At the beginning of August, I unveiled the Weapon of Choice, my highly-modified Gary Fisher Paragon. Here are the things I changed on that bike:
- New wheels
- New handlebar
- New stem
- New brakes
- New fork
- New shifters
- New derailleur
The question I expected someone to ask, but which nobody did (for which I am very disappointed in each and every one of you) is:
So now you’ve got a really nice set of wheels, a handlebar, stem, brakes, and a fork just laying around, unused. Why don’t you spend a few bucks on a frame, a saddle, and some cranks and build a singlespeed?
Which is exactly what I did. In fact, the carbon fork came with the singlespeed frame, and brought the total cash outlay for the singlespeed frame (a Gary Fisher Rig) to close to nothing.
Thanks for the suggestion, Fatty. You’re a genius.
[Here is where I would insert the picture of the bike if I had remembered to take a picture of it this morning. Also, I would include a caption along the lines of "Simple + Sexy = Simply Sexy."]
Wherein I Act Like Something Really Great is a Problem
There was just one problem. Racers Cycle Service finished building my singlespeed the same day it finished building up the Ibis Silk Carbon. Well, "problem" isn’t precisely the right word for getting to pick up two really awesome bikes the same day.
But still, I had to decide: which should I ride first? I picked the Ibis.
And then I picked the Ibis again.
And then I picked the Ibis again.
You see what the problem is? I loved this new road bike so much that I kept wanting to ride it, while a nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying things like, "You know, you have another brand new bike you haven’t ridden even once yet. How long are you going to let that go on?"
Well, I let it go on for exactly a week. Every day, a different ride on the Ibis. Every day, falling a little more in love with that road bike. In fact, it increasingly seems that the problem I’m going to have when it comes time to review this bike for Cyclingnews will be sounding fair and balanced.
Anyway, back to the singlespeed.
How Do You Shift This Thing?
This morning, I finally took the rig out on our maiden voyage. Now, I’ve ridden a singlespeed before–for about ten minutes. That’s a bunch different than riding Hogs’ Hollow to Jacob’s Ladder to the new Draper trail, which is a two hour ride even on a geared bike.
Now, about half a dozen people were supposed to join in on this ride, but pretty much everyone bailed by 6:00am, when we had agreed to start. It’s possible they bailed because it’s completely dark at 6:00am this time of year. As in "Hey, look, I can see the stars" dark.
Note to self: no more rides before 6:30am this year. Alas.
So I started the half-hour-long climb, using sonar (Yeah, I have sonar. It’s my superpower) and broad guesses about land contours to get me up the mountain. As I got close to the saddle of Hogs’ Hollow, I came across Rick Sunderlage (not his real name), whose superpower seems to be always being available for a ride. (Admit it: now that you think about it, that’s the superpower you would choose if you could, isn’t it? I would.)
By the time I got to Rick, I knew I had a problem: I was already tired. Turns out that if you’re used to sitting and spinning a nice light gear up hills, it’s not easy to stand up and pedal at maximum effort, while rowing the handlebar for extra leverage, for three miles.
On the rare occasion the sound of blood pounding in my ears subsided, I noticed how quiet the singlespeed is. And not just the audible kind of quiet. The bike, by virtue of it not having a cassette or derailleurs or multiple chainrings or a suspension fork, has a quiet litheness about it that I had never noticed my geared bike lacks–simply because I had never ridden anything different. But even on my first ride I noticed: all else being equal (and the geometry of my Paragon and my Rig are pretty close to identical) a singlespeed feels more nimble.
As we started descending, I tried remembering the techniques BotchedExperiment taught me earlier this week: stay back and behind the saddle. Do quick wheelies. Hop forward and up. Rolling through the rough stuff fast is safer than riding through it slow.
And you know what? It worked. I don’t think I’m quite as fast yet as with my old style, but considering that this is the first time I’ve tried riding the way Botched is teaching me, I’m very confident I’ll improve and be faster downhill in short order.
Or it’s possible that I’ll rack myself on the seatpost and will die in horrible, agonizing pain.
Hey, life’s full of risks.
By the time I finished riding with Rick, my arms and lower back hurt like they never have on a bike. I was totally worked. Without questions, that’s a good thing. It seems to me that the strength I build on a singlespeed will translate to benefits on any other kind of ride, too.
So here’s the big question: do I love singlespeed riding?
No, no I don’t. Not yet. But I can see how I could learn to.