It’s a question asked by many when on the lookout for a new bike; “Why would I want a bike with only one gear?”, followed by, “seriously, why would I want a bike where I can’t even coast???”. Let’s have a look at the two questions and see where the answers lie…

“Why would I want a bike with only one gear?”

Draisine, singlespeed Early Draisine

Back in the mists of time, the early 1800’s to be precise, the first 2-wheeled modes of transport, the Draisine or Velocipede, were invented. Nothing more that a rudimentary frame of wood or metal with two wheels and a steering column. We’ll delve more deeply into the history of the bicycle in a later blog post, but suffice to say, there was no such thing as gears on a bike until the invention of the derailleur in the early 1900’s and racing cyclists were only permitted to start using them in the 1930’s.

Tour De France, Singlespeed, Fixed 1930's Tour De France Badass, 2 Fixed cogs, 2 bottles of wine, infinite win.

 

Modern bicycle riders are used to having gears on a bike and consider it to be the norm. This may be the case if you are road racing, mountain biking or touring (and we will also look at singlespeed/fixed forms of all 3 in future blog posts), but in the modern age of urban living, short trips, which make up most urban travelling, simply don't require so many gears. In fact, the majority of urban journeys, those taken by car, can be accomplished far more economically by bike. According to a European study, 75% of the population of Europe live in cities. Every day in Europe there are 12.5 million journeys of less than 3 kilometers taken by car! The average speed of a car in urban centres over this distance is 10 km/h, by bike it is 14 km/h. Riding a bike in an urban center just makes sense!

Bike Messenger, Singlespeed, fixed gear Badass Bike Messenger

Ok, but why a singlespeed? A quick study of the people who do the most urban cycling will tell you a lot. Bike messengers ride 9 hours a day, 5 days a week in urban centres; that’s about 400km a week. The majority of them ride fixed gear or singlespeed bikes. There are a few reasons for this. Aside from the obvious aesthetic considerations, a major reason would be simplicity. The only things that need to be changed with any regularity on a well-maintained singlespeed bike are the brake pads, a cheap consumable. With only two brake cables and a chain, there is so little to go wrong with a singlespeed bike; no derailleur alignment to worry about, fewer cables to worry about changing, not to mention a more peaceful state of mind. As singlespeed and fixed gear legend Sheldon Brown stated:

Riding a singlespeed can help bring back the unfettered joy you experienced riding your bike as a child. You don't realize how much mental energy you devote to shifting until you relinquish your derailers, and discover that a whole corner of your brain that was formerly wondering when to shift is now free to enjoy your surroundings and sensations.”

In terms of gears, most urban centres are quite flat. Bike messengers who’ve been riding for a long time will tell you that they started out with geared bikes, but as time went on they would realise they were only using maybe two or three gears out of up to 27 on their bikes, yet were having to maintain entire geared drivetrains, it just didn’t make sense, the switch to singlespeed or fixed bikes saved both time and money.

Singlespeed bikes are also significantly more energy efficient. With less parts to weigh your bike down and a chain that has a direct line between cog and chainring, without having to run through the friction of a derailleur, pedalling is free and easy.

In part 2 of this blog post, we'll take a look at why riding fixed might be the right option for you. Check it out now!

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