A couple of years ago, curious about all the passion some people exhibit for singlespeeds, I bought a conversion kit and turned my old commuter into a model of simplicity.
My old Stumpjumper was a great mountain bike its day, but after years on singletrack it had slowly evolved into a stripped-down, fully rigid and fender-equipped town bike, so taking it singlespeed seemed like the next step. Every few months, I still conduct a mental inventory of the pros and cons of having only one gear. For quite a while, I kept thinking that as time passed, singlespeeding might grow on me.
Sorry, derailleur haters, but that hasn’t happened. I even tried taking my SS for a trail ride once. And once was enough.
There is only one advantage to going shifter-free: I get to mostly ignore bike maintenance in the sloppy, wet weather of autumn and spring. Other than some occasional chain lube, I don’t do much of anything to my bike.
But here’s the rub: I wasn’t spending much time on maintenance when my commuter bike had derailleurs. All I had to do was occasionally wipe off some gunk, lube the chain and squirt a drop or two of TriFlow in a few key spots. Maybe install some new cables and housing every couple of years.
For a little extra effort, derailleurs allow me to gear down and pedal through three inches of wet, spring snow without abusing my knees at the end of a long day. They allow me to move a little faster when I’m running late. They help me glide up hills when I’m hauling cargo like a lock, cans of Diet Coke and/or a container of lasagna that I plan to eat for lunch.
Singlespeeders love to brag about spending less time on maintenance, but I’d be willing to bet that, over the course of a year, derailleurs save far more time than they cost. Hell, now I have to disassemble the Surly Singleator and reverse its spring tension if I switch from a 16-tooth summer cog to an 18-tooth winter one, not to mention changing chain length every time I mess with the gearing. I never had to do those things with a derailleur.
The old Stumpjumper will remain a singlespeed for now, because my commute is short and fairly flat, leaving me little motivation to blow a few bucks on a new drivetrain. But if I suddenly found myself facing a longer ride to work, one of the first things I’d do is re-install a full range of gears.
Singlespeeding is still silly.