Riding a single speed

I had the chance to borrow a single speed for a few days and to take it out for some rides. As you can see, it is the Bianchi Pista I wrote about a while ago. It is interesting riding a single speed after riding various geared bikes for a while, especially as I sometimes regret having put gears on my old Speedwell. The cable, to my eye, spoils the clean lines of the old bike and I often think that the gears were not worth this compromise, that it would have been fine as a single speed, which is how I rode it for about 5 months, the main reason for getting the 3 speed hub being that I needed better brakes and wheels. Was also getting gears a superfluous choice? The opportunity to do some riding on a single speed would allow me to “reality check” my regrets and see whether a single speed would have been a viable choice. After all, I do use the full range of gears on the Speedwell every time I take it out.

So I rode to Fernleigh Track with my Beloved – he on my 21 speed Giant Cypress – and we rode along and back the first part of the Track a few times, swapping bikes a few times to compare rides. By the time we reached Fernleigh I had left him behind and when he reached me, he said “Can’t keep up”. I was not sure if this was due to a fitness discrepancy or the respective bikes we were riding, so we did a swap and rode along the Track for a while. At first I kept up, but the further we rode, the more he started to disappear into the distance ahead of me, even though I had 21 gears available to me if I needed to use them. Then we swapped bikes again and the same thing happened, the Giant just could not keep up with the Bianchi no matter who was riding which bike.

I really like the directness of the single speed, it feels as if every pedal stroke translates into a strong forward push, if that makes sense, and “directness” is the only term I can think of to describe this sensation. The bike also feels very stable, it wants to stay upright and travel in a straight line and does not feel as good when I stand to ride it up a hill. Riding it home up the hill was also quite easy, I did not find it a great exertion at all and glided up it easily.

So, to answer my original question, was getting gears on the Speedwell worth it? I think so, the two bikes – the Bianchi Pista and the loopframe Speedwell – are two very different machines, and comparing them is venturing into the territory of the proverbial chalk and cheese. As I said earlier, I always use the full range of gears on the Speedwell and it certainly does not glide up hills so easily. But on the plus side for the Speedwell, it is much better for riding through traffic with the range of speeds and the up right seating position.I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to ride the Bianchi in fixed mode and went to the local bike shop owner to ask him to flip the back wheel for me, but he refused, saying it was “too dangereuse” and that if I wanted to do this I should go to the track and ride it around there. He then proceeded to regale me with horror stories about accidents that have happened with fixies. When I told him I would only ride it along Fernleigh fixed, he said to “take ze ambulanz wiz you”, so fixed is not something I got to try, maybe another day …

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8 Responses to Riding a single speed

  1. petermc says:

    Funny, I went the opposite way going back to single speed from three on my Speedwell. Some things I miss, others not. I like the quietness, lack of cables and the control of the coaster brake, but I do miss first and third a bit. I will have to do a post on that one. You have the gears and the coaster too on your Speedwell – lucky ! That Bianchi is a cool bike.

  2. Jess says:

    There’s no reason you shouldn’t ride fixed. Fixed doesn’t mean you don’t have a brake. I have a bike with a flip-flop rear wheel, and I ride on the free side most of the year, but I ride fixed in the winter – it just gives me a little bit of extra stopping power, especially if my rims get wet or slippery. My advice would be to try a different mechanic!

  3. Vicki says:

    Yes the Bianchi is very cool and a delight to ride. I like the quietness of the single speed ride too, the clicking that came with the new hub on my Speedwell annoyed me at first but I have gotten used to it now. There is no perfect set up for a bike, everything has its pluses and minuses.

  4. BB says:

    The Bianchi Pista was the single speed I was most drawn to whilst searching for El Cheapo, unfortunately, it didn’t quite fit with the cheap and cheerful profile (although good value). “Directness”!!!! That’s the word I’ve been looking for. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the difference. It’s not that my single speed takes less effort than I expected, it’s that the result of expending the effort is surprisingly efficient. I’ve become aware that gears, although fantastic for sooo many reasons, suck up some of the energy expended.

  5. Vicki says:

    A Bianchi is not the bike I would get if trying to deter thieves – it just draws attention to itself! Have you tried your single speed in fixed mode yet, BB? are you going to? I so want to give fixed a try, it sounds like it would be so much fun…

    • BB says:

      I won’t be trying fixed mode on the Malvern Star, Vicki, as there is toe strike with the front wheel (being a small frame size). I would be needing the ambulance 🙂 This didn’t deter me from the purchase as I habitually cycle allowing for that and I’m too lazy to change from single speed (what, no coasting?). Although I am the same as you and do have a certain curiosity about riding fixed.

  6. AdamM says:

    Riding fixed on the roads is fine. I, and many others, have commuted through London (and now Newcastle) for years on fixed wheel bikes. However, there is a big difference between riding a fixed wheel bike with hand brakes on the road, and riding brakeless. The latter should, IMO, be solely done on the track.

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