yes. But after spending time on a ss bike, you'll be faster on a geared bike as well. As for the amount of work being equal on ss vs geared going uphill, that rather depends on your gearing. If you're pushing 80" you'll be climbing much faster and have to deal with aero drag.

    I currently run 68" (was 72") on my Dahon Mu, and find it just as fast as my geared bike through city traffic. Your riding style will adjust for the ss handicap. And yes it's much fun!

    I can name no cons, sorry. Maybe the fact that you can't pull back on a folder's handlepost. But I don't do much of that either. Anticipate hills and traffic, and you shouldn't need to.

    Like datako says, horses for courses. I find the singlespeed folder to be the ideal city bike.

  3. #3
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    Single speed is not a 'cult' but I think fixies come close. The human body is not a mechanical engine so there are definite limitations to efficiency derived from single-gear propulsion, but if you train enough you can get along over quite a range of riding conditions in one appropriately selected gear. I have two single- gear bikes - a belt-drive Strida and a converted Bianchi Pista with a flip-flop freewheel hub. I ride both and am content with them but I also have two other bikes that have gears - a MTB (I like single track but can't imagine only a single gear) and a lower racer recumbent (the fastest bike I ride could not be that way without gearing).

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    I like to think of my singlespeed bike as having three speeds: mashing, spinning, and coasting. And I think that's plenty for a hilly city.

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    You forgot one more: walking

  6. #6
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    if there is no advantage for the gearing and it will be the same amount of effort to go up a hill with a ss vs a gear bike like some of you said...then y do ppl say it "feel" easier to go up a hill with 8 speed or whatever speed bike they have vs a single speed. if this is a misconception, then this is the biggest conspiracy theory of us landing on the moon!!!!!

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    It "feels" easier because pushing a lower gear seems to take less effort to push the pedal down each time. but the truth is you're doing more pedal rotations and moving a shorter distance each stroke when you push a low gear.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by special_k View Post
    It "feels" easier because pushing a lower gear seems to take less effort to push the pedal down each time. but the truth is you're doing more pedal rotations and moving a shorter distance each stroke when you push a low gear.
    Aha, but with slower rotations each muscle spends a longer time doing work / relaxing, and no doubt this has some significance in terms of the way the human body functions.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by chagzuki View Post
    Aha, but with slower rotations each muscle spends a longer time doing work / relaxing, and no doubt this has some significance in terms of the way the human body functions.
    Ergo...vis a vis...I think u hit the jackpot. I think we got a winner here.

  10. #10
    Senior Member caotropheus's Avatar
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    I have a single speed MTB and a single speed folding road bicycle with 451 mm wheels. My first surprise with the single speed business was that I could climb much easier than I thought in first place. I could keep step by step with all the geared bicycles fellas, up until we reached a flat trail (or road) or a descend. By then they could leave me behind easily. Definitely the single speed bicycle could carry me the same way as the full geared bicycle could, but not as fast. The bicycles I ride the most are my single speed bicycles, but I am aware of the limitations. The big issue here is climbing and if you can climb on a single speed gives you a degree of self satisfaction and the feeling of "bring me more obstacles for my single speed"! Other issue is how mechanically simple the single speed bicycle is when compared with a geared machine, reinforcing your sense of self confidence.
    Last edited by caotropheus; 10-08-08 at 10:42 AM.

  11. #11
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    I agree, chaguzi has his finger on why lower gears feel easier. The total amount of effort to go a distance is the same regardless of gear, but you spend that effort over more time using a lower gear. Since we live "right now", the effort at any point in time ("now", as we're riding) is lower in a low gear than in a high one.

    But the feeling of lower effort in lower gear is not an inevitable result - it's a function of our human practice, which is influenced by the choices we have available. Because most of us know riding on multi-speed bikes, it feels weird to push a high gear at low RPM. We would just select a lower gear.

    If, however, we're forced to use a single gear, we get used to it. It's only "worse" in relation to something else - multiple speeds as "the way it normally is on most bikes". Take away the value judgement of the norm, and single speed doesn't so much become better or worse, just different.

