FeaturesSound Off on this issue's hot topic. Find religion on a fixed gear. Read interviews with single speed guys and gals. Hear why one man rides single speed. Learn how to build a single speed.
The meat of the issue, right here. Dig in.
How to build a Single Speed for DummiesHere it is, the mandatory "How to build a Single Speed for Dummies" article. If you're not a dummy, read on anyway, you might not be as smart as you think. If you want to make a fixed gear, go to Sheldon Brown's web site, he's got it covered.
Ed note: This article has been updated since it was first written since some new single speed products have become available since then. The new and improved version of "How To Build A Single Speed For Dummies" can be found in the articles section of the web site.
Getting Religion by Rebecca "Lambchop" Reilly
A fine piece of writing about discovering fixed gear riding. Also check out the with Rebecca in this issue and find out about her book and the many biking titles she holds (all one gear related). If you like this piece, check out other writing by Rebecca at Lambchop Monthly
I started messing on this hunk of junk that a friend from the old neighborhood in Buffalo picked out of the trash. She was a Mercier. Before I was a messenger, I went to France. I was a college punk spending Uncle Sam's student loan, so there wasn't much left over to buy an authentic French bike while I was there. The neighborhood friend, Marvin, was disappointed for me, so when he found the already 20 year old bike in the trash, he knew that was the bike for me.
Grace, was a very bad rookie bike. I was not a mechanic at that point. Grace, without knowing it, was training me how to ride fixies. See, among Grace's multitude of mechanical personality problems, had wheels that were going steadily out of true. I didn't even know back then about the concept of truing wheels, much less being able to do it or ask for it at the bike shop. So to combat the rim-rubbing problem, I loosened the brakes more and more. Needless to say, I was riding with very bad brakes within a few months. In DC it's considered a real faux pas to stand at redlights, so Grace speeded my redlight running skills quickly. I couldn't stop worth a shit anyway. Rain was particularly daunting for me in that first year of currying. When it rained, I went from having bad brakes to having no brakes. I'll never forget coming down Independence Ave. in the rain down Capital Hill that one fateful day. I started out slow, just coasting, monster grip on the brake levers and praying the whole way. When I got to the bottom of the hill I was cooking and the light had been red for a good 5 seconds. Cars were coming and I shut my eyes and yelled for Buddha to guide my bike. Buddha came through. I got very good at getting around town.
I moved around a bunch, after several degrading episodes in bike shops around the country, I began acquiring tools and teaching myself how to work on my bikes. Now, brakes weren't a problem.
When I got to Seattle, some 4 years ago, after hearing tales of NY I decided it was time that I learned how to ride the only bike that could foil a NY thief. That was a bike with nothing on it to steal, a fixed gear. It was a scary thought, but I'm a spaz so I got it in my head that I had to start learning as soon as possible so that by the time I got to NYC, I wouldn't be a complete dumb ass on the thing. NYC is infamous for its courier-eating traffic, I figured if I was going to ride a suicide machine, I better have some miles under my belt before I dared ride it in NY.
It was do or die. I threw myself into the sea to sink or swim, no brakes. One night at 3 am I had the brilliant idea to really see what I could accomplish by going down Cherry Street. Cherry Street has a 29% grade, needless to say, I was completely out of control. From then on I just rode the fixie for errands.
I got to SF. The queen mother of heart attack hills. By this point I was adept getting down the hills because as I went down I'd put my foot on the front wheel behind the forks. My shoes had the strangest ditch-like worn spot on the sole. My front tires had only a strip of rubber running down the very middle of the tire. A lot of the time in my pre-skidding days, I had honed a certain skill in just resisting the momentum of the pedal stroke and maintained a certain degree of control, enough control to at least be able to turn before I got mowed down by a muni-bus.
I was having fun going down Van Ness. It isn't an extreme grade, but on a fixie with no brakes, there's a threshold of velocity one should not cross if one doesn't know how to skid. I went over that threshold. I was going toward McAllister and the outbound lane looked at me menacingly, I almost heard the street say, "Oh! You wanna go Huh? Well honey you aren't going to win this time!" I always talked to myself in moments like this. "Girl, keep your line straight, Honeycakes, easy DON'T PANIC." My mind was racing, there was no way out. The cars were nose to tail and blowing the light would be certain death or mutilation. Then I noticed the mini-van to my right. I gauged the sweatiness of my palm, I gave it a go.
