I'll confess: I have been tempted to take an old frame and build up a singlespeed just to see what all the excitement is about. But something keeps getting in the way.
My geared bikes work. Really well.
Besides, I remember riding one-geared bikes as a kid. I also remember walking up a lot of hills, just like I often see SS riders doing.
I keep reading articles about how singlespeed devotees swear by their simpler, easier-to-maintain machines. But on Friday my friend John and I rode over Johnson Pass and had to slog through several miles of mud. Our gears were packed with bear shit-flavored gumbo and wrapped with thick weeds.
At one point, I couldn't see any teeth on my middle ring—it was a solid disc of mud. The spaces between my rear cogs were a mass of brown and green. Same for the front and rear derailleurs, which were covered in inches of crud. The chain was covered, too, and had to pass through two enormous masses of sticky mud as it moved through the derailleurs. My bike was as filthy and mud-packed as it has ever been.
Then an amazing thing happened.
Everything kept working.
Not flawlessly, but pretty damned well. When I needed them, the derailleurs I've ridden for three seasons with only basic maintenance kept doing their jobs. I was able to access all the gear combinations I needed to finish a long, tiring ride. I shifted into the middle ring when we finally found good trail, and dropped back to the granny gear whenever I needed it for a short climb.
Same thing with the rear cogs. I ran out of legs before I ran out of gears, so I don't even know how many cogs I could have used beyond the four I needed.
And how much time have I spent this summer futzing with derailleurs? Well, let's see ... I remember shooting some lube on them once in awhile, and I might have turned a barrel adjuster once or twice.
Sorry, singlespeeders, but I still don't get the fascination with doing things the hard way. I'll take a reliable set of derailleurs and shifters every day of the week.