Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Gears disability"

"Sorry for your gears disability," Bill said as he pulled up on his bike in front of my office. "Would it be better if I only rode in one gear?"

I looked down at my newly singlespeed-converted Karate Monkey. "Well, it couldn't hurt," I said. "At least then there's a chance I'll keep up with you on the road."

Bill observed my cadence as we pedaled down the street, then shifted his gears to match mine - 32x20. "This is pretty low," he observed.

"Tell me about it," I said. "It's downright tedious on flat pavement." We spun and spun and spun, until we hit hills that suddenly seemed to throw the pedals backward. I stood and strained and grunted and sometimes I made it, but sometimes I didn't. The ride hadn't even started yet.

At the trailhead, I made a point to remark to the other Thursday Night riders that I was singlespeeding today - not because I've suddenly become one of those boorish one-gear sandbaggers (though I may have come off that way), but because I didn't have a clue what I was doing and needed to warn potential wheel-suckers in advance.

We started up the trail. I struggled to find my cadence amid a paceline of geared riders. Bill stayed up front, chugging away at the 32x20, although Bill is a much stronger rider than I am. I churned, then faltered, then churned again. The grade steepened. I stood up and wrestled with my handlebars like they were fighting back. I mashed the pedals until my abs burned. My abs! "This is a really good core workout," I said to the woman in front of me. She shifted into granny gear and suddenly I couldn't keep my own bike from tipping over. I set my foot down, and just like that I was walking. Other riders spun past and regarded me with quiet pity. It was a really easy hill.

I coasted the entire descent, except for when I forgot to coast and laid into my pedals until the egg-beater motion spun my legs out of control and spit my feet forward. After experiencing steep climbs and leg-throwing descents, I vowed to put clipless pedals on my singlespeed. I dislike clipless pedals and haven't used them for a year, but you basically can't get away with platforms when you only have one gear.

On the way home, Bill, Norman and I passed a speedometer. Bill and I frantically spun our tiny gear, legs pounding like overheated pistons, until we coaxed the radar to 25 mph. "Yeah, 25 mph!" I called out. I slowed my legs. That's when I realized that every muscle in my legs hurt, every single one, throbbing with an alien sensation that must arise when one's RPM rises above 200.

"What do you think of one gear?" I asked Bill as we ambled toward home.

"I like it," he said.

I smiled. "Me too."


  1. I would stick with the flat pedals and learn at what speed pedaling makes no sense :) Some super long pedal pins and good shoes help a lot (Shimano DX with long / Xl pins; TNF Hedgehog shoes)

    I have been running 32:20 and found it great off road, especially in rocky, rooty terrain and the road sections are not too bad as even geared riders back off at these points.

  2. I use lots of gears now, but I'm old. :-) This will give you great leg power, and brain cordination to work them.

  3. Clipless pedals?
    It's a trap!!

  4. You'll get used to the platforms! I have them on my singlespeed... make sure you have sticky shoes (I use the five ten freerunning shoes) and good pedals with pins. The only problem is on very rough terrain when they bounce a bit, but otherwise there shouldn't be a difference. Enjoy the new set-up! Makes old trails new!


  5. I'm too much of a wuss to even take my single-speed (aka the kid-hauler) on the trail.

    If I ever did, you bet I'd use clipless pedals! All these other guys are nuts! :P

  6. Spent three years riding SSMTB in Missoula, avoid the Woods Gulch climb, it is a whore, Spring Gulch gets easier, Old Marshal Grade is easy. At some point get a tougher gear and pedal up Miller Creek, to the top of Hollmans, its pretty. Get stronger than put Dolla Bill in his place.

  7. I've been on an SS for several years now. Just not smart enough to work on bikes with gears...
    I really like having clipless pedals. Helps when spinning and helps when climbing....
    Good job and keep it up. You'll learn to love it!

  8. Your legs will get use to the single speed setup and you will get stronger on the climbs.

    Clipless is the way to go. Having the ability to yank up while mashing down will also make the hills easier.

  9. Clipless is definitely the way to go with a SS since the key is to keep momentum at all costs. Being able to not only pull up while pushing down with the opposite foot but also having the ability to pull up on the pedal if all you are able to muster on a hill or root is a "half pedal" stroke that keeps you going is a must.

  10. "boorish one-gear sandbaggers" You had me worried there for a moment.

    My single-speed 29r and my single-speed Pugsley are hands down my favorite bikes to ride. My geared Stumpjumper hangs upside down in the garage.

    Get the clipless pedals. I have to have them for better pedaling efficiency especially when climbing. You will definitely become a stronger rider.

    It's one hell of a workout pushing a single speed Pugsley around on the trails and I love it.

  11. Welcome to the club! Make sure you always act snottier on the one speed.

    A boorish one-gear sandbagger

  12. Jill, you will run down a steep hillside at night with no light, but you won't use clipless pedals?!Lol.
    You need all the efficiency you can get on a single speed so try the clips again and live the SingleSpeed dream!

  13. My disdain of clipless pedals isn't a fear thing, it's a comfort thing. I find them uncomfortable, and in all of the different adjustments I've tried, and two different kinds of cleats and shoes I've tried, I can't get through a long ride without a sore right knee and toes. I like platforms because they allow me to move my feet around and wear more comfortable shoes. It still baffles me that distance cyclists place so much emphasis on having different positions for their hands, but are perfectly fine with leaving their feet locked in one location for hours at a time. My hands and feet are equally sensitive to this kind of continuous pressure.

    That said, I don't anticipate too many longer rides with the singlespeed, and I do think being clipped in will help me power up hills and have better control on the downhills. Now to go dig for the old Time pedals and Sidis.

  14. Yes, I get "hot spots" on my feet from time to time so I unclip(Shimano and SPD) and move my feet around while on the flatter parts of trail and wiggle my toes regularly to keep the blood flowing. At the very least you will be able to spin like crazy without the risk of getting a knee in the eye!!
    Hope it works out for you.
    I am really enjoying the read.

  15. Have you tried Eggbeater pedals? They have lots of float, and I love 'em. These are the friendliest pedals I've ever had for my knees.

  16. Jill...I have a few extra SPD pedals, and Egg beater pedals...if you want to try either, I'll send some your way with Dave and B when they come down....Keith

  17. It was rather interesting for me to read the article. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more soon.

    Julia Smith
    clare escort

  18. I agree with Fonk. The Crank Brother's Egg Beater pedals are great! I made the switch this year and love them.

  19. I use regular SPD style pedals and looked at the eggbeater style ones ealier this year. The one thing I noticed right away was that the SPT cleats are steel and the eggbeater cleats are brass, which means walking on them will wear out the eggbeater cleats faster.

  20. Egg Beaters Acid pedals, clip in with a nice large platform pedal. Best of both worlds. Single speed is great for winter, less to clag up in the mud.

  21. For me, I am not particular to that balance gear, the important is the foundation of such bike is perfectly made. :-)


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