Many would argue that Mountainbiking
is a wonderful sport in that it refuses
in part to be dictated by the marketing
of the big companies
. It is essentially organic in that riders create their own market niches
because they feel they need for them and then the companies must
follow suit. Singlespeed
is a perfect example of this.
In a world dominated by high-technology, full suspension and marketing hype, Singlespeed stands alone as the anti-thesis of what the companies want to spoon feed riders.
The premise behind Singlespeed is to remove all your spare gears and to run only one chainring at the front and one sproket at the back, usually on a 32 - 16 ratio. Although this sounds stupid it has benefits. It is:
Cheap (especially spares)
The quietness appeals to all mountainbikers who ride to be at one with nature and the low cost appeals to everyone. Many convert simply because they hate new technology in biking, this is why you see many singlespeeds with rigid forks and simple v-brakes. It is also no coincidence that most Singlespeeds you might see are traditional 'out-dated' steel frames. There are additional reasons in other disciplines, for example in dirt jumping getting rid of the rear mech means it is not there to snap off when you land heavily.
Is it faster? Well for XC races, the XC whippet obviusly not have the wide range of ratios needed to climb and descend quickly. However, in general trail riding there are less problems. When climbing you are forced to be exert more energy to keep up speed and not stall, so it might be tiring but it is as quick. If the hill is too steep you have a valid excuse to walk. Downhill, you are forced to pick better, smoother lines and to keep momentum going. This is a skill that all riders should learn so Singlespeed actually teaches you how to ride better. In Singletrack the same applies and you won't be as far behind your friends and you might think.
The most wonderful thing about a singlespeed bike is that all riders can have one. All you have to do is wind your limit screws down on your rear mech so you can't change gear and go ride. If you want to actually convert full time then the large bike companies would like you to think that you need a frame with horizontal (BMX)dropouts. Without these, they say, you cannot keep the chain tense.
However while they are correct about the theory, infact you can use a normal vertical dropout. Most singlespeed steeds are constructed from the old hardtail in the garage and any other bits to be found around the place.
How to convert your geared MTB into a Singlespeed
1: You need one sprocket at the back. "Oh No," you might think, "I need a new singlepseed specific wheel!" Nope, all you need is a 16 tooth BMX sprocket (most riders use Shimano DX) and a length of old plastic pipe. Remove the cassette from your wheel and then cut the pipe into a couple of spacers. Slip your BMX cog between them and onto the freehub and there you go, a singlespeed rear wheel. If you don't want to be quite that cheap, just buy a conversion kit from 24/7 or Gusset (available at all good bike stores).
2: Break the chain down into a lengh that sits over your middle chainring at the front and your new rear sproket, leaving a little slack.
3: Remove old shifters, mechs, cables etc. Clean your rear mech, remove the top jockey wheel - but put the axle back in! and then use the mech as a tensioner on the chain. It's best to run it between the chainstay and the chain. And thats it, your ready to go.
Singlespeed was originally written off by the press (MBR magazine the most condemning) as a fad but it is now a significant market niche. Many riders have an expensive full suspension bike and choose to run a rigid singlespeed during winter to prolong the life of their shiny expensive steed and to prevent the wife from making them get rid of their beloved old steel Kona frame. The Singlespeed world championships (held at Cheddar, England in 2001, and Germany in 2002) grow more popular every year and the same thing is happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
Interestingly the consumers in Mountainbiking have dicated to the companies what they want and the conglomerates are now following suit. Many companies such as Kona, Redline and DeKerf, make specialist singlepseed frames. Kona are making a full suspension steed for 2003, yet this seems to go against the retro theme running through singlspeed. Interestingly, On-One cycles in Britain specialised at first in no-nonsense steel Singlespeeds and have now started producing geared versions of their legendary Gimp.