How many gears does a road bike need? The answer: just one. And how much carbon does a road bike need? In the case of Kona’s Paddy Wagon, none at all. Steel, alloy and rubber do a sterling job between them.
Highs: Comfort and low maintenance
Lows: Hard work on long or steep hills
But when it comes to how much fun you can have with just a singlespeed, the answer is lots. If you live in an area with hills, you may find some of your cycling hard work. You reach a climb and find yourself – at first – trying to change down, the same when you reach a junction. Then you grin and bear it, get out of the saddle and puff and grunt.
On our commute home, normally an in-the-saddle spin, there was no way we could stay seated. Even using it with a freewheel rather than flip-flopping the rear hub to fixed mode, we found ourselves cranking more – and probably more smoothly – than on our usual multi-geared bikes.
Carbon? nope. tapered? nope. straight steel: Robert Smith
Carbon? Nope. Tapered? Nope. Straight steel
It may only have one gear, but if your local topography is flat (or if you’re super-strong), a singlespeed is surprisingly practical. There’s little maintenance required, though you’ll need to carry a 15mm spanner (it has no quick release skewers) and it has loads of mudguard clearance even with 28mm rubber, though we’d have liked rack mounts. It’s not a dealbreaker – you can use P-clips, seatpost-mounted racks or the like. The cartridge caliper brakes are decent too – as we discovered doing a near-emergency stop on a fast descent.
Compared with Specialized’s similarly priced track-inspired Langster, the Kona is less aggressive with a longer wheelbase and more relaxed frame angles – though the similarly short head tube still makes it reasonably racy.
Provided you’ve got the endurance the long-distance comfort from the TIG-welded Reynolds 520 frame is good, and we particularly liked the cork bar tape. A single gear was good enough for early Tour de France riders, and though it won’t appeal to all, it shouldn’t just attract urban cycling fashionistas. For commuting, winter training, hack duties and day-to-day riding, the minimal-maintenance singlespeed (or fixie, if you prefer) may be just the job.