I tried my very first singlespeed after my first year of riding. The bike I borrowed was a 26″ Santa Cruz Chameleon with a 32×16 gear, complete with a Nokian Gazzaloddi 2.5 front tire and vee brakes. It was sick!
I had one hour to ride the bike, so I took it out to my home trails and my favorite descent.
The long uphills to be too hard–all I had to do was stand and I could make it up. But what was definitely hard was all those short, steep climbs that were spattered around in my favorite Pennsylvania downhills.
There was one climb in particular that I was really worried about with the singlespeed. You come hauling down the best descent, then near the bottom there is a sharp right hand turn into the steepest, rutted 20 second climb that you can imagine.
I had never made it up that climb on my race bike.
On my way down the hill with the singlespeed, all I kept thinking about was how impossible this steep climb would be. I knew I had to start the climb going as fast as possible.
Into the sharp right hander I leaned as hard as I could and let off the bikes…
I carried a lot of speed.
And I made it up that climb for the first time!
Riding a singlespeed makes you ride differently
First, the obvious: you have to climb differently.
Today you can buy bikes with 50t cassettes. Yes, this means that you might be able to climb at an easier pace, but an easier pace means you will climb more slowly.
If you get out and do intervals a lot, this is probably good. But if your local weekend ride is also your week’s hardest session, climbing gingerly isn’t your most efficient way to burn off that extra donut!
On a standard 26″ wheel, many people ride a 32×16, or 2:1 ration. But even with my 32×20 on a 27.5 wheel, the climbs were never easy. This is thanks to some beefy tires, lots of suspension, burly equipment and some big hills.
But that also means that my pace on the climbs was usually a lot quicker than my standard conversational pace! This had a positive impact on my fitness for sure.
Secondly: you will think a lot more about carrying speed on the downhills.
I think this is the best reason to go single.
With my example of the climb I needed to carry speed into, riding a singlespeed down hills forces you to conserve your momentum–it’s not just as simple as pedaling away when you brake too hard!
Carrying speed is a good thing. Just because we can pedal really hard on a long straight section of trail doesn’t mean we have to. Being able to focus on your braking will really help your riding.
But also, most of the time you will be going too quick for pedaling a small 32×20 on the fast flow trails.
Think of all the little tiny 2-pedal-stroke sprints you have on your favorite descent–say goodbye to them with the singlespeed!
But instead of pedaling, you’ll focus on pumping, good form, smart braking and looking ahead so you can make good choices.
You’ll focus on finding every bit of speed you can! This will teach you to be a better rider.
I think the benefits of having to ride and conserve your momentum are the biggest benefits of riding singlespeed enduro, but I’ve listed some other cool points about the cool setup:
- Your bike will be lighter. I was able to save ~1kg between GX Eagle and singlespeed.
- Your suspension kinematics will be better. The bigger cassettes grow the more weight they gain. With more weight at the far end of the bike away from the suspension pivot, the bike isn’t as sensitive to small bumps as it can be on paper. I had to spend a lot of time to fine-tune my suspension when switching between setups.
- Everyone will want to look at your bike. I mean, it looks cool.
- No fancy bits to break off. I really like this setup for all the hike-a-bike missions I do in the backcountry. I wasn’t able to pedal up the hills anyway and this setup has me riding worry free.
- You’ll wear through fewer drivetrains. There really isn’t much to wear out with only one gear??
How much does it cost?
Overall I spent about $150 to change to singlespeed on my enduro bike.
My DT Swiss wheels had an xD driver, which meant the best way to change to one cog in the rear was with the Problem Solvers Zinger. You can do this cheaper with a DMR conversion for Shimano freehubs, or for almost nothing if you use old parts from broken cassettes at your LBS.
The other part I had to buy was the Shimano Alfine chain tensioner. With this setup the suspension can move relatively freely.
I have been told that I should file off the tab on the chain tensioner so it ties flush to the chainstay…
Who should go singlespeed enduro?
In my opinion, the primary candidates for having a singlespeed enduro bike might looks two different ways.
The first person is the overly fit rider with poor skills.
Go singlespeed and you’ll still have to work up the hills, but you won’t be able to hide behind you sprint power on the way down. This will help you focus on your skill and speed.
The second person is the poor student rider.
There are plenty of riders outs there with clapped out equipment. Save some coin and make your bike one gear so that you can keep riding.
I suppose we could add that third and fourth person. This would be bike park riders and people with just too many bikes!