Can’t Explain

10.10.2007 | 5:28 am

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how I sort of stumbled into a climb up the Alpine Loop — 10 miles, 3200 feet of climbing — on my track bike.

What I have not talked about, though, is how that ride got me to thinking.

I’ve been thinking about how hard it was to do that climb in a 48 x 16 gear (81 gear inches)…but that it would be kind of cool to do it in just a slightly lower gear.

I’ve been thinking about how I didn’t enjoy the downhill much at all…but that I might have enjoyed it if I were on a bike with road geometry, instead of track geometry.

I’ve been thinking about how for the multi-mile descents I have every day, it would be nice to have a freewheel.

I’ve been thinking that water bottles might be a nice addition to the single speed road bike.

I’ve been thinking that a rear brake would be really nice to have.

In other words, I’ve been thinking I’d like the Bianchi Pista more if it were a different bike. A single-speedin’ road bike.

Testing the Theory
So I talked to Dug about my new idea. I expected him to pooh-pooh it. “Pooh,” I expected him to begin, in response to my idea. And then he would conclude: “Pooh.”

Instead, Dug attached himself to the idea. “Let’s figure out what the gearing would be and try a ride with our regular road bikes just in that gear,” he said.

Warning: This paragraph is geeky. You can skip it without consequence. It turns out that the Lemond Fillmore / Fisher Triton both are geared at 44 x 18: 66 gear inches. The Specialized Langster is geared at 42 x 16: 70.9 gear inches. For our test, Dug and I settled on the middle ground: big ring, third gear: 53 x 21: 68.1 gear inches.

We rode Emigration Canyon the next day, staying in that gear. I think we both agreed a little easier — the Fillmore / Triton gearing — would have been nicer for all the climbing we do.

And here is where Dug and I are different. Dug continued — and continues, as far as I know — to ruminate on whether he’d like a single speed road bike.

I, on the other hand, placed a call to Racer of Racer’s Cycle Service and asked him, “Which should I get? The Triton or the Fillmore?”

“They’re exactly the same bike,” Racer responded. “But there aren’t any Tritons in your size anywhere in the U.S. There is one Fillmore, though.”

“Order it,” I said, my discomfort with Greg Lemond notwithstanding.

You see, I’m perfectly comfortable with my impulsive nature. Besides, it’s been more than a year since I’ve bought a new bike (if you don’t count the tandem, I mean), and I need new blog material.

Yes, that’s right. I’m claiming I bought a bike to give you something to read about.

First Ride
So I got my Fillmore last Friday afternoon. Apart from swapping the saddle out to the Flite SLR I love and adding bullhorn bars instead of traditional road drop bars — I had this notion that bullhorns would be great for holding onto while I rowed the bike up the climbs, plus I never use the drops anyway — the bike is stock.

(Click for a larger version

As always, I was so excited to ride my new bike I thought I would burst.

And so of course it rained all through the weekend.

Monday, though, I finally got in a ride, once again up to the top of the Alpine Loop and back.

How’d I like it? I loved it. I was right: the single speed on the road has an equivalent, non-explainable quality to a single speed on dirt. It feels simple, quiet, and on a hard climb, pretty darned painful.

I love how the bullhorns go exactly to where my hands want them on the climb, and the position of the brakes on the descent.

I love being able to coast on the downhill. I love having front and rear brakes. I love the stable feel of road geometry.

I love how this entire bike — including the different saddle, handlebar, Jethro Tool, and brake levers — cost less than I have come to expect a wheelset to cost.

So yesterday after work, I climbed the North side of Suncrest — 1500 feet in under four miles. That hurt. And it was exquisite.

Can’t Explain
People ask me, though: why a single speed? And I don’t have an answer. I really don’t.

There might be a vanity aspect to it — I keep hoping that someone will catch me summiting a difficult climb on this bike, though it hasn’t happened yet.

And the whole elegance-in-simplicity has something to do with it, too.

