The secret to cycling in America is the single-speed bicycle. There, you heard it here first. Remember, because at some point I’m going to be standing over you doing my six-guns and yelling “I told you so!” Who know the key to turning America into a cycling nation was to eliminate all but one gear. Take that to the bank! (cue 1980s movie reference) Forget what you know, forget science and intuition and greed and just hear me out.
Single-speed cycling, counter to what seems logical, is easier than multi-gear cycling. After a few months of riding the “piece of art” you see above I can say with authority this new “theory’ is true. Case in point, the ride I just finished. Coastal Maine, on my yearly pilgrimage. The exact same morning loop I’ve done for years. Thirty-four miles, sea level, virtually no elevation gain. In cycling terms, as easy as it gets, so the real game begins when you ride right at the bottom of your “red level.” Think green, yellow, red in terms of exertion. Green is for distance training, something else that is counterintuitive, but I’ll get to this in a minute. Yellow is where the fun begins and red is where you verge on soiling yourself. Go too far, too fast into the red and you are cooked no matter who you are.
I’ve done this ride at least thirty times. Today’s was the easiest of the bunch. Why? Because I’m on the single. I clocked in at 2:19 so not breaking any speed barriers here but the ride, due to it’s evenness, is a nonstop pedal event meaning almost no coasting or major climbing. Just consistent output. Now, in keeping with Milnor tradition, I didn’t eat much, only had one bottle and brought no food or sustenance of any kind. Give me credit, I’m consistent in my suffering. And the temps, well, in Maine terms it’s “hot as balls.” Humidity is running at 85% after three days of torrential rain. My kit is crusted in salt and would be a great barrier for keeping wild dogs at bay.
Today’s ride was so simple, so effortless and it got me thinking. Last night my wife and I, and a neighbor, rode to watch fireworks. My wife was on her folder and about halfway to the coast we hit a section of super steep, punchy climbs. She was in front of me and I noticed she was pushing WAY too large a gear. “You need to shift,” I said knowing this would unleash a torrent of “Don’t tell me what to do.” Halfway up the hill she stopped unable to keep turning the pedals. “You have to shift babe,” I said to her. The “babe” part meant to flatter and console. It didn’t work. “It’s broken,” she said. “Okay, let me see.” Click, click, click, it worked fine, but the issue was how to say this without saying it. The gears were an obstacle for her. A nuisance, a hassle, and this was not the first time we had had this little adventure, and not just on the folder. This happens on ALL her geared bikes.
This event triggered so many memories of speaking to other non-cyclists who love to mention all the reasons they can’t cycle, some valid and some completely bogus. Having to deal with shifting was HIGH on the list. Many newcomers to bikes are confused by the shifting process and that is just enough to keep a lot of people off of two wheels. So, just go single. If you live in a place like coastal Maine, this is a no-brainer. You have to hunt for hills around here, but what might surprise you is that I feel the same about singles even if you live in a place like Santa Fe.
I live at 7000 feet in the mountains and the single is the most fun I’ve had on a bike. Again, you would think the lack of gears would mean a lot of “hike a bike,” but that’s not what I’ve experienced. After my second ride on this bike a friend asked “So, how is it?” I took a second then replied, “I know this is gonna sound crazy but I think this bike is easier to ride than my geared version.” “Huh?” he replied then promptly went out and bought his own single-speed which he now rides 99.9% of the time. Perhaps it’s a mental thing. No need to ever think of shifting which means you can allow your mind to delve even deeper into whatever rabbit hole time alone on the bike allows.
I believe this with all my heart. I feel like I need to pull some epic voyage on my single just to prove my point. “One nation, one gear.” Coast to coast with my Fargo Ti, my Fuji x100V, and some jean shorts. By the way, whoever sent me the saddle with chili peppers on it, first of all, thank you. Second, I broke my main saddle, so I am reduced to the chili pepper saddle and let me tell you this, it’s not the right saddle for my skinny butt. Oh, my taint took a beating on this little ride, so I am in desperate need for a new setup and have no idea what I’m looking for, so if you are keen to cycling and know a bit about saddles please let me know where to start looking. For some reason, I can’t quite find the right thing.
If you haven’t ridden a single, or didn’t know they exist, don’t feel bad. This is your lucky day. Talk to your local bike bike. I’ll bet there is a “single-head” in there somewhere. Gear it on the easy side, know that you are limited on your top-end speed, but my guess is you will easily adapt to that reality and the riding will be surprisingly fun. Tell your friends. Tell you neighbors.
(PS: Training for endurance cycling requires long periods of riding in the green. This was counterintuitive for me, but look it up. You learn something every day.)