Learning to Ride Again, Part 2

09.1.2006 | 9:22 pm

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.

Good Things
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.


  1. Comment by Andrew | 09.1.2006 | 9:36 pm

    Great post, oh slender one.
    One should never turn down the chance to be the first commenter of the day, even if the comment is lame. It’s like being the first one to eat out of the cereal box. It’s just better.
    The Weak Link

  2. Comment by Unknown | 09.1.2006 | 9:44 pm

    your doubt will fade with each ride and your wife will love your new muscles. 
    Rick S.

  3. Comment by Random Reviewer | 09.1.2006 | 9:45 pm

    i would have been there, but my superpower is to do whatever my wife wants, all the time. not as cool, sure, but it has its merits.
    welcome to the light, by the way.
    also by the way, next time i see you  i will clock you on the skullpan with a giant, metal apostrophe, and let the hogs eat your face.

  4. Comment by Sue | 09.1.2006 | 10:41 pm

    I am overwhelmed by waves of bike envy, and I sincerely hope that you are a very slow climber on the single speed.
    Hey, I thought having the ability to eat your weight in chocolate covered tortillas was your secret power!
    P.S. Seriously dug, it doesn’t make sense that it would be hog hollow. Have you EVER seen a farm with ONE hog? If that hollow was ever a home to a hog, then it is a sure bet that it was home to more than one hog, making it at the very least, hogs hollow, if not what Fatty suggested. Maybe it should be hollow of hogs.

  5. Comment by Random Reviewer | 09.2.2006 | 6:13 pm

    how do you shift this thing? i try and try and try and try, but how do you shift this thing? maybe you plug it in. maybe you plug it in.
    and so forth.

  6. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 09.2.2006 | 11:17 pm

    You have discovered the true power of the fixie/singlespeed.  You don’t get to chose.  No matter how steep the hill, you have to climb it in the gear you decided on weeks ago when the bike was built.  You must use your muscles and your guts to put the bike over the top.  No pansyish flicks of the little gear leavers, no spinning at 80/90/100 rpm.  Left-leg-right-leg-left-leg-right-leg.  Now you’re a real bike rider.

  7. Comment by Jsun | 09.3.2006 | 4:48 am

    throw on some tube socks up to your knees, hang a Farah Fawcett poster up, and keep workin on those power slides in the parking lot.  get rid of that ibis- ten speeds are for potsies
    if only pk ripper still made bikes and in a 29er

  8. Comment by Unknown | 09.3.2006 | 9:57 pm

    Come to the darkside. Before long there will be a SS note on the top of you Pb application!

    Your leadville blood brother

  9. Comment by mark | 09.5.2006 | 6:19 pm

    Not a comment, but a question: how can you ride a single speed anywhere that isn’t flat without ruining your knees? If I pedal my pansy geared bike up the mountain without dropping to the small ring, my knees complain about it for several days.

  10. Comment by Tim | 09.5.2006 | 9:43 pm

    (No Name): Ride more…

  11. Comment by Unknown | 09.6.2006 | 3:40 pm

    c’mon fatty, i’m bored.


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