And maybe the do-or-die aspect of climbing with a single speed is part of it. You can’t shift to a lower gear, so if you’re going to get to the top of the hill, you’ve got to find the power in your legs to do it. That adds an intensity to the rides I really enjoy right now.

And — let’s face it — I’m kind of a goober and like to do things a little differently, just because it’s fun to be different.

And there’s always the “it’s a new bike, therefore it must be wonderful” factor.

But I don’t think any of these reasons really capture why I’m digging the single speed road bike. In the same way I really like climbing on my single speed mountain bike, I really like climbing on the single speed road bike.

I don’t know why it’s fun, but it is.

Really, really fun.


  1. Comment by gian | 10.10.2007 | 5:45 am

    So, are you going to sell off the pista? How about a raffle, where the ticket price gets you a donation to the livestrong foundation?

  2. Comment by BrokenSpokes | 10.10.2007 | 5:49 am

    There’s a couple of rides I do on a regular basis that I always end up thinking that they’d be cool to do on a single speed road bike. I blew the budget on my bike this past March. Now I have a little more saved up and was thinking about adding one more. I think I’ll have to try the FC and Dug approach and see if I could do the same.

  3. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 10.10.2007 | 5:51 am

    You’re right, you are a goober.

  4. Comment by Michael S | 10.10.2007 | 5:54 am

    Someone once said to me a single speed road bike is just a normal road bike with a broken derailleur…

    Lemonds are nice, I dig the steel fork on the 2007 Fillmore.

  5. Comment by bradk | 10.10.2007 | 6:16 am

    that’s a beaut! when do i get a test ride?

  6. Comment by Bitter (Lissee) | 10.10.2007 | 6:49 am

    Glad the purchase turned out so well! :)

    Reading you post makes me feel tired and exhilarated at the same time… crazy.

  7. Comment by Rob | 10.10.2007 | 6:53 am

    Newbie to your site by word of mouth from BikeSnobNYC. Bigups. I think I know the secret of your new found love for riding in one gear up a challenging hill and it’s the same reason I love it. The founder of the Tour de France said it best in 1902: “I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn’t it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur?”

    ’nuff said.

  8. Comment by | 10.10.2007 | 7:02 am

    1) Id bid on the Pista just to try out a Fixie.
    2) I really hate mat, could you leave off the gear ratio next time.
    3) *and this is the sidebar question: Im still curious from last week… what exactly is it that you do?! hmmmm

  9. Comment by Rick S. | 10.10.2007 | 7:04 am

    Nice. Training on a SS road bike might be what you need to shave 15 min off your Leadville time.

  10. Comment by chtrich | 10.10.2007 | 7:08 am

    I stopped using my derailleur. Now I have a single speed too.

  11. Comment by Less Fat Mike | 10.10.2007 | 7:09 am

    I aspire to being a goober. I was thinking, after reading your entry, that trying a single speed up Bingham Creek Canyon would be an epic journey.

    PS. I like that math; thus I’m a nerd.

  12. Comment by rz | 10.10.2007 | 7:10 am

    I ride a ss road bike with a freewheel and I love it, and have loved it for the past two years. And I don’t care if all the hipsters look at me with disgust since its not a fixie. (Insert snarky “they can go $%#@ themselves” comment here)

  13. Comment by Good Life | 10.10.2007 | 7:19 am

    Excellent excuse for buying new bikes – writing about them on a website.
    I love it!
    I could probably get away with that.

  14. Comment by Weean | 10.10.2007 | 7:59 am

    So what’s the gearing on a Schwinn Madison?

  15. Comment by bikemike | 10.10.2007 | 7:59 am

    wellll smithers, we’ll just have to see what bike snob nyc has to say about all this rukus.

  16. Comment by brett | 10.10.2007 | 8:02 am

    just curious, any reason why you didn’t go with the langster and change the cog? it’s a few hundred dollars less and has a few carbon fiber goodies.

