I Never Wanted a SingleSpeed :: Now I Know Why

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Riding a singlespeed is like playing an old game with new rules. In my sixteen years of mountain biking I had never wished for a singlespeed and really only happened on one by accident.

Finding myself without a mountain bike was one of the saddest moments of my life. I distracted myself by exploring all of the amazing roads Boulder has to offer, but there was still a hole where a flashy carbon frame and 4″ of travel once lived.

Eventually word got around that I was sans mtb and parts began to show up on my doorstep. First there was a steel Vassago Jaberwocky frame from my dear friend George of Bike29 with a purple Chris King headset.

My partner at the time managed a set of No Tubes wheels, Magura brakes, and a Black Sheep Ti fork from his stash. Before I knew it I had a pimped out singlespeed.

But by that time the weather was starting to turn and I wasn’t very motivated to find my singlespeed legs in the cold. If I’m being honest, I was more than a little intimidated. I knew that riding a singlespeed was going to be hard, add in a fully rigid set up and you have a prescription for pain.

If you aren’t familiar with the crowd, singlespeeding is like a religion. Devotees wear their hardcoreness on their sleeve, like a badge, in plain sight, but shrug it off when anyone asks… “Oh, that. Yeah. NBD”. I wasn’t sure I could hang, so I started on solo rides, climbing lots of dirt roads. If no one saw me get off and walk then it didn’t really happen.

And get off and walk I did, a lot.

Climbing on a singlespeed takes in every muscle in your body. It isn’t just about pedaling but contorting your body – pulling, pushing, and twisting, funneling every ounce of power while finding just the right balance over the cranks for optimal control at crawling speeds.

I put my time in, climbing and climbing and climbing until I actually began to enjoy it. It took awhile to learn to pace myself, to use my whole body to propel the bike forward and to actually believe that I wasn’t just riding singlespeed because I didn’t have any gears. Now each ride without a foot down is a monumental accomplishment, total exhilaration.

In an hour I can put myself through hell and come out the other side a much stronger rider. When that is all the time I have, that is just what I do.

But not this day. This day I had a plan, 15 miles or so of good climbing, several miles of flow, and a loose and nasty descent.

It had been one of those weeks. You know the ones where you wake up one day and hate everything.

Usually, I can leave that inner uprising with the grounds in my morning cup but this week’s hate-everything was a real clinger.

Stove-top pot number two only left me really adamant about how I hated everything and a trip down twitter lane for perspective just proved that I wasn’t the only one who hated everything.

A few days, a good bit of riding, a Carmel-Oreo gelato with espresso and a vat of margaritas and I was feeling better. But somewhere in my heart I knew I really needed some quiet time, just me, my singlespeed and some long stretches of dirt.

As I climbed the six miles up the canyon road, my legs felt fresh and strong. The Roots thumped in my head and my mind drifted to the likelihood of a few bumps and bruises or at least a solid leg cramp on the descent. I had even worn full-finger gloves for the first time in quite awhile.

When I finally reached the top of the first climb another rider was stopped on the trail. He smiled and asked me where I had ridden from. I could tell from his reaction that “from town” wasn’t the response he expected. He stood kind of blocking the trail, as if moving to let me pass would be admitting that he should.

I was getting anxious, but before I could make a move he was off. I waited, giving him space, but in a quick minute I was about to roll up in his business. So I stopped. I could tell he was bothered. I didn’t want to get on his tail, push him out of his comfort zone and potentially in to a tree.

Apparently those few minutes didn’t mean much and I soon found myself closing the gap again. I was getting tired of the game and just wanted to get in my groove. I was feeling that ol’ hate-everything rising in my chest. We came up on an intersection and he stopped, again, almost in the middle of the trail. This time I didn’t hesitate and started to find my way by.

“Sorry to get up on you like that. I was trying to give you some space.” I said in passing. I wanted him to know that it was time to hand over the trail.

“Well, yeah, that IS a nice bike you are riding. XT and all.”

“Yep” I said, avoiding the urge to take my fully rigid singlespeed, without a Shimano part on it, and launch it through his beady little eye hole.

It was obvious that he took my over-the-shoulder “Yep” to be something like a challenge and immediately jumped on my wheel. I smiled and got out of the saddle. I enjoyed every last bit of frustration on his face as I gently pedaled away. Seems there is no better way to slough off a good solid hate-everything than by dropping an asshole, trail-side, like a sack of rotten potatoes, on a singlespeed.

Each mile after that was a bonus. With each pedal stroke I formed my rhythm. I was in the groove. I found the flow. The trail was mine. I passed a few more thoughtful riders and nailed the sketchy descent.

As I rolled home I thought about the poor guy – at least 10 years my junior, ego crushed, face pained.

“Oh, that. Yeah. NBD”

By Sarai Snyder – Boulder, CO

  • http://jenngleckman.com Jenn Gleckman

    HA! I’ve SO been there. Funny how so many insecure guys don’t understand how a single speed climbs. ;)

    And while I’ve caught myself giving people space, I’ve stopped. If a dude can’t accept a woman passing him, then he’s got more problems than mountain biking can solve!

  • http://freneticfitness.wordpress.com/ Lisa

    Omigod YES! Asshattery at its finest. What a beautiful story, but then for you writing beautiful stories is probably NBD.

  • Peter Keiller

    Fuck yeah.
    Anyone can build a single speed. Few can write about the experience.

    • http://thebruisereport.com/ Sarai Snyder

      Says the man who builds awesome singlespeeds. NBD.

  • http://www.arkansasoutside.com Arkansas Outside

    Awesome write-up, I think I need to go for a ride, inner-hatred rising, NBD.

  • Krista

    Go get em’, Sarai!!!!!! It’s too bad that we all just can’t get along and smile. Isn’t that what riding is all about?

  • http://www.myalibiclothing.com Abbie Durkee

    nice. I often say that all women should go single-speed as the engagement of all the muscles will transfer back to riding gears but is not so easily accomplished with options. Welcome to the club. NBD. ;)

  • Greg M

    F… Yeah! The SS creates the full spectrum of emotions, burns through the bad ones, & leaves you with one satisfied smile. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.allhailtheblackmarket.com/ Stevil

    Then a date in the Bay Area it is. Well said Sorzi.

    • http://thebruisereport.com/ Sarai Snyder

      It’s on.

  • Roger

    So funny getting to the top of a trail behind a puffing geared rider who says OMG you were on a single speed ?? If only I could explain the pleasure of single speeding but without sounding like a new age hippy !

  • Leo

    When the other rider is your spouse……..

  • http://facebook.com/thomasbaileymusic TB

    I never wanted a singlespeed either, but I ended up with one while in London earlier last spring. Had use of a very nice campy everything for the first few days while I was gathering parts & running errands. I was shocked to see regular commuters flying up the hills in North London on single speeds. Once I had mine ready, it took me a few attempts to pull it off myself as I was commuting across town almost every day.
    Alas now that I’m back in the states, I’m more comfortable on my 30lb 3speed steel club bike, constantly looking over my shoulder to make space for badass girls on single speeds – because I am, after all, a lazy dude.

  • http://Bikenice.com Sara Kazemi

    Ahahahah. Now you have me wanting to try single speed. A girl in a male-dominant cycling group I used to ride with road a single speed and she would always be the first up the mean hills. I don’t understand how it is done! Also I’m real scared of killer descents even with a freewheel. Always laying heavy on the brakes.

  • Carl

    SS’s rule. I rode a SS road bike for a few years and I can’t tell you how much stronger it made me riding in the mountains. Despite what you may think, they climb REALLY well. And you will never find a better way to develop your spin. SPIN ON!