Mountain Bike History 101 and the Single Speed

October 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Articles

With the growing buzz about single speeds and the bike industry answering what many riders request of “back to the roots of mountain biking”, I feel its time we talked about the history of mountain biking and how single speeds mountain bikes fit in.

Like snowboarding, mountain biking has evolved a lot since its first conception. Around the turn of the century it is said that road racers in Europe would race each other to neighboring towns but were allowed to take any shortcut they wanted. Even if it meant that they would be climbing fences or riding through fields. This would evolve into the sport of Cyclo-cross. It became popular after Octave Lapize credited winning the 1910 Tour de France because of his off-season Cyclo-cross training. In 1950 Union Cycliste Internationale, a cycling association that oversees competitive cycling events internationally, held its first Cyclo-cross race in Paris. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Cyclo-cross gained popularity in the US and in 1975 Berkeley California. was the site of the first US National Championship.

Also around that time in California, people were starting to take old fat tire cruiser bikes and modify them with gears and BMX style handlebars. After people started racing these modified fat tire bikes, people started to think about improving the bikes. One of the first things improved was the wheel hubs and breaking system. Racers were always having to repack the bearings in the wheel because of the speeds they were reaching while racing down hill. Racers started to build new wheels combining road wheel hubs and stronger rims to handle the bumps off road.

mike sinyard specialized bicycle components stump jumper 300x272 Mountain Bike History 101 and the Single Speed

Mike Sinyard, the founder of Specialized Bicycle Components, stands in the museum of the company

In the early 1980’s road bike manufactures started making bikes for the mountain bike arena. Using the technology of the time, these new bikes were lighter and stronger then the old fat tire cruiser bikes. Like road bikes, mountain bikes go through the same kind of trends. In the mid 1990’s the single speed trend started with the road bikes and moved its way to mountain bikes by the late 1990’s. The start of the trend for road bikes was from bike messengers. They started taking the gears off their road bikes and making them into single speeds. The reason single speeds appealed to them were because they were more reliable and noticeably quicker and easier to pedal.

Fast-forward to today and you will notice that bike manufactures are now starting to produce single speed mountain bikes. Just like bike manufactures answered the trendsetters’ call to make mountain bikes in the 1980’s they are doing the same for a new bunch of next generation innovators. The benefit today is that technology has come a long way, components on bikes are better then ever and more reliable.

2008 gary fisher rig single speed mountain bike 300x199 Mountain Bike History 101 and the Single SpeedSo why should you get a single speed mountain bike? Well single speed mountain bikes are not for everyone. They lack the gears that allow you to make up hill climbs easier and down hill descents faster. That’s not to say you can’t go fast down hill. You just won’t be able to do it as efficient with out gears. If you want a mountain bike that is easier to maintain, more responsive when you pedal, and are looking for a great workout, single speed mountain bikes offer all of that and more. There is nothing wrong with either type of mountain bike. It is more of a personal preference. If you’re looking at getting a new bike I strongly encourage you to look at single speeds. There are some great ones out there and they are a ton of fun to ride.

In the next couple of months we are going to bring you every single speed mountain bike in production that we can get our hands on and put them through their paces. We are working on some of our favorite picks right now but if there are specific bikes you want to hear about let us know.   All I can say is “Are you ready for the ride!”

The Single Speed Guide

September 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

bianchi lewis singlespeed mountain bike 300x199 The Single Speed GuideI remember when I was trying to put together my first single-speed. Being the guy I am, I HAD to know everything about them. Gearing, chain tension options, do I need different wheels? I spent hours scouring the net and consulting everyone who ever heard of one. Like most things in life everyone has a different opinion, and making sense out of all the differing information was difficult to say the least. I created this guide to help others make sense of the sometimes overwhelming amount of information regarding single speeds. I want to keep this guide open to additions, so if any SS aficionados have any tips or corrections please leave a comment. Any questions are more than welcome as well.

