So regular readers know that cycling is not my favorite jellybean in the bunch – those darn two-wheeled contraptions not only kind of scare the bejesus out of me, but the simple act of taking a bike ride is well…decidedly not simple. Hopping on the bike does not have the carefree feeling it did when we were very young, where you just balanced, peddled, and flew through your neighborhood. Nope, cycling means preparation: tire pressure to check, chains that might fall off, spandex pants with cushions, helmet, a kit of emergency supplies, simply being in charge of a pricey piece of equipment (and that’s just naming some of the bike-riders check-list). Oh, and you have to know how to use your pricey piece of equipment, like the best ways to shift and when and where, and know which gear you’re moving.
Never pegging myself to ever enjoy the ride as much as I do a run or a swim, I was shocked when all it took was one bike to change my life: Hello, single-speed bicycle.
Just to be clear, a single speed ain’t no fixie (whoa, just had a little East Bay moment…I’m better now). Fixies are bikes that don’t ever stop moving – in other words, the pedals are constantly in motion when the bike is moving (no coasting for you). They’re awesome because you can ride in reverse and require some special tricks to brake. Honestly, these little monsters freak me out the way bungee-jumping does.
Single speeds are more like the bikes you remember from childhood. They have one gear, they’re not fancy or complicated, and you can install handbrakes on them. And yes, you can coast.
So why my love affair with the single-speed? While for one, there is beauty in their simplicity. Without gears, you’re never coordinating your hands and timing. What you see is what you get. Two, there’s just less stuff to worry about breaking down. All you’ve got is wheels, one brake line, and…that’s it. And three, which is by far my favorite thing is that it’s a challenge. Everywhere you go has everything to do with the power of your legs and what you personally are capable of. It’s not about how well you shift and finding just the right gear. It’s not about how light you can make your bike while having all the do-dads on it. Nope, you are in charge through and through.
And like most things, I tend to like the challenge of what I can control. No assistance, just feet to the pedal. No frills. No paying to upgrade, no secrets. Just me, my legs, and the bike. Since my goal is to be in good shape, I feel like the single-speed makes me rely on myself while building my muscles, efficiency of rotation motion, and giving me the opportunity to get back to the salad days of childhood. Not a bad combo.