    I'm living this right now on my Strida. At first, after riding a 3 speed Brompton for almost two years, I felt like the bike was undergeared. But I'm getting used to it. It's not so bad pedaling more to speed up. Just different.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by caotropheus View Post
    I have a single speed MTB and a single speed folding road bicycle with 451 mm wheels. My first surprise with the single speed business was that I could climb much easier than I thought in first place. I could keep step by step with all the geared bicycles fellas, up until we reached a flat trail (or road) or a descend. By then they could leave me behind easily. Definitely the single speed bicycle could carry me the same way as the full geared bicycle could, but not as fast. The bicycles I ride the most are my single speed bicycles, but I am aware of the limitations. The big issue here is climbing and if you can climb on a single speed gives you a degree of self satisfaction and the feeling of "bring me more obstacles for my single speed"! Other issue is how mechanically simple the single speed bicycle is when compared with a geared machine, reinforcing your sense of self confidence.
    TOTALLY agree !! ... i am lucky to have choice of several bikes in the family; mountain bikes, road bikes and 3 folders. For most daily riding the single speed Strida does just fine. Up virtually all hills, it just goes - really stiff bars really help here, I can really pull on them (I am not sure a bike with flexible bars would work so well). Its just downhill where I feel at a speed disadvantage - I just give a few fast spin bursts then cruise.

    Another advantage of single speed is not sweating - instead of being tempted to add on more load by up-gearing, speed is naturally limited ... this is ideal for town and commuting where not racing but just getting from AtoB.

  13. #13
    Senior Member caotropheus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by makingmark View Post
    The total amount of effort to go a distance is the same regardless of gear, but you spend that effort over more time using a lower gear.
    If we set this statement in physical quantities, it is called "work", it is represented by force (newton) x distance (meters) and is measured as joules. As we can see by this mathematical relationship, climbing a hill or performing some distance requires always the same amount of work. Either we apply less force in the pedals and pedal more distance or we apply more force in the pedals and pedal less distance. No doubt the human factor is complicating this simple physical concept of work!
    Last edited by caotropheus; 10-09-08 at 12:10 AM.

  14. #14
    Senior Member caotropheus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simple Simon View Post
    Another advantage of single speed is not sweating - instead of being tempted to add on more load by up-gearing, speed is naturally limited ... this is ideal for town and commuting where not racing but just getting from AtoB.
    Simple Simon, you have touched one of the most philosophical (and money) points of cycling industry and riding in now-a-days. Almost 100% of quality cycling in the world is turned toward performance sport and not utility. Undoubtedly lots of utility cycling could be performed and is performed with single speed bicycles like here in Israel (were I live) in flat places. Single speed bicycles are the family truck and people take young children and cargo and are not in a hurry to go from "AtoB" (אלב). More and more people are using good quality utility bicycles as you can check in the utility cycling forums. Single speed folding bicycles fit well in this category of utility and are frequently referred in the utility cycling forums.

  15. #15
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    I began my bicycle lifestyle with a single-speed fixed gear bike in 1956. I moved on to a single-speed coaster, then 3-speeds, then 10, then went back to a single-speed fixed gear bike in 1974 while not abandoning multi-speed bikes. I now have bikes with 1, 3, 7, 8, 10, 18, 24, and 27 gear combination's. I have resisted buying any bike with a 10-cog cassette, but I suppose it is only a matter of time...

    I have a great love for the simplicity and quietness of single-speed bikes, but after reaching 40 years of age a while back, my body can only cope with single speeds if it is relatively flat (not an accurate description of where I live at the moment) or if I'm fit. Riding a single-speed in hilly country with an older body leads to damage which leads to lack-of-cycling. At the very least I use multi-speed bikes in the early months of any cycling season.

    Many places I have lived lend themselves to single-speed riding, but this isn't one of them. The glaciers in the last ice age (global cooling) made this area a multi-gear cycling area. There are years when I ride enough to use a single-speed much of the time, but even then there are hills I have to walk up. So much kinder on the knees and legs to just shift up or down a gear.

    There are places in my heart and life for lots of bikes... folders, tandems, recumbents, fixed wheels, Velo-Solex's (wish I had one now) with 2-cycle gas engines, road bikes, track bikes, commute bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, beaters, etc.

