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What is a Single Speed Bike?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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People unfamiliar with the world of bicycles might be initially shocked at how many different varieties exist. One such variety that is gaining popularity recently is the single speed bike, which is any variety of bicycle that has only one gear ratio – i.e., it has one cog on the rear wheel and one cog on the cranks. A single speed bike does not use shifters because there are no gears to shift; this appeals to many enthusiasts looking for a simple, no-nonsense, sleek-looking bike to get them on the trails or through the streets. The single speed bike has many advantages and disadvantages, depending on what type of riding you want to do.

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The appeal of the single speed bike stems from its simplicity. Because there are no gears to shift, the rider has only one responsibility: to pedal. There is no worrying about being in the right gear, pedaling too hard, or too easily. The drawback to having only one gear on your single speed bike is that it is less suited to varied terrain. For example, you may find that your gear ratio is perfect for riding moderate trails, but once you hit pavement, you may find yourself pedaling too fast and not moving as quickly as you might like. Conversely, your single speed bike may be geared perfect for trails that slope slightly downward or are relatively flat, but once you hit an uphill, you may find yourself struggling to turn the pedals.

Maintenance-wise, single speed bikes have gained popularity because there are far fewer parts to repair or replace. There are no shifters, and consequently no shift cables, derailleurs, or numerous chainrings and cogs to take care of. The single speed bike only has one rear cog and one front cog, thereby eliminating both parts that require maintenance and weight that can make a bike more difficult to pedal around. The weight factor has made single speeds popular among racers, and a new race category especially for the single speed bike has developed in recent years.

Beyond the technical and worldly appeal of the single speed bike, enthusiasts enjoy the sleek look of one-gear rides. There are fewer cables dangling from the front end, there are no derailleurs to contend with, and the smaller gear cogs make for a more simplistic look that lends the spotlight to the frame and wheels – essentially the classic shape of a bicycle. As the single speed bike progresses in popularity, more and more companies are venturing into the market and offering affordable, sleek, and useful machines for all different types of rider.

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