There’s an important mathematical equation for cycling enthusiasts: A = B – 1, where A is the number of bikes you should own, and B is the number of bikes that would make your partner go crazy. Using this equation, I justify owning two single speed bikes (along with a modern road bike and a vintage Italian road bike).
My first single speed has the frame of a 1970s Dutch touring bike (RIH Amsterdam if you must know) complete with some very nice, original Campagnolo parts. My second single speed is a 1964 Claud-Butler racing bike, gifted to me by a neighbour, with plenty of original parts but some new bits too. Neither of these bikes were originally single speed, so why did I turn them into single speeds? Let me explain the appeal of the single speed bicycle.
For those who do not know, single speeds are simply bicycles with one gear. There are no gear levers, no derailleurs and no gear cables. This simplicity is one of the great things about single speed bikes. There is less mechanic gear to maintain, fewer things to go wrong and less weight. You just jump on the saddle and pedal. It’s also why single-speed bicycles look so great.
Building a single speed is a great recycling project because its cheap (second hand bikes aren’t hard to find), good for the environment (that bike was saved from the dump) and you learn about bicycle construction and maintenance. You do need to invest in a few tools, and you’ll probably encounter the odd conundrum that requires a few YouTube videos, but you’ll end up with something completely unique that you are very proud of.
Of course, you can buy a new single speed bike (nothing beats the child-like glee of riding a brand new bike for the first time), or get your hands on one second hand. We know that cycling is fantastic for the environment and our health, so buying a bike that you will cherish and ride for thousands of kilometres is a great investment.
The Physical Challenge
I have been a personal trainer and running coach for over 11 years, both in New Zealand and the UK. Unsurprisingly, I love exercising. I enjoy riding my single speed bikes to sessions with clients and to run errands. I frequently find myself riding up a hill, or into a headwind, without the capacity to drop my gears. I also find myself zipping down a hill, or pushed along by a tailwind, spinning the pedals at a very high cadence. These physical challenges are great fun, and they test my lungs and legs in a way that I wouldn’t be tested if I was on a geared bicycle.
Pedal bands are very useful when riding at higher or lower cadences. When you’re grinding out a big gear, having the straps allows you to pull as well as push. At higher cadences, your feet don’t fly off the peddles. Unlike conventional cleats, pedal bands don’t require fancy shoes, and you don’t have to use them all the time (for example, when you’re stopping and starting lots in commuter traffic).
Tom Berry is a high-end personal trainer, running coach and group fitness instructor.
Check out the Road Warrior area on the website for more single speed inspiration.