Single Speed Biking – Training Aid or Cult?

FasterSkierJuly 9, 2004

My good friend David Belz, a top 200 Birkie skier from Switzerland likes to refer to things as “alte schule” which in Swiss-German means “old school”. Nothing could be more “old school” than riding a bike with only one speed.

Think back to the carefree days of your youth. Screaming down the street as an 8 year old on your Schwinn Sting Ray; never in oxygen debt, pedaling as hard and as fast as you could for the sole purpose of getting somewhere.

How many of us can say we are in better shape now than when we were children? Boundless, inexhaustible energy being used every waking moment.

There is a way to get some of the feelings of fitness-freedom back, even as an adult. The emergence of both single speed and fixed gear bicycles has risen to the level of cult status in the past few years. Aside form the “cool” factor, riding a bike with one gear is a terrific training aid. Sure, riding your 30 speed Italian road racer might be more efficient but does it give you that sense of unfettered joy you experienced as a child, knowing the only way up that hill was by using the sheer strength of your legs.

Before you embark down the one speed path there are a few things to keep in mind. First, there are 2 ways to get into the game. Fixed gear bikes have only one gear but they do not have a freewheel; in other words when the bike is in motion the wheels are turning. A ‘single speed” bike has a free wheel which allows you to coast. Both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of riding you are going to do. It can be confusing considering that although both types of bikes have only a single speed, the one with a free wheel is called a “single speed”. That is the way it has always been described and you would have to talk to single speed guru, Sheldon Brown for an explanation.

For my dollar I believe the freewheeling variety is more versatile. You can ride on hilly terrain with the benefit of coasting downhill. You can ride technical single track without the added stress of being able to control when each pedal is down or what position the pedals are in traveling through rocky terrain.

In this day and age of $2.00 per gallon gasoline, why not join the single speed rebels and ride to get your coffee, ride to work, ride down the street to visit with your neighbor. It is simple, definitely “alte schule”: and a great way to improve your fitness. It is training in its most simplistic form; strength and power directed toward the pedals, the more you have and use, the faster and farther you can go.


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