I was beginning to get a little cocky now. I was still determined to conquer one of these walls they called hills in SF. Hyde St. beckoned on that sunny day. My heart was beating in my ears. I started down. I had it for half a block, then I noticed this dude kooking out on me across the street and I lost all of my concentration. All of a sudden the voices in my head were berating me. I was REALLY out of control now. It wasn't just the hill that almost made me crap my pants, I was also worried about my bike. Being one of the dumbest human beings that has ever lived, I was on a road bike with forward dropouts. If that wasn't enough, the fixed cog was on a regular road bike wheel with no lockring. Now if that stupidity isn't enough for you, the chain was pieced together out of three different used chains. It's amazing how the events of a few seconds can crystallize just how stupid you are. I saw no options, except one. I managed to get on the sidewalk and I ran straight into a wall. A very effective braking method, although I don't recommend it very highly.
The moment that made me decide that a track wheel was absolutely essential to riding a track bike happened on Bush Street.
No one stays in their lane on Bush. From the "loin", cars haul ass until they get bottled up around Kearny. I started in the "loin", thought I could hold the shit off the fan...then I got to Chinatown. Zen got me the rest of the way down. I listened to Obi Won Kenobi and the bike found the windows for me. Kearny was brilliantly green as I freight trained into the tighter rows of unruly cars. Peds were jumping out like trash being blown willy nilly across the street and somehow I found my line. I think Buddha was a big player in this incident as well. My ultimate fear was not death but of crashing at the terminus of Bush. If I crashed there, I'd be the laughing stock of all SF's couriers. They already looked at me sideways a lot of the time, this would be the defining moment. As I careened out of control past the Wall, I acted like I had every intention of going so fast. I plastered a look of supreme boredom on my terrified interior as I watched my friends in a blur out of the corner of my eye.
Mom came for the World Championships with $100 just for me. The hundred came from NY from my Step-father. He'd heard about the no-brakes thing and sent it with a decree. I told Ma to keep it. She looked worried and I think I actually saw a huge swath of her hair turn gray before my eyes. I demonstrated my new skill, a skid. Mom was satisfied and gave me the money anyway. "What will he know?" she asked me mischievously.
Now there was trouble, I had my mom's endorsement.
When I got to DC nothing happened to me with the fixed gear except it was aluminum and a piece of crap and after a couple of cold days and a couple hundred miles, the thing, surprisingly, broke.
The sad long days on the Fuji. I was so resentful, I didn't even name her. She's a good workhorse and didn't deserve my wrath, but she was just no damn fun. Every time the derailleur threw up into the spokes I cursed her. When the brake cable would snap after a day of rain, I'd glare at her, "See!" I told her, "This shit wouldn't happen on a fixed gear!" I blamed her for everything. Period cramps, mood swings, a fight with a motorist. In my mind, everything was that damn bike's fault. My quest for my fixie went on for months. First I didn't have enough money, then I didn't know where to look. Then one day the sun broke through the clouds and I found my true love. Matt turned me on to her. Lisa had her. She lay there, wheelless. She looked like sleeping beauty. Powdered blue, French. She was the sexiest sleeping bike I'd ever seen. Forty bucks and she was mine. That night I watched bike TV. I dreamed of the days we would spend together. The doors we would dodge, the black marks we'd make, the boxes we'd carry. I felt like crying.
I rode her one day for work. She actually sang. She was a little off-key, her decrepit cranks constantly loosening up, but she was singing. We split lanes, we skidded we did the things a bike and her girl should do together. Then the house of cards fell. The bracket. The goddamned bracket. Being French, Aung has picky tastes. Everything in the world, nearly everything, is threaded English. Leave it to the damn frogs. They just have to be different! Months went by. Money was spent and finally Phil arrived. I held the box like it was the holy grail. I let my friends fondle the axle and coo. Soon, Aung would be complete.
It had been my dream since my college days to ride in Paris. I'm a francophile, I speak French, the Tour de France. I wanted to ride at the Place d'Etoile. I had been there in 1990 and remembered it being the worst traffic circle I'd ever seen. I love traffic circles. Some of my most exhilarating moments on a bike have been in traffic circles. So the US messengers headed of to Europe in 97 to go to the CMWC in Barcelona, and I was determined to ride that damn circle, on my fixed gear no less. I think she liked it because she didn't get a flat the whole trip.
When I stood with her in front of the Champs Elysee I felt the idiotic urge to bend down and kiss her top tube. So the same weirdo who used to name her peas and carrots at dinner and then make noises like they were actually alive and terrified of being dumped in my mouth, I kissed my bike.
A bunch of people with a tough guy problem (including myself) went to NYC for a 4th of July race. They had this track skid competition under the elevated train trestle at Coney Island. My skid compared with the likes of Boston's Santana and the famous Squid of New York, was like 1/2 pint whining to Pa on Little House on the Prairie. I felt like the little skidder who couldn't. I set about to remembering every brilliant skidder I'd ever seen. I remembered Richie fish-tailing down 13th before we got to the Zeitgeist in SF. I remembered Squid hammering down Wilshire in LA and then laughing at death as he did a breathless skid at the intersection famous for the OJ riots. I remembered how they moved their bodies, where they looked and I was determined to surprise everyone in Barcelona.