    Life is too short to just have a single...

  16. #16
    The Legitimiser Sammyboy's Avatar
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    The human body is most efficient at spinning legs between 70 and 80 rpm, so though the amount of force necessary to climb a hill (or do any other piece of riding) is the same in any gear, the body produces that force with less exertion if you can use a gear to stay in the efficient zone. When climbing, there is something to be said for sprinting up in a high gear because of the shorter work cycle. On flats, and downhill, a geared bike WILL get you where you're going quicker for the same amount of effort. It's as simple as that.

    Despite all that, I have several single speed bikes, and I love them. Why? Fun and simplicity! Riding around town, it is liberating not to think about what gear I need to be in to to pull away when the lights change, for instance, to have nothing to do but to ride. Out on longer rides in the countryside, too, there's a lot of satisfaction in rolling over the hills without changing gear, and a sense of achievment and exhilaration in finishing a long ride. I think riding single-speed recaptures the essence and simple fun of cycling when you're a kid. Of course, an SS bike is pretty robust and weather proof too. I have an SS townie bike which is the one I lock up at the train station. It's based on a 30 year old frame, nobody wants to steal it, and it doesn't mind the rain. Getting up the very steep hill from the station is very very hard work, but the rest of the ride is fun and simple. Into the bargain, I get a different type of workout from riding SS. I wouldn't choose to ride SS exclusively, but I love having the there to ride when I'm in the mood.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caotropheus View Post
    If we set this statement in physical quantities, it is called "work", it is represented by force (newton) x distance (meters) and is measured as joules. As we can see by this mathematical relationship, climbing a hill or performing some distance requires always the same amount of work. Either we apply less force in the pedals and pedal more distance or we apply more force in the pedals and pedal less distance. No doubt the human factor is complicating this simple physical concept of work!
    Clearly and I've sometimes wondered how this word ever came to used in this way. No doubt the fact that it takes the same amount of "work" to bench press 5 pounds or 500 pounds is a source of confusion for students of physics the world over.

    Quote Originally Posted by caotropheus View Post
    Simple Simon, you have touched one of the most philosophical (and money) points of cycling industry and riding in now-a-days. Almost 100% of quality cycling in the world is turned toward performance sport and not utility. Undoubtedly lots of utility cycling could be performed and is performed with single speed bicycles like here in Israel (were I live) in flat places. Single speed bicycles are the family truck and people take young children and cargo and are not in a hurry to go from "AtoB" (אלב). More and more people are using good quality utility bicycles as you can check in the utility cycling forums. Single speed folding bicycles fit well in this category of utility and are frequently referred in the utility cycling forums.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sammyboy View Post
    On flats, and downhill, a geared bike WILL get you where you're going quicker for the same amount of effort. It's as simple as that.
    I don't think this is necessarily true, Sammy. Although choice of gearing can close the gap a little, going somewhere quicker will always take more effort. You can theoretically pedal 70-80rpm no matter what the gear and among all of them naturally the lowest gear available will always result in the lowest wind resistance and the lowest biological losses. Of course most of us want to get to work on time and don't want to have to turn to trikes to stay balanced while riding at a snails pace, but the point is that the goals of a strictly racing minded cyclist and a strictly effort minded cyclist are at odds.

    "Performance" can be measured in many ways and you get very different answers if you consider minimizing energy instead of maximizing speed.
    Last edited by makeinu; 10-09-08 at 11:03 AM.

  18. #18
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    I have my Swift set up ss, in the 70's, forget exactly what. I like to push big gears. Sometimes I miss having a higher gear, say when the wind is behind me. I always felt that the best low gear for steep hills is feet. Actually, I think a good compromise for my kind of riding (riding for exercise, day trips) would be 3-speed, as in the good old Sturmey Archer Raleighs, or my favorite all-time setup, rear derailleur only, 5-speed, nice and simple, on my late lamented Specialized touring bike (I found a new bike that might reasonably take it's place - and it can even be set up with down tube shifters - where God intended shifters to be in the first place - the Trek 520 -non-folder, of course. I might buy one). Still, the neatness and compactness and simplicity and cleanliness and back to basicness and screw the corporate marketing multigear-grifter-shifter hustle, of ss - particularly in a folder - cannot be discounted.