  17. Comment by Al Maviva | 10.10.2007 | 8:14 am

    Just curious, any reason why you didn’t stick with the Pista and just get a wheel with a flip-flop hub, and maybe get a set of bullhorns from Nashbar?

    Oh, sorry, stupid me. I forgot.

    A Real Man never questions another Man’s Flimsy Justifications for buying a new bike.

    Even so, at the risk of my Manly Man status, I have to say that “because I needed lower gearing on the rear wheel of my fixie” may be the flimsiest excuse for buying a new bike that anybody has put forth *ever*. Good thing nobody ever thought about slipping on a slightly larger rear cog (“would have needed to add chain links,” you object). And I say that as a man who has used “because my nice bikes are too nice to ride” as an excuse for buying a good mid-range bike.

  18. Comment by Big Boned | 10.10.2007 | 8:25 am

    I’m with Fatty on this one. There is something about riding a SS road bike.
    I have a Langster and I LOVE it. I bought it as a foul weather bike, but I’ve done some long rides in fine weather – I enjoy it that much. I was just discussing that with a friend of mine the other day. He was talking about doing a century on Skyline Drive (in VA) this weekend. Now normally, I’d opt out of that being the leaves are starting to change and that brings out tourists looking at leaves instead of the road…but then he sweetened the pot. “Let’s do it on our single speeds”, he said. Done! Looking forward to that pleasurable pain!

  19. Comment by Tim D | 10.10.2007 | 8:41 am

    My Pompino is my favourite bike at the moment. Although I have put my fixed wheel on rather than the SS it came with. With mud guards, lights and a saddle bag, it is the ideal commuter.


  20. Comment by NickV | 10.10.2007 | 9:14 am

    It’s pretty, I just can’t get past the Lemond thing….

  21. Comment by Stan | 10.10.2007 | 9:33 am

    Back when I raced, the popular training theory was to ride everywhere in about a 63-66 inch gear. The idea was that riding that up hills would make you strong, and spinning that down hills would make you fast. So we did a lot of riding in fixed gears like that. And to this day, I can still spin better than just about anyone. And no bouncing.

  22. Comment by Night Hawk | 10.10.2007 | 9:50 am

    My Giant Bowery has a flip flop hub, brakes and a bottle cage if I want. Great commuter.

  23. Comment by mocougfan | 10.10.2007 | 10:20 am

    I always ride a single speed when I’m climbing big hills like the Alpine Loop. I drop down into the lowest gear I have and start mumbling about how long it’s gonna take me before I can get to the descent!!

  24. Comment by leroy | 10.10.2007 | 10:35 am

    Hey FC, me too!

    There are a whole bunch of rides where I think this would be really, really cool if I stuck to one gear, strapped cinder blocks to my feet, jettisoned my water bottles and fed my energy gels to a squirrel before tucking him into my jersey because, well, it would feel so darn good when I stopped.

    But that’s just me. “No pain, no problem” — that’s my motto.

    I mean its not like I’d give the squirrel the gels with caffeine.

  25. Comment by T1mm0 | 10.10.2007 | 10:39 am

    I have a Langster and ride it with the freewheel in our morning bunch rides. I love the quietness and the lack of maintenance required for winter riding. I figure its an enjoyable training tool as I get strength training on the hills and VO2 training on the flat. I hit 53km/h (33mph) in our sprint using the 42×16 gearing which means about 155rpm spinning the cranks… I’m glad I have the freewheel.

  26. Comment by ErikR | 10.10.2007 | 10:39 am

    I just got a Vanilla ( road fixie with a flip flop wheel and LOVE it. I’m riding it fixed, but have both brakes and very nice road geometry and its a hoot. Road geometry and a singlespeed or fixed gear seems to be a great combination.

  27. Comment by Argentius | 10.10.2007 | 10:57 am

    Wait, you bought another fixie-type bike?

