Last summer I received a single speed mountain bike. Having seen my boyfriend riding one ahead of me for a few seasons, I was intrigued by the handling skills needed to get a bike with one gear up, over and sometimes around technical trails.
My first few weeks (ok, months) on the bike were, put simply, ugly. While the bike itself is simple – a hard tail with a 32-18 gearing, riding it does require technique and strength. Given that I came late (and kicking & screaming) to mountain biking, I don’t have great bike handling skills. The single speed has certainly helped with that, as its lack of gearing forced me to use the bike more strategically, looking to build and maintain momentum ahead of time, whether in the saddle or using my upper body to help propel me forward.
The strength required to initiate the power up the hills is another story. I’m not a sprinter, and my fast twitch muscles are extremely underdeveloped. Single speed riding requires blasts of power to get up and over hills and technical uphill sections. It’s been a bit of a painful lesson rediscovering my fast side. While I’ll never be a sprinter, I’m more Usain Bolt than I used to be. Which, to be honest, isn’t saying that much.
Cue to this summer. Though it’s been just a few weeks of regular riding, I’m already ‘getting it’ more than I did last year. Large rocks and obstacles that I couldn’t ride up last summer are now doable. The coolest thing is that this translates to my other bike. I’ve only been on my geared bike once this summer, but was surprised at a) how much easier it is to climb up hills, and b) technical uphill sections that used to stump me because I never had the momentum are now possible.
Suffice to say, I have a lot more love for the single speed, and am eager to take it on some more demanding trails. Given the amount of snow at higher elevations here, I may have to wait a few weeks. That’s ok, for my lungs still aren’t as happy about this non-geared riding as the rest of me, so it’ll give them time to catch up.