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    Thanks for all the in depth answers ;)

    makingmark, put it best I think. Since we live in the moment, we percieve great effort doing the same distance as requiring more energy, and clearly from the comments this isn't the case.

    I have an old mountain bike I'm going to test out my single speed skills on, or rather my lack of them. Don't want to mess with my folders setup really. I live in a very hilly part of the country, Cumbria, in the North west, UK, and I sometimes bust a gut in the granny gear of my Dahon Espresso on some extremely steep hills I climb.

    So what would be the best chainring and rear sprocket setup to get me started? Can you get a single sprocket that will screw on a freewheel hub as I don't have any cassette hubs?

    Also, I was wondering, since you will really be pushing harder than you would in the correct gearing to get up hills, won't this stretch the chain faster than normal?
    Last edited by Rufus Bezak; 10-09-08 at 12:45 PM. Reason: bad spelling :(

  20. #20
    50000 Guatts of power 127.0.0.1's Avatar
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    a human on a ss bike needs to produce more torque on an ss vs low geared bike. and use more power.


    for a human there is a physical sweet spot to be most effective, and this is generally ripping up the
    hill at a high cadence, that would match a geared bike, then all things equal

    it is the cadence that matters for human legs, muscles and ligaments.


    if you slow the rpm's, a machine wouldn't notice, but the human damn well will
    use up more power to climb that hill. it will take more arm and back and abdominal muscle
    effort to chug up a hill on an SS at a lower rpm than the 'sweet spot'

    since we aren't built of metal that doesn't bend, it will require more power almost always
    to climb a hill on an ss vs a machine, or vs someone on a lower gear


    NOW build a machine and give it a big gear inch, but make that machine out of flexy metal,
    and see if it can climb the hill. it will twist out of it's motor mounts and fail. you then make some
    of the power it generates somehow hold itself to the mounting tighter. you will find more power
    is needed to get up the hill, to hold the motor down. this is how it works for a human. if we
    were robots then the theory -same power no matter the gearing- would apply.



    the real story on SS riding is you must go up hills at a good clip, and force yourself to suffer,
    and on the flats you rip up a high cadence. going between these modes in a race is no worse,
    and in some cases better, than using a geared bike and sticking at your favorite cadence all day

    a lot of SS riders trounce geared riders but only on varied coruses. a completely hill course, or
    completely flat one, you want a geared bike.
    I like fat bikes
    and I cannot lie.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by caotropheus View Post
    ... Undoubtedly lots of utility cycling could be performed and is performed with single speed bicycles like here in Israel (were I live) in flat places. Single speed bicycles are the family truck and people take young children and cargo and are not in a hurry to go from "AtoB" (אלב).
    But you never know when you might need to climb ...
    ... there are rumors of an impending 11th commandment אחד עשר

    Something about having more than one bike ...

    Regards
    T

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    The great thing about single speed riding is that despite all the theories as to why it shouldn't work, it simply does

  23. #23
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    I LOVE my single two speed bikes. I have a third coming soon-- and my first folder. It's a Bike Friday NWT and it should arrive in about two weeks. Can't wait. It will be geared 50-16 or around 58 gear inches.

    As datako said: "The great thing about single speed riding is that despite all the theories as to why it shouldn't work, it simply does"

    If you haven't written a SS lately, I highly recommend anyone to try it. They just work.

  24. #24
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    When bicycling was at the absolute zenith of its popularity, around the end of the 19th century, all bicycles were single speed fixed gear.

  25. #25
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    I commuted SS for about a year or so and it taught me to pedal out of the saddle for long stretches without tiring soon.

    It was fun but there were too many places where I had to grind very hard to get uphill and others where I couldn't pedal comfortably for long stretches because I was spinning like crazy. I quit when the chain started skipping - the main reason I did it was to get away from all the drivetrain maintenance. But My commute is very hilly - I use all the gears I have (except on the Yeah which has ultra-wide gearing thanks to the Schlumpf)
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

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