When Shopping around for a new bicycle, there really are comparisons which should never come to mind, like "should I go with a geared bike, or a single speed?". It is one thing to opt for the single speed due to the price point or because it suits the terrain and riding style you will be riding on. It is another thing entirely to make claims that a single speed will give you the same advantages of a geared bicycle. If a single speed or fixed gear bike is aesthetically pleasing and it's all some people can afford, that's fine, I won't judge. The important thing is that the person buys a bike and becomes an active person no matter how they decide to do it. But a single-speedster (as cool as they might think they look toting around a carrier bag and wearing Ray Ban wayfarers) will get killed, every single time, when going up a steep hill on their 52/12 gear ratio bicycle. The other alternative to using a ratio like this is getting a larger cog in the rear wheel and going with a smaller gearing ratio in the front. While that will make climbing easier, the rider will lose the ability to effectively sprint and will have an overall too high a cadence to hold up for long rides.
Some may argue that the first bicycles ever raced were single speeds. In fact, some of the early ( and I mean 1920's) racers thought of geared bikes as being suited for younger, inexperienced riders. Some people will tell you that they cross train on single speed bicycles in the winter, in order to mash the pedals harder come summertime. Some people claim these bikes are low maintenance because you do not have to fiddle around with the derailleurs and the chain is thicker on the bike. These reasons, while good, do not serve the purposes of average day to day riders. Some people can unknowingly buy a single speed bike as their first bicycle. They might like their introduction into cycling, or they might absolutely hate it, leaving their bikes on the side of the hill in frustration.
From a pricing standard, there are similarly priced geared and non-geared bicycles on the market. It is really almost purely up to personal preference. Geared bicycles have opened up worlds to cyclists to ride places many didn't even think were possible, such as riding a bike up a mountain in the Rockies or randonneuring the Alps. These things would be impossible to do on a fixed gear bike (unless you have a Nexus hub).
Adding to the DE-evolution of the bicycle, the hipster posing crowd has taken the fixed gear bike a step further, removing the drop bars and replacing them with 4 inch wide straight handlebars. The bike ends up looking like a larger, goofier cousin of the BMX instead of a road bike.
I have been a silent on-looker of this phenomenon, not wanting to get involved on the intricacies and foolishness of this subject. But for the record, a single speed bike cannot go uphill for very long (and I mean hours). It cannot win in a grand tour. It can time trial at a velodrome if it's a track bike, but a trip to the grocery store will cause all sorts of hurt. Single speed mountain bikes are not faster than geared bikes. A single speed series for racing should exist for bragging rights only, because the single speed crowd need their own category to be competitive. They should stick to the alley cat races they do in the inner cities. These bikes are built for fun and some utility for those who live in flat areas. The geared bicycle is a step up, not a step down, on the evolutionary scale of the bicycle. It's the all rounder, better deal of the two options.
Even real bike messengers will realize that Quick Silver was just a movie. Many messengers use single speed bikes but a lot use geared bikes too. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishurne created a cult following of Walz-capped skinny jean wearing The Onion subscribers which like to pose as the characters of the movie. To Fishburne's credit, he rode the real bike ( an 85' Raleigh Gran Prix) in the movie. The rest of the bikes featured were wannabe bikes for the truly great cycling era in which this movie was made. The Hinaults, Merckxs, Le Monds, and Fignon's of the day are the figures that kids should look up to nowadays. The tough as nails riders, the hard-men, winning back to back victories on their STEEL and GEARED bicycles.
Just a thought, or a rant. You decide.
May 25, 2013- There is some new evidence to show that single speed mountain bikes can place well in 50 mile amateur endurance events. Check out the results of the 2012 Wiskey 50, where the overall winner won by a margin of two minutes riding on a single speed bike. There are more examples of single speed riders outperforming geared riders in competition, but they seem to be the exception rather than the norm. I encourage all gifted single speed riders to continue to challenge and eventually overturn the status quo. In the end, it's not be bike, but the engine that does the work.
I really appreciate all the feedback I am getting from all my international readers. They understand that we all need to stand together as cyclists in solidarity rather than letting our differences split us apart. Unfortunately that message doesn't translate well here in the states, where any difference or preference categorizes people and puts them against others who are not like them. As far as cyclists go, here in the states we have roadies, retro-grouches, hipsters, triathletes, commuters, bmx'ers, etc.; all with their own sets of etiquette and societal rules. The one thing we should all share is our love for cycling and our desire to see more protection for cyclists out on the roads. In order to see a world that embraces cyclists, we as cyclists need to follow the rules. Fixed gear culture is about risk taking, running lights and endangerment. The risk is compounded with fixed gear riders deliberately strip the brakes off of their bikes, and only stop using their rear wheel. That is why I am focusing on this group. That is why I call people who alter their bikes to fixed gear hipsters. I have co-workers who ride fixed gear bicycles. They make all their stop signs and traffic lights. They act responsibly on the roads. This is not the message certain movies have been popularizing. If cyclists are continued to be portrayed as risk taking daredevils, efforts to make cycling accessible as a means of transportation will be ignored by society.
To all my readers, ride safely. Use brakes, don't run signs, and keep subscribing to more posts from a Bicycle's Point of View.