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Published: November 11th 2005
Not My Singlespeed
Shot at the 18th Annual Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge. See www.wesheney.com for more images.
“You know,” my wife tells me, “I used try so hard to ignore you when you ranted about mountain bikes! ‘They don’t go anywhere…Why would anyone want to ride one…They’re so slow!’ And now you can’t stop talking about your mountain bike.”
“It’s a singlespeed,” I corrected her, as I smeared more liquid bandage onto the scrapes on my shins. “There’s a difference.”
There IS a difference. Most mountain bikes nowadays come with dual suspension, which to me just looks like more moving parts. And 30 gears? Honestly, how many people who walk out of a bike shop with a 30 speed bike will actually use more than 10? I’ve got 21 speeds on my road bikes, but darn it I actually climb mountain passes, and I use them all. And the few times that I had taken my mountain bike out on trails had been exercises in frustration as the trail dead-ended after only a few miles, assuming that we could find the trail at all.
So I found myself looking at my old mountain bike in frustration. It had arrived in a box around my birthday during my freshman year at West Virginian Wesleyan College. Little did my parents think that I would slap roadie bars, slick tires & panniers onto it for a European odyssey the next year…Now, thirteen years later,every piece of the drivetrain was terminal: the front derailleur was held on with an old inner tube…the mis-shifting of the rear derailleur betrayed it’s K-Mart origins…the front chainring was rusted to hell…the rear gears were worn almost smooth…I had to advance three and subtract two gears to get ahead one…in short everything needed to be replaced. But to replace everything would cost me two or three hundred dollars, easily. And with a baby on the way, there are more pressing investments…So I thought, “Singlespeed, why not?”
OK, I’ll admit, it’s a trendy thing to do. There are dozens of websites devoted to singlespeed conversions. I had to rationalize to my inner iconoclast that just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Just last week I test rode a beautiful Gary Fisher singlespeed at East Coast Bikes: 29” wheels, disc brakes, a lightweight suspension fork…ah, it was beautiful. But I was looking at a Specialized Rock Hopper Sport in a shade of turquoise that went out of style with the 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix and the debut Florida Marlins uniforms. Truth be told, only a discerning cyclo-aficionado would be able to even tell the brand anymore, I had covered my bike with so many stickers: Amnesty International, old school, rainbow Apple, d’Art Center,
Rails to Trails, Test Bike, and my favorite: Napoleon Dynamite in his brown, corduroy suit on the front of the bike, above the caption “SKILLZ.” I had bent and pinched the swoopy Scott AT-4 Pro handlebars on the same morning that I broke my hip in the last millennia, and now I hesitated to grab the outer sides of the bars for a quick sprint, fearing the bar might snap in my hands. “Goldarnit,” I muttered under my breath, “I’ll make it a singlespeed.” Because under all those stickers & rust was a solid steel frame that begged to be ridden again. With a phone call across the harbor I was on my way,
“Glen, I need a singlespeed rear wheel. Oh yeah, and a crank. A chain too. And some new brakes. V-brakes. And brake handles. And do you have any of those moustache handlebars?”
I tossed the cheap eBay brakes I had installed (caveat emptor), threw the old, bent wheel across the garage and cut every cable on my bike. I had arrived home late on a Saturday, surprised to see a bag of parts sitting next to a new rear wheel next to the back door. With the premier mountain bike course in Tidewater about to close for another year, I had only one chance to get on my new bike and ride the course for myself the next morning. I ran to the garage a man possessed. Garrison Keillor finished up “A Prairie Home Companion,” and I was still at it. The “Saturday Night Fish Fry” started in and I bopped around my bike repair stand to the sound of big band jazz, laying new brake cable and adjusting chain tension.
Finally as the witching hour approached I opened up the garage door and cried to the world, “It’s aLIVE! Bwahahahaha!” I lurched out onto the driveway on my newly-resurrected old friend, gripping a pair of handlebars that could have passed under le Arch de Triomphe in 1909.
The stars twinkled overhead and the old man in the moon winked at me as I spun around the block. With only one gear my pedal speed was directly tied to my ground speed. Just like that first, hand-painted banana yellow cruiser I rode on my eighth birthday around Maple Park, the faster I pedaled the faster I went until my legs collapsed into jerky gibberish and the wind whipped at my hair.
I stripped away all the extras and got back to the essence of cycling with my singlespeed. There’s no rear suspension. There’s no front suspension. There’s no gears. There’s no hydraulic disc brakes. It’s just me and my bike.
Tot: 1.659s; Tpl: 0.046s; cc: 11; qc: 51; dbt: 0.0292s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb