by Molly Hurford
We’ve been wondering what it is about singlespeed that holds so much appeal for cyclocrossers. We’re already in a challenging sport, so why make it even harder? We asked our Cowbell Forum crew what their thoughts were, and we got some great responses. A lot of people started on singlespeeds for financial reasons, but those reasons seemed to turn downright philosophical after racing for a while. One of our favorites? When asked what the best part of singlespeed riding is, Christopher Plummer replied, “The simplicity, the rhythm of it. Some days, the brutality.”
Can’t quite understand singlespeed? Check out our coverage of Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC) last year, where Rapha-Focus’ Julie Krasniak and Chris Jones swept the men’s and women’s races. We guarantee you’ll at least begin to understand why singlespeed might be the most fun thing in cyclocross in the US.
Why not singlespeed? –The guys at CarbonFrameRepair.com
I kept breaking/destroying parts on my geared bike, and it got too expensive. I also had a beard at the time and felt obligated … –Adam
I wanted to get two races in each day since I have to drive five or six hours for most of the races. Cat 4 is early; SS was the last race. Otherwise I would have raced 35+ geared. –Bill Bailey
It’s a blast … –Brian Hancock
I’ve been racing a long time (mainly off-road, ’cross and MTB) and wanted to add more options in my race schedule. It helps to keep me mentally/emotionally fresh. –Katina Walker
When I started ’cross, I’d been riding SS rigs for a while; it was a no brainer. I don’t feel at home on a bike with gears. -Brandon Halleen
I needed (wanted) a pit bike and I got a great deal on a singlespeed bike. Riding it, I started to really like the simplicity and low maintenance. –Sasha
SS-MTB, SS-CX, it’s kinda like peanut butter & jelly. –R. A. Jorgensen
It was cheap way to get started. I probably paid $300 for the bike. –Christopher Plummer
I was already riding/racing mountain bikes as singlespeeds, so it seemed natural. –One Eyed z from the Cowbell Forums
Money reasons originally; gears were way out of my budget. –Adam K.
How did you decide on gearing?
Doesn’t matter what you pick, you’re always in the wrong gear. –Adam
After a painful trial and error period, I accepted the advice of an older racer and, imagine that, his gearing was sound. –Christopher Plummer
I have two gears, my race gear and my dirt road gear. I don’t think much about it on race-day. It is what it is. –Brian Hancock
I decided on 42:18 because that’s the ‘magic gear’ for my Santa Cruz. It works everywhere. –The guys at CarbonFrameRepair.com
In terms of gearing, I’m still learning, but I know that I need something that I can spin pretty well on the flats and grind on the hills. I like the 2:1 ratio most of the time. –Katina Walker
I choose a gear pre-season, hope that it works, and run it through the season. That is to say, I am too lazy to change it. –Brandon Halleen
I had a 42 ring, and the SS cassette kit came with a 16,17, 18 cog. I picked the 17. Fortunately, that first race was dead flat, and the gearing worked out. After that I started asking around, and pre-riding before choosing. Now I run a 39-18 mostly. –Bill Bailey
Trial and error, mostly. –Sasha
Coming in to cyclocross later, I watched a few races, then tried it out. I used to change rear-gear for terrain. I read many printed articles and started talking to others on their choices. -R. A. Jorgensen
Gearing was some trial and error. Settled on something bigger than my MTB but smaller than my road. –One Eyed z from the Cowbell Forums
Trial and error … trail and error? –Adam K.
Toughest maintenance issue?
Come on, this is singlespeed. Wash your bike once in a while. Keep your chain clean. Air up the tires. –R. A. Jorgensen
Freewheels are a pain. –Brian Hancock
Oiling the chain (seriously). –The guys at CarbonFrameRepair.com
The toughest maintenance is just picking gears and then having the right chain around. Everything else is easy. –Katina Walker
Keeping it clean! –Brandon Halleen
Brakes (hey, it’s a ’cross bike with cantis). –Sasha
Maintenance? What’s that? –Adam
Having cheap freewheels. You’ll destroy one in a single race. –Christopher Plummer
Double check the bolts once in a while and replace the chain now and then. No biggie. –One Eyed z from the Cowbell Forums
Chain tension … That’s not really a tough issue though. Maintaining my lower back is. –Adam K.
Do you still race in regular races, or only in SS categories?
Two races a day. Still want to try three. –R. A. Jorgensen
Both. Often on the same day. I use my SS bike as a pit bike for geared races, and sometimes, when I can only bring one bike, I race open classes with the SS. –Sasha
Usually SS. We have a pretty big group ’round here. If not, regular group is fine. It’s not like I’m winning. –Adam
Only SS, but occasional geared races because I’m faster on a SS anyway. –The guys at CarbonFrameRepair.com
I started out in regular races, but just SS category last year when the NEOCX series opened it up. This season will probably be a mix. –Brandon Halleen
Both. The SS categories have a wider range of abilities and are a lot more fun. They’re not “all business” like conventional categories. –Christopher Plummer
When I race (took last season off), I do the SS class on my singlespeed, but a couple of years ago, I added some Masters races on my geared bike. –One Eyed z from the Cowbell Forums
Depends! The SS races in Northeast Ohio require at least five singlespeeders to show up. So with poor turn outs, one will end up racing against gears. But ideally, only singlespeed. –Adam K
Best part about racing SS?
I may actually win a race this season on SS. –Bill Bailey
The camaraderie of SSers, learning about maintaining momentum, pushing yourself past what you and others think you can do on a SS, the zen of never having to shift. Perhaps the greatest part about SSing is that it’s exactly like life – you either succeed (ride an obstacle or steep hill) or you fail (have to dismount and do a walk of shame). –The guys at CarbonFrameRepair.com
The best part is not thinking about anything but riding. No need to shift gears … spin what you brung, baby! –Katina Walker
Racing in general is a total blast – I just happen to only have one gear. But, admittedly, I do get a little grin passing someone who has to stop because of an issue with their gears. –Brandon Halleen
Don’t think, just pedal. –Brian Hancock
Dependability. Also the no-nonsense connection to the bike. It makes for more elemental racing. –Sasha
More money left over for beer. –Adam
You and your bike, out racing other like-minded people. –R. A. Jorgensen
The simplicity, the rhythm of it. Some days, the brutality. –Christopher Plummer
It’s fun to watch others fumble with their gears. -One Eyed z from the Cowbell Forums
Peace of mind. –Adam K.