What is it and why should I Have One?
The single speed, commonly abbreviated SS, refers to a bike with only one gear or speed. SS’s exist in many different forms including mountain bikes, road bikes and BMX. There are also fixed gear bikes that have one speed but no freewheel: As long as your bike moves, your pedals move, so no coasting. These are referred to exclusively as fixed gear bikes, SS’s always have a freewheel for coasting. Single speed bikes, especially in the mountain bike world, have been steadily gaining popularity over the years, and for good reason. This guide is specific to single speed mountain bikes, although a lot of the information can be useful for road, BMX or even fixed gear.

The big draw for single-speeds is the simplicity. In a world of increasing complication SS’s mean two brake levers and pedals: There are no shifters or derailleurs to master, adjust and maintain, just jump on and go. They offer a retro feel, like you’re going back to a simpler time, getting back to basics. Besides that they are great for training: Spend a few weeks doing hill sprints, and deep sand and tough climbs will come easy. Another thing SS’s teach you is how to use the trail. With our full suspension bikes and infinite gears we like to plow through and over objects trying to conquer the next trail. Trust me, I’m one for the monster truck mentality, but finesse is good too at times. Singles will quickly teach you a new definition of momentum. Small dips and embankments that you used to classify as obstacles become tools to increase your momentum. You learn to become one with the trail and use every twist and turn to help you move faster and expend less energy. When you jump back on your geared bike you will notice a huge increase in your efficiency.

Besides training and simplicity a new culture has evolved around SS’s. Today many race circuits offer single speed categories and many websites are dedicated to the phenomenon. Perhaps the best thing about single speeds is they can be built from carbon and Ti, or created by transforming that old backup mountain bike you never ride. Either way try it! It doesn’t cost a lot to get a bike built up, and it offers a completely different experience.

Chain Tension
cog The Single Speed GuideOn a standard bike the rear derailleur uses a system of springs and pulleys to keep the chain tensioned. Chain tension is important so your chain fully engages with the cogs. Without proper tension your chain will slip and skip over teeth. Since you won’t have a derailleur on your single speed, you need to find another way to keep your chain tensioned.

If you do not already know, dropouts are the parts on your frame that the axles on your wheels sit in. There are three major types of rear dropouts, standard, track and horizontal. The standard dropout is the most common and means you will need to use a tensioner or something else to keep chain tension. If you have the angled style horizontal dropouts, or track (rear facing horizontal drop outs), you can tension your chain simply by pulling the wheel tight before closing your quick release. I have heard various opinions on the quick release’s ability to hold chain tension, so if you find that your wheel slowly drifts forward and you are using horizontal dropouts, buy a BMX style chain tensioner/tug nut (not the derailleur type, this tensioner mounts inside of the dropout and has a setscrew to keep the wheel’s axle from moving forward).  Read more

First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain Bike

July 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Bikes

Homeboy’s skiing blog provides you skiing tips & tricks, road-trip stories, movie and book reviews, technical information, competition watch, resort reviews, news and photo sessions. Our main focus is to provide you how-to-information, such as how to ski in different conditions, how to fix your equipment and how to organize your ski trip. In the summer time our main sport is mountain biking and you will find quite a lot of mountain biking related content on the blog at the moment.

I recently wrote a short article about converting my 29er hardtail to fully rigid single-speed. Carl from Made-to-Order Bikes found my text and asked me to feature here on this site with a post about my Singular. Well, I found this a good opportunity to promote our blog a bit. I was also just about to write a first ride report with the new set-up, so the timing suited me very well.

rigid singular swift ss mountain bike1 First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain Bike
My Singular

I guess the Singular brand is not the most well known in the USA. So, I start with a brief introduction of the manufacturer:

Singular is a small frame manufacturer from UK specializing in 29er bikes. A quote from their website tells the following:

”Singular Cycles brings you bikes for the type of riding you do. A blend of modern concepts with proven design and materials makes for beautiful bikes, which ride like a dream.

We’ve become disillusioned with ever more fragile bikes and components which offer no real benefit to the everyday rider who wants a bike which rides sweetly, looks lovely, and doesn’t need replacing every year.

Singular Cycles – singularly distinctive bicycles.”

