There have been many fads in mountain biking that I have contemplated. But singlespeeding has never appealed to me. At least, not until Christmas day that is...
To qualify my remark: I grew up on one of the steepest hills in the country. It’s just round the bend from the second highest pub in England, and in spitting distance of Flash, the highest village in Britain. I now live in God’s county, where the hills are equally as bonkers…
Singlespeeding only ever seemed like a good option if a) I lived on the flat and b) I wasn’t a lardy arse
So here I am on Christmas Day 2007. I’m struggling up Charity Lane bridleway (yeah, I know, the person who named it was obviously taking the proverbial!) on my Full Suspension bike in dense fog, contemplating changing down into the granny ring before realizing that I’m already in the feckin’ granny ring! When suddenly there’s this vision rather easily coming out of the fog the other way up, yes up, a steeper section of the trail…as the vision takes form I check out his bike and wince inwardly as I realize that he’s on a feckin’ Singlespeed, the bar steward! How dare he find me out here struggling on the back of my 27 gear magic carpet!
I offer a cheery ‘Happy Christmas,’ only to be met by a blank stare from his bearded self. Hmm, note to self, they always have beards these Singlespeeders, what’s that all about?!* And, what does the blank stoic look that they all have actually mean? Maybe they have all just perfected the Big Mig Indurain stone faced expression, when underneath they’re actually thinking “bloody, bloody hell, I’m in bloody pain!” Maybe this technique was honed in secret Singlespeed revolution training camps before they were actually allowed to purchase their Singlespeed steeds…? Maybe it’s a dark art, or they’re a secret warrior class, or both.
It’s masochism, right?! As my friend Jonathan recounts, “Tell me what part of me thought that riding a rigid Singlespeed was supposed to be fun!?” as he retired wearily to his bed, body and mind broken, after a short ride in the hills. Why make life difficult when we have efficient gearing and suspension now? People have worked hard to give us the lightest, fastest geared bikes, feats of absolute perfect engineering.
Hell, why ride a Singlespeed when you could ride a Singlespeed Cross bike with skinny tires off road over boulders and up vertical climbs…hell, why ride one of them when you could ride a Unicycle off road…yeah, I actually saw someone on a Unicycle going up my trail one day, too. Rather scarily, he possessed a rather big cheery grin!
But hey, come on masochists, Unicycle? Nah! Square-wheeled Unicycling whilst hitting yourself over the head with a plank of wood encrusted with nails whilst also reciting the complete works of Shakespeare, backwards, without pausing for breath, that’s the way forward, surely?
Am I jealous? Of course I am. This guy coming the other way on his Singlespeed made me realize how really unfit I was…he awakened in me those senses of the possibility of perfect motion and of minimum impact on the landscape…it also awakened in me that feeling of simplicity (steady now!) and, you know what, Singlespeeding actually makes sense in the component eating territory of home and of God’s county, as it’s far cheaper to run a Singlespeed (as long as you don’t get charged for calling out the Air Ambulance every time you have heart failure!
So, I’ve started looking at Singlespeed websites…a part of me feels like a bit of a weirdo, like those anoraks in the newsagents glancing at Railway magazines, or at magazines like What Mountain Bike…but man, there really are some rather beautiful Singlespeed bikes out there
The pinnacle of which for me is the stuff that a certain Mr. Curtis Inglis produces under the Retrotec banner…man, do I want one of his beauties to look after…
At a more affordable end of the spectrum are machines made by some of the local (to where I live) heroes of Singlespeeding:
What is it about these Singlespeed bikes? Do they remind us of our youth? are they the simplicity we crave away from the chaos of modern life? Or are they just plain cheap to mend? To be honest, they’re all of these things and, one day, before it’s not too late, I hope to have one in my armoury too…
p.s. *before I’m accused of having Pognophobia, those that know me well will testify that I am often a purveyor of the finest face furs as well, so there!