The Pool of Filth proved to be a suprisingly refreshing obstacle for some. SSCXWC 2011. © Tim Westmore

Who wouldn't want to do this? The Pool of Filth proved to be a surprisingly refreshing obstacle at Single Speed World Championships. © Tim Westmore

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 singlespeed?

Why not singlespeed? –The guys at

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

Chris Jones' laps a rider and hops a tree on his way to the SSCXWC 2011 title. © Kevin White

Chris Jones laps a rider and hops a tree on his way to the SSCXWC 2011 title. © Kevin White

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

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?

Kari Studley wins the 2012 Women's Singlespeed Cyclocross National Championships © Tim Westmore

Kari Studley wins the 2012 Women's Singlespeed Cyclocross National Championships © Tim Westmore

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

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

Aaron Bradford wins 2012 Singlepseed Cyclocross National Championships © Tim Westmore

Aaron Bradford wins 2012 Singlepseed Cyclocross National Championships © Tim Westmore

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

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

Single Speeders tackle the off camber uphill. © Joe Martin

Single Speeders tackle the off camber uphill. © Joe Martin

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.