    Um, except for “because one should have as many bikes as possible,” why’d you go and get the Fillmore, instead of just ordering a freewheel for your Pista (is the stock hub on that thing a flip-flop?) and switching down to a 42 or 44 tooth chainring?

    Just, ya know.


  28. Comment by Frank | 10.10.2007 | 11:15 am

    I want one!!

  29. Comment by DNA Jon | 10.10.2007 | 11:18 am

    I saw you climbing Suncrest….although I mistook you for Dug (silver Audi with the road bike on top). By the look on your face I am surprised to see you writing that it was”fun”! Always good to mix it up from time to time.

  30. Pingback by | The RocBike Review » Links Of The Day: 10 October 2007 | 10.10.2007 | 11:50 am

    [...] Can’t Explain [...]

  31. Comment by dug | 10.10.2007 | 1:06 pm

    ErikR, really? did you have to wait four (4) years for it, and you paid, um, roughly the price of a picasso sketch for it?

    or, um, really?

    Vanilla, now that’s the ultimate vanity bike. oh sure, i want one. but i’ll have to sell a kidney or two first, and then never ride it. i’ll put it behind a glass case in my living room.

  32. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 10.10.2007 | 1:37 pm

    When you wrote about climbing that monster in an 81 inch gear I could hear my old English coach rolling over in his grave (and he’s not dead). 25 years ago his advice – which I still follow today – was a gear between 63 and 70 inches. My bike of that era had a 40/52 chainring so when in fixed gear mode it was 40×16 (67.5″).

    In more modern times the 42 chainring became the industry standard and I rode 42×17 (66.7″) in the off season. A couple of weeks ago I bought a new (as new as can be expected) set of mid ’80s Suntour Superbe Pro road cranks with a 42/52 chainring. It doesn’t feel right riding any other ratio on the fixie.

  33. Comment by fatty | 10.10.2007 | 2:00 pm

    for those who are wondering why i didn’t just switch out the cog on the bianchi: because it wasn’t just gearing. that would be easy. it was, above everything else, track geometry v. road geometry. and front brakes v. both brakes. by the time i changed the track bars to bullhorns, bought a new wheel + cog, and somehow retrofitted bottle cages on, i would have spent close to the $300 outlay i’ll have on the fillmore after i sell the bianchi, and i would still have had a bike with very twitchy track geometry and no rear brake – nothing can change that.

    not saying anything’s wrong with the pista, just that it’s not the bike i want for what i want to do.

    for those of you who think there’s nothing more to a singlespeed than not shifting gears, i highly recommend dave moulton’s blog post from yesterday on what a derailleur does beside letting you shift gears.

    important excerpt:

    “One thing a person notices the first time they ride a single speed fixed gear bike, is the smoothness of the transmission and the lack of friction. This is because the chain is in alignment, and there are no pulleys the chain has to run around. ”

    so there. buncha know-it-alls.

    PS: Botched, you may want to verify whether i’m a goober by asking the experts at CyclingNews. be sure to use my real name!

  34. Comment by monkeywebb | 10.10.2007 | 2:25 pm

    I’ve been dreaming of a fixie/singlespeed as well, but my new bike timeline is significantly different than yours. I got my new road bike 2 1/2 years ago, and by my count i have another couple years before i get another. And that’s WITH all the subversive tips I’ve gained here over the last couple years.

    This past weekend I did a little 17-mile loop stuck in my 42X14 (also 81 inches) just to see if I could, and it was great…except for the 1/2 mile climb back up to my house. I think it’s 9-10%, but short. I have no idea how you averaged 6% for 10 miles. I almost died, and I was reasonably sure my chain was going to snap, or a pedal bust in half.

    I’m thinking I want front AND rear brakes, water bottle cage braze-ons, a flip-flop hub, and a 3.5 hp Briggs & Stratton. Know anyone who makes something with those specs?