Boston isn't a great place to practice skidding long. You can never get up a lot of speed because cows didn't have long straight-aways in mind when they designed the city.
When we had that ad-hoc skid competition though, it felt like my tires were slathered with grease and I was sliding on wet glass.
When I got back to DC I was going through a tire every two weeks, that was if I was exercising restraint and not goofing off in traffic skidding around like an idiot.
When I first started riding a fixie, I loved the fact that I couldn't stop because it was making a better rider, forcing me to pay more attention. It was also keeping me out of fights.
When I learned how to really skid, it felt like the days when the little boys on my block and I would measure the skids we could get out of our coaster brake bikes. Mine was always pretty long.
My favorite moment of all time with Aung happened on Clarendon. I was feeling cocky as hell. I'd had 1/2 a pot of coffee by the time I made my drop up high in Arlington and I was looking forward to the long ride down Clarendon. Something snapped in me around the courthouse. Sometimes my commonsense detaches itself from my conscious thought and I give in to hedonistic impulse. At Courthouse, I started to hammer. I was going around 25-30. I was spinning faster than I'd ever gone on my fixie. I was still descending. The road was curvy, I made a light. It should've been a wake-up call to my commonsense, but my commonsense was out to lunch. At Nash, Clarendon starts a serious drop, at Nash I locked it up. I didn't mean to stop, I was way over the goose. I careened forward, slowing enough to angle my skid propelling me into the left lane, setting up a turn. When the break in the oncoming came, I sat in the saddle and pedaled hard, making the slice. At Key Blvd., another serious dip. I started skidding in the middle of the intersection at Key and Ft. Meyer and continued skidding down to Lynn where I threw my ass around aligning my back wheel with cross traffic and began pedaling a typical 4 lane slice. Sheer exhilaration. A long way from Bush Street.
I name all of my bikes. I give them ugly names if I don't like them. I hated Horace. Horace and I parted company years ago. I had to pick an appropriate name for my fixie because she wasn't built with 40lb boxes in mind. She was built to ride around on a calm track, not between buses and over potholes. She's been a champ, and quite patient with me. So her name is Aung after a little Burmese lady who won the Nobel Peace Prize because she gave up her freedom so her people would one day have a democracy. Both Aungs have given me inspiration. Aung is with me hour after miserable cold and rainy hour. Aung keeps the roof over my head, the food on my table. More importantly, Aung by virtue of what she is and what she represents, has taught me the importance of simplicity. It's the absence, the minimalist nature of her message. People ask fixie riders all the time why the hell they ride such a bike. For me it took a lot of the frustration out of my job and put the fun back into it. I don't spend hours tinkering with my brakes, I don't ride the elevator wondering what will be remaining when I come back to the parking meter. I just ride.
Ronnie Pettit Interview
Single Speed mountain biking isn't exactly mainstream (yet). Even if it was, the
majority of the riders aren't the ones you find on the cover of MTB magazines or
in the Mt. Dew ads. That doesn't mean that they don't ride hard, don't support
the sport, or don't deserve recognition. Besides, do you really want to hear about
the same people over and over again? It's the grassroots riders that support the sport.
In this spirit, we present the "Regular Rider" interview. This issue features
Ronnie "BigRing" Pettit, one speed freak, founder of the
and self proclaimed cornbread eatin' plow mule. Want to be featured next time?
How did you first get involved in Single Speed Mountain biking?
Where did you first hear about it?
A few months later after repainting my '87 stumpjumper I set it up as a single speed just for the hell of it. I took it our for a ride, came home and took all the gears off my Yeti. It is hard to explain, but in one ride I knew I had found what I was looking for from this sport. I was born to single speed and it only took thirty something years to figure it out.
What's a typical ride for you?
A typical ride would be a 20 mile singletrack ride at the local joint. I try to get up to the mountains a couple of times a month for a longer fire road epic or some cross country bushwhacking adventure.
What's the most important issue you see in the MTB scene right now?
What's your biggest motivation?
Anybody question why you ride a one speed?
What do you have to say about some of the gearies coming down on SSers?
Want to say a few words about the
International Single Speed Association
Tell us about the 12 Hours of Reddick race you did solo.
Was it anything like you expected?
I was very proud of my buds on the Single and Rigid team for taking 3rd place sport. They were kicking ass and taking names.
What's next, any races or events planned?
Any parting words of wisdom?
