Find out if a single-speed is for youIn the June issue of explore I wrote a short review of the Norco Judan, a mountain bike sporting three of the hottest trends in mountain biking: single speed, belt drive and 29 inch wheels. A few hundred kilometres later and I still love this bike. Here's why:
I am mechanically handicapped, so even though I've been trying to adjust mountain bike gears for years I only seem to get worse at it. Now I have a gearless bike which means I don't have to feel bad about not being able to adjust my own gears. When a hill presents itself I don't finger my way through the gears, get caught in the wrong gear or grind cogs. I just stand up and pedal - it doesn't get much simpler than that. I never feel guilty about not oiling my chain, but I still should spend more time giving my stead some TLC. I don't need a chain breaker in my pack just in case and I've stopped worrying about a stick snapping my derailleur.
A belt makes no noise. There's no clanging of teeth on frame on bumpy singletrack. No gnashing of gears as I shift. All I hear is my breathing, my buddy's deep thought, the eagle screeching in a tree. Oh, and my friend's derailleur as it self destructs. Sucker!
There's no sitting and spinning up a hill with a single speed. You've got to get out of the saddle and pound those pedals if you want to ride to the top, which means I often leave my buddies behind on climbs. I only have one speed and it's hard and fast. Sure it burns my legs, and I'd definitely want gears if I was entering a long distance race or doing some epic rides, but for a few hours at my local trails one gear is all I need.
Rolls over everything
A bigger wheel has more inertia, so it's harder to get going - a killer on technical climbs or if a hill surprises me - but it's also harder to stop. Big hoops roll over bumps like a monster truck over pot holes: forget about it. I destroyed a local rooty and rocky trail that usual frustrates me with this bike. It felt like I was invincible as I rocketed along over everything in my path.
Kicks my butt
I can't go for an easy ride on this bike. If there's a little bit of uphill I'm working hard, which means no matter how short the ride I feel like I've done something. I got lost and hiked around as much as I rode the other day and still came home, less than an hour later, feeling like I got my day's worth of exercise. And it's not just a leg workout. All that climbing out of the saddle and cranking for every inch up hills turns a lower body workout into a full body burner. My arms and abs always feel it afterwards.
Will make me better
Riding a single speed has changed the way I ride for the better. It forces me to look ahead to anticipate what's coming up, otherwise I won't make it up that punchy climb. I milk every roll, bump and corner for any momentum I can gain. A slightly higher centre of gravity, thanks to the 29 inch wheels, means my balance has to be sharper. And with no gears to fall back on my whole body has to be strong. Bottom line, every minute I spend on this bike is forcing me to ride smoother, faster and better.
Sure single speeding isn't for everyone or every situation, but I am convinced that any time you can spend riding this way will improve your mountain biking.