  35. Comment by Rob S | 10.10.2007 | 2:59 pm

    Did you get the Fillmore before they switched away from the OX Platinum and back to Reynolds (and saved $400?)

    Such a killer bike.

  36. Comment by Anonymous | 10.10.2007 | 4:57 pm

    Masi has a great Fixie that can be set up, out of the box, as SS or fixed.

  37. Comment by Mathias | 10.10.2007 | 5:02 pm

    Where’s the top tube pad?

  38. Comment by | 10.10.2007 | 5:52 pm

    HAHAHA… top tube pad! Nice!

  39. Comment by jerry | 10.10.2007 | 6:17 pm

    I have a Fillmore. I added rack to the back and turned it into my primary commuting bike. I also tend to use it a lot on slower group rides and also did the MS 150 on it. I guess in short I love mine. Why? because it’s bulletproof. I put Specialized Armadillos on it so I don’t even get flats. Oil the chain when I think about it. Wash it once in a while and ride it always. Other than checking the tire pressure it’s always ready to ride and always tuned up and ready to go.

    Great Choice Fatty.

  40. Comment by Al Maviva | 10.10.2007 | 6:34 pm

    You pick up a slight wattage increase – a percentage or two at lower wattages – by eliminating chainline deflection and friction from additional rollers, chain slap, etc.

    This almost compensates for the loss incurred by the tight manpris and Vans.

  41. Comment by fatty | 10.10.2007 | 6:47 pm

    al – you know i’m not talking about wattage increase; this bike weighs 7 lbs more than my Ibis Silk Carbon. i’m talking about feel, as you well know, cuz you’ve got some non-derailleured bikes of your own.

  42. Comment by Harp | 10.10.2007 | 8:40 pm

    I’ve been thinking about a road bike. Now I’m thinking about a singlespeed roadie.

  43. Comment by Uncle Bob | 10.11.2007 | 1:34 am

    God… Reading this makes me feel like *such* a weakling. I go up steep hills spinning away in my 16 inch “great-granny” gear making a noise like a coffee-grinder. I’m over 50 and my knees would explode pushing the ratios you’re talking about.

  44. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.11.2007 | 9:21 am

    Uncle Bob. You are not alone. I really like the idea of a SS road bike, but my commute home involves a 3/4-mile climb that averages about 13%, and hits 18% in a couple of places. I feel manly when I can crest it in 30×25!

    Fatty – Why the bullhorn bars, and not drops?

  45. Comment by Argentius | 10.11.2007 | 9:55 am

    pffft! Well, if you are going to SELL the pista, (or, use it for the track!) then you are Approved.

    , etc.

  46. Comment by Pinchie | 10.12.2007 | 5:09 am

    Totally agree, and strongly suggest a cyclocross frame for the SS roadster– steel, if possible. Surly cross-check is a goo’un, and the new Masi “commuter” is awfully nice too.

    The slightly relaxed geometry allows for, well, slightly more relaxation. The steel makes you feel retro and cool and self-righteous and provides for a permanent smirk that is a goad to all others on the road.

    As for long climbs on a singlespeed, you guys need a good cheese to go with that whine. G’head and gear it properly and then add a couple of teeth, and learn how to make a 30 minute climb mostly out of the saddle. (Out of the saddle doesn’t HAVE to be an anarobic event.)

    Also, Fattie, bullhorns are gay. In a bad way. But you’re still the man.


  47. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Humanity’s Going to Be Just Fine | 10.12.2007 | 8:17 am

    [...] Reason 1. I Recognize that JerseyEarlier this week, when I described my first ride on my new Fillmore,  I left out a few parts. [...]

  48. Comment by marta | 03.14.2008 | 3:20 pm

    what is a weather cycle i do no

  49. Trackback by Fisting sex. | 10.16.2008 | 12:34 pm

    Double fisting anal….

    Fisting. Ass fisting. Pussy fisting. Double fisting. Gay fisting. Fisting galleries. Women fisting. Fisting lessons….


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.