Why I ride single speed by Peter Ohler
Just one person's take on the Single Speed MTB experience. Pete rides an Intense Tracer full suspension single speed! Might be the only FS SS around.
Why I ride a single speed is best described with a ride. A ride with some hills in any place that gears ride. Riding is about the hills, going up and coming down.
The ride starts in the parking lot with comments from other riders like "You're going to ride that here?", "What nut house did you escape from?", or "You know this trail has hills.". Just words of encouragement to a single speeder.
The fun begins. The first hill isn't too steep. A good warm up hill. You pedal a little faster and pick up some speed. As you hit the hill you stand and push, feeling the bike flex under you then pull forward. The acceleration is the thrill. You feel the muscles in your legs tighten on each mash of the pedals. You feel strong with the speed of the climb. This is why you ride. The hill continues and you feel your legs start to fatigue. It doesn't matter. In a moment you'll forget about them as you try to suck down more air than your lungs can handle. There is never enough air. You keep pushing. You have plenty of reserve and the top isn't far. As you near the top you push harder to get that last bit of speed as the hill rounds off. Level ground again, time to cools down and replenish oxygen reserves.
Then there is the steep hill. The ones where keeping traction is a problem. The adrenaline kicks in as soon as you see it. You stand and get as much speed as you can before you hit the base. Momentum is your friend. Pick a path and start mashing. Pull on the bars to get the down stroke power you need. Simply standing won't be enough. Push hard but keep it steady and the weight back so the wheels don't spin. Not too much or the front wheel lifts. You know it's going to hurt even before you are half way up. Now it's the legs that scream. You know you don't have the lungs to this for long but you can work off your reserve for a little while. Can the legs hold? Keep the burst going. Just a few more cranks to the top. You are out of air. Just a bit more. You go for it anyway, pushing on without air. You hit the top, legs weak, lungs ready to explode, sucking air as you drop back into the saddle and try to recover. A downhill, perfect. You hope you can recover before the next climb. After a few slides and drops down the hill you are recovered and enjoying the ride down. You forget that you will pay for the down hill later.
It had to happen eventually, the long climb out. It's a steep one and you will need to conserve. Relax, try to settle down and take it easy. You have to balance with speed. You start a slow crawl up the hill, standing and mashing slowly, resisting the temptation to take off. You know you want to but can't afford to burn out. You realize you are still going as fast or faster than your geared friends. You get behind the curve on the steeper sections and then recover while standing as the slope decreases slightly. Got to relax. Fall too far behind and recovery will be tough or won't happen. Keep in touch with your temperature and hydration. After a half an hour of heavy climbing overheating can be a real problem. Stay with it, relax, conserve, relax, conserve. Push a little harder if you get ahead of the curve then when the top comes into view start using up the reserve. You can make it from here. Plenty of time to recover after cresting the top.
The short blasts are so much better than the long climb. A few more up and downs and the ride is over. Legs are sore and you are tired but you will be ready the tomorrow for another ride. If the weather is bad, put on the road wheels and the 2.75 to 1 gears and push fast on the road hills. There is always a new challenge and something else to try.
Rebecca "Lambchop" Reilly Interview
Messenger, writer, holder of many biking titles. Buy her book "Nerves of Steel", about the life and history of bike messengers, and help support a bike lifestyle. Also, check out Rebecca's piece in this issue
Can you give us the background behind your nickname?
Why is a fixed gear bike the right bike for you?
How many bikes to you own? How many with one gear?
What is the complete list of titles you hold?
How long have you been completing and what made you start?
How have the book sales for "Nerves Of Steel" been going? What kind of research did you do for it?
How did the book tour go? Did you get to all of the cities you wanted to? Any plans for doing it again?
When you first meet male bikers for the first time, do you usually have to earn their respect because you are a woman and they have some preconceived notions about your ability to bike?
How long do you see yourself being a messenger? Any plans for the next job if you move on from this gig?
What have you been involved with lately? I saw the posting for "The Most Ridiculous Race", how did that go off?
On the weekends I go out of town to promote my book and am currently working on a book/art opening in Brooklyn in May. It will feature my book and a collection of messenger art.
Anything else you want to say?
Sound OffHere we go. Each issue we'll print a topic, statement, etc. that will cause people to get fired up. Sound off about this subject and we'll print the best responses from both sides in next issue. firstname.lastname@example.org
The May 2001 issue of Outside magazine has a review on 14 full-suspension mountain bikes. The author, Marc Peruzzi, makes the following bold statement:
Wow. Given a lot of Single Speeders preference for a full rigid ride, I imagine some people are going to have some comments about this statement. Agree or disagree? Magazine hack or knowledgable rider? Open up with both barrels hombre!