The company also has a nice blog – check it out for more detail about e.g. product development, race results and customer’s bikes.

I have ridden the 29er now for a bit over two seasons. Before my current bike I rode (the original) Gary Fisher Rig for about one and a half season. I bought the Singular last November and didn’t ride it much during the winter months. I was pretty happy with the original hard tail set-up in e.g. this endurance event. However, having enjoyed the excellent rolling features the 29ers offer, I started to think that maybe it is the rolling and the geometry that weight more when defining the good riding characters of a bike than the suspension per se (Especially when thinking about cross-country/trail bikes).

With that said I was still a bit nervous about this project. After all, I pretty much learned to ride a mountain bike on a full suspension rig, as I already wrote in my original blog post about this issue. This feeling got stronger as the day for the test ride came – as the first notion on the morning was “damn, it has rained the whole night before…” (This means slippery with capital s on our trails…)

We rode some five miles to the trailhead and paused to let some air pressure out of the tires. I pumped the tires (Panaracer Rampage 2.35”) to about 3 bar (around 42psi) for the road and tried now to adjust them to about 2.5 bar (around 36psi).

rigid singular swift ss mountain bike descent 225x300 First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain BikeThe trail started with some series of technical short climbs. Which were not easy for me – I should have probably let even more air out of the tires as the rear wheel kept slipping. (I’ve read somewhere that Rampages are not the best wet-conditions tires anyway?) Also the bigger factor after riding gears for couple of months was sprinting for some square-edged “steps” on the climbs: I think I just got used to the seated/geared climbing again, and now the single-speed riding style just wasn’t immediately there. The 38-18 gearing felt a tad heavy; previously I’ve had 32-19, which suits maybe even better to our rooty/quite technical trails. (I think I keep it like it is though, because now the transition to trail head was bearable. With any lighter gearing the roads would start to feel total PITA in my humble opinion.)

However, the flatter sections of the trail were ok and the 29er wheel rolled nice and easily just like it should. With the rigid fork your hands are going to feel more impacts for sure but on the other hand lifting the front wheel and/or making small corrections were very easy and accurate – a pretty cool and new feeling to me.

Then we got to some nice steep rollers. Whoa, I never believed anrigid singular swift ss mountain bike downhill 300x225 First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain Bike old-school rider friend that blasted how rigid fork is actually very good on steeps as the geometry never change during the descent. Check the pictures, I really dug to ride these slick rock sections, and was surprised how well it all went.

After that the trail got easier and I found the rigid bike very fun on some mellower, faster sections. After all, weight savings over a suspension fork must feel somewhere. Rigid bike, mellow up-hill and single speed – you don’t need any “pro pedal” set-ups, right?

rigid singular swift ss mountain bike singletrack First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain Bike
Typical Southern Finland Singletrack

It was only when we hit one particular slippery part of the trail with big, wet roots when I got in trouble again. I wasn’t attacking the obstacles aggressive enough and kept slipping around – frustrating for sure but next time I know I should just pedal on and not hesitate…(funny how easy it always sound at the desk!)

Also, after about two hour of riding, I really started to feel the impacts on the arms, especially when the speeds got higher in the downhills. Today’s loop wasn’t much longer than that thought. I’ve yet to see if I can take some four-five hours ride with the rigid fork – at least you get some decent arm pump if nothing else…

At the end I also have to praise the Singular on some well thought design. Their rigid fork that is designed to go with the frame offers very good handling. The fork is quite long for a rigid one (485mm A-C) and has a rake/off-set of 48mm (that’s a good amount of it folks!). But this combinations just works – riding this bike will keep you smiling. Check this review from MTBR for further proof. It seems like riders way better than me liked the bike too.

And at last, I’d like to thank Carl for an opportunity to write on this excellent site. Happy trails and just keep pedaling! I hope you enjoyed my review.

Janne/ Homeboyski Team

rigid singular swift ss mountain bike trail First Ride On My Fully Rigid Singular Swift SS Mountain Bike
Just another shot from today’s ride