Single speed bikes are becoming more popular than ever before. They fill a particular niche in the bicycle ecosystem, but should they be used for commuting?
Single Speed and Fixed Gear Bikes
Single speed bikes have only one gear ratio, so just one ring on your crank and one ring on your cassette. That means no gear changing — you’re stuck with what you’ve got. A single speed and a fixed gear are almost the same things but the difference is in the hub. Single speed bikes have a freewheel hub that allows you to coast when you’re not pedalling whereas a fixed gear requires you always to turn your legs.
Simplicity And Cost
An advantage of single speed bikes is the ease of use and simplicity of the entire design. With only one gear ratio, extra parts like the derailleurs are completely removed.
Fewer parts mean that there’s less maintenance resulting in a more reliable bike. No more hassling with stuck or noisy gears and misaligned derailleurs. Fewer parts also mean that you’ll be saving many grams in weight. The only thing feeling heavier will be your wallet since single speeds are significantly cheaper than their geared counterparts. Coupled with less maintenance, single speed bikes are cost-effective.
Single Speed Gear Ratio
This is where single speeds and fixed gears can get a little complicated. Since there is only one speed, you need to determine what that speed is. This depends on your overall fitness and your type of environment. If you’re mostly riding flat, then you might want a ratio that will allow you to go faster at the cost of acceleration. The opposite is true if you have some hills to deal with along your commute.
In general, the rule is a 2:1 ratio. You want the front gear to have twice as many teeth as the gear in the back. This ratio will give you the best overall performance on paper, but you’ll need to adjust according to your situation. Once you find the sweet spot, you will most likely never need to adjust the ratio again.
Environment and Distance
Flat commuting is the ideal situation for riding a single speed bike. Getting from home to work or school is as easy as getting on and pedalling away. One major disadvantage comes with hills, although as mentioned they are not impossible to overcome. With the right gear ratio, you can tackle hills and flats with only one gear.
Long endurance rides are suitable for a geared bike, but since most commutes are short distances, single speeds are ideal. Particularly difficult sections within a commute can be powered through on a single speed as long as they aren’t too long.
Single speeds are excellent for your overall bike fitness and form. Your typical commute on a single speed will be slightly more strenuous than using gears. Increased resistance on uphills means you’ll be applying more energy to your pedals.
This resistance will increase your strength and ability. Over time you’ll notice uphills will become less difficult. Due to just having one gear, your increased fitness will be measurable and you will focus more on your form as you figure out the most efficient pedalling style in different riding environments.
Momentum Is Key
The major reason for using a single speed on your commute is that it can transform your daily ride. Riding a commuter bike with gears is the same ride every day. With a single speed, you will adopt a completely different riding style that requires perpetual changes depending on the environment. You’ll learn to keep your momentum rolling throughout your commute.
This means that you will seek out the best route on your commute which might not always be the shortest one. You’ll also seek out or avoid hills or particularly congested streets as you master your new bike.
If you’re not fully convinced or committed to the idea of a single speed, then there’s another option: going hybrid. Many large cycling companies, such as SRAM, are introducing 1x chainring systems. These are not true single speed bikes but offer some of the same advantages.
This 1x system has only one gear at the front but a full cassette of gears in the rear. It’s lighter weight than fully geared bikes due to only one gear at the front and no front derailleur. Only the gears on the cassette in the back shift which makes it slightly more reliable than fully geared bikes.
With hybrid bikes, you won’t get the full single speed experience. For those that truly need a commuting bike, hybrids may be the best option available. For those who are looking for a different riding experience and with cost as a consideration, a single speed is the best bet.