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Okay, I know it seems as if every magazine worthy of
calling itself a cycling magazine has done a feature on how to build a single-speed,
(Probably so the staff could blag the kit they needed. Have you noticed how many
single-speed riders work in the cycling industry?) So I’m not going to. What I am
going to do, however, is explain the why? factor.

Pop your cranium open and take what passes for your brain out for a moment. Downhillers
can skip this bit, we all know that they don’t think (can’t think – no brain). Now
if you happen to be a freelance neurologist (like me) you’ll instantly realise while
looking at your throbbing grey mass that the portion which controls changing gear
on a mountain bike also deals with having fun. Don’t believe me? When was the last
time you saw a pro racer smiling during a race, apart from Travis Brown on his single-speed?
Exactly. Of course, if you’re not a neurologist you won’t know this so you’ll just
have to take my word for it. Trust me I’m a journalist.

So now you can see that we have a bit of a problem here; change gear or have fun.
Well, this is mountain biking isn’t it? Then there’s a simple answer then – fun.
Bin the gears.

Well, that’s reason numbero uno out of the way. A damn clever, technical type one
too. Now for the reason why I converted to the ‘Dark Side of the Force’. I’m a tight
bastard. Why else would I have spent so long working in the bike trade? It was only
so I could get stuff cheap! Okay, that’s not strictly true. It was more to do with
the fact there’s always too much month left at the end of the money. Then again that
could simply be down to the beer and curry sessions – essential training aid don’t
you know?

My single-sprocket Kona has been hitting the dirt on a regular basis now for over
a year (a long time in the life of any mtb owned by me) and all I’ve had to spend
on it is a few quid on brake blocks and inner tubes (There was some bar tape, I neglected
to mention, but that was just me and Rigsby messing around with the mad, ultra-retro
idea of drop bars!?). Now bear in mind I starting riding it in the middle of the
winter and that I live on the edge of the downs. The kind of conditions that normally
destroy bikes in a matter of weeks.

Because I’m running a 1/8 BMX chain in a dead straight line I’m not getting excessive
chain wear, or the snapped links so common on those stupidly skinny nine-speed chains,
or any problems with ghost shifts and crud’d up cassettes. Nor do I have to worry
about a bent dropout knocking my shifts out of whack or worse forcing me to walk

No longer do I have to spend my Monday nights alone in the kitchen stripping the
bike down, cleaning and lubing the gears. All of which leads nicely into the fact
that I’m a right lazy sod. I hate cleaning bikes. Oh yeah, did you know though, you
can now get Halfords to do it for you for a fiver – bargain if you ask me. Oh, you
didn’t, well there’s something else you’ve just learnt.

Not that cleaning is something that concerns me being a single speed owner. Post
ride maintenance, for me, is simply a case of running the chain through a chain bath.
A quick word of warning though, these things are not designed with 1/8 chains in
mind. Still nothing a file can’t fix! Going down the pub is a lot more fun than worrying
about getting the sheep shit of the insides of a rear mech.

Still looking for reasons to lose those pesky gears? Weight. Come on admit it, even
if you weren’t into mountain biking in the early nineties when we were all absolute
weight obsessives, you still care about how much your bike weighs in at. Well chuck
those gears and watch the pounds slip away. Take my Kona (no don’t ’cause I’ll be
sad without it!) on the scales it shows a true 23lbs. Now bear in mind that that
figure includes a pump and a seat pack crammed with junk. It gets better still when
you realise that this is just a mid-range steel frame that has been converted.

Just think how low you could go with a custom built frame and a few choice parts?
Travis Brown runs a tricked out Trek OCLV single-speed and Town and Country Cycles
can supply ti Spot frames top order through Recycle. Sub 20lbs is not an unrealistic
point to aim for. Maybe I should start saving. Does anybody out there want to buy
a titanium Raleigh with a smattering of trick bits?

So there you have it. Lightweight, low-cost and best of all fun. So what are you
waiting for? May the force be with you.


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