Who needs gears? Well one is fine.
Welcome 2015, a new year, new challenges. New bikes even.
I am chuffed that my first commission for Scotland Outdoors is out now, my very own account on the joy of riding singlespeed bikes off-road. I tried my very best to encourage you to try riding with one gear, packed with some technical tips, anecdotes from the trails and pictures, taken by my brother and me at selected trips in Scotland, the article is my best so far. I would encourage you to buy the magazine or download the electronic version, I loved working on the piece and will hopefully find more time in 2015 to write. Simply go to www.scotoutdoors.com to find out more, where to buy the magazine or download it online.
And as with every story, there is usually much more material than what finally fits into article. While researching the article and through my connection with Swobo, I became friends with Charlie ‘The Bikemonger’ Hobbs, a veteran in riding singlespeed. With many more miles under his belt than me, Charlie runs his own local bike shop in Swanage, and supplies the singlespeed scene online with parts, bikes and generally great advice through www.charliethebikemonger.com. So, in the eyes of one who has seen it (almost) all, why just one gear?
Let’s let Charlie speak for himself: ‘Why do I ride singlespeed? Well it started about 15 years ago when I was a student with babies and no job, and over one month I smashed three rear derailleurs. Spending £105 in a single month was not sustainable. There were mumblings in the underground press of one-speed bikes. I made myself one using an old chain tensioner and a bit of my wife’s spatula, called it a “spatulator” and headed off to the European Singlespeed Championships. Well, what a crazy bunch of likeminded people! I had found my spiritual home in the mountains: beer, suffering, music, idiots and dancing, a million miles away from your normal racing crowd.’
‘Now I am much older and very slightly wiser I have had time to dissect what I like about one speed bikes. Is it the mechanical efficiency, the lighter weight, or the lighter cost? Partly, but what it comes down to is at the end of the day we are just blokes messing around in the woods on bikes, and mountain biking is not meant to be easy. If it was, they would not call it “mountain biking”, it would have a name like “TV watching” or “getting fat”.’
‘What’s more, your typical mountain biker has two fundamentally opposed things going on in his head. One half is hunting the most challenging trails, the other half is desperately seeking equipment to make these trails easier: more gears, more suspension, dropper seat posts, bigger brakes. Your typical mountain biker is going nuts trying to balance these two warring mental factions. Single speeders just man up and get on with it.’
Peter Discoe, CEO and founder of Swobo Bikes, agrees: ‘We believe riding a bike shouldn’t be about the bike at all; the best rides are those when you don’t have to fight or think about the machine you’re on.’
For my part, the part I most like is the social aspect. Singlespeed riders are supposed to be unconventional, maybe eccentric, and definitely strange? Oh yes, we are! In a good way. We tend to stick together and exchange all of the great stories that you can tell once you shunned a modern mountain bike with its many gears over a good pint in the pub. The emphasis is on having a good time, not a gear for every situation.