The Decision to go Singlespeed

Many of you read my blog post a while back about my first ever mountain bike ride.  As you know, it was on a singlespeed 29″ frame, a Niner to be exact.  I, now, own a Niner and as I started writing (finally!) my blog post of taking it out for the maiden voyage, I realized that there was a post “missing”, which is about my decision to go singlespeed.  So, here goes.


After that first demo ride on the One 9 singlespeed in mid-October, I was on cloud 9!  I couldn’t believe how long the experience and euphoria stayed with me.  It was a couple of weeks before the euphoria started to fade back to “normal” levels (whatever that is).  I did go out for another ride and had an opportunity to try 2 other types of mountain bikes, thanks to my friend.  (This is the same friend who rode the century with me back in late August.  As you can imagine, I’m really grateful to have her in my life.)

It was mid-November when my friend called me with an offer to borrow her bike and go riding with her.  I got the call just as I was finished up a “short” road ride (~25 miles) around lunchtime.  “Hell yeah!” was my reaction.  What’s better than going for a road ride and a mountain bike ride on the same day?  Not much!  So, I grabbed some eats and headed for the mountain bike trails.  

My friend has been a mountain biker since the early 1990’s.  She still has the bike she rode back then.  That was the bike I got to try, first.  Now, you might wonder why she would want to ride with me if I’m such a newb and she is that experienced.  As it turns out, (a) she had hurt her knee and needed to take it easy on herself but didn’t want to forego a day with fantastic temperatures for riding, plus (b) she was concerned that my inital mountain bike ride on the singlespeed might have “clouded my vision” and she wanted me to try a fully geared bike, and finally (c) she wanted to eventually have a new riding buddy for the trails since her previous riding buddy had gone another pathway.  So, this opportunity was a good one for both of us.

Back to the bike she let me try first, this bike has no formal front or rear suspension, but it does have a small spring mechanism that connects the handlebars to the headset.  The bike also has a triple front crank, and I’ve forgotten how many speeds are on the cassette in the back.  The shifters on the handlebars were a bit odd.  It wasn’t at all intuitive. So, it was a bugger getting used to it as we rode.

Right away, I noticed a difference in how that bike felt as compared to the singlespeed.  While that spring mechanism on the handlebars did offer some movement dampening, it wasn’t anything near what a shock on the front forks will give you.  The ride was stiffer, and I felt more of the “noise” off the trails.  Since I’m already used to a “noisy” road bike (see the photo description for my road bike), a “noisy” bike is not new to me.  After doing a couple of rounds on the mile-long main beginner trail, I was starting to get the hang of the shifting.  So, we moved on to the next trail – one I would describe as being a beginner-intermediate level trail b/c it has many more technical aspects and some new aspects that aren’t on the main beginner trail.  This one has a couple of hills and the trail, in general, offers many areas where someone with a geared bike would definitely chose to shift to easier gears, whereas someone on a singlespeed would just have to “power through it” to achieve success.

What I found was that despite the terrain, I shifted very little amongst the cranks and gears while on this trail.  I felt like the shifting was a distraction from the attention I needed to give to the navigation of the route, and it was also a distraction from my enjoyment of riding.  It was just “one more thing I needed to worry about”.  That bugged me b/c the enjoyment is a key factor.  Sure, there’s no question that parts of cycling in general are difficult.  However without a certain level of enjoyment, it becomes a “task”, rather than a pleasure.  When I re-read what I just wrote, I realize that it sounds odd coming from a person who is in love with the wide range of gears on my road bike [11-32 rear cassette].  I couldn’t imagine trying to get up certain climbs without it…and yet, here I am frustrated by that same gearing in a mountain bike.  Yes, odd, indeed.  Granted, I’m not planning on taking a 7-mile climb on a mountain bike anytime soon–if ever.  So at least for now, it seems that mtb gearing for me isn’t quite as important as it is for someone doing …oh say…the Leadville 100.

Also, my friend’s bike frame was really too small for me.  My right knee is rather picky and will give me almost immediate feedback if I’m not fit properly on a bicycle.  Such was the case, here, too.  I tried raising the seat post which helped a bit but not all the way.  That was clouding my experience, too.  I knew, though, to discard that part b/c buying a new bike means getting it fit just right for me.

After doing a few miles on these two trails, my friend got curious.  She had purchased a new mountain bike a few weeks earlier and hadn’t ridden her old bike since then.  The “old bike” had just gotten a tune up, and she wondered how it, now, felt compared to her new one, which btw is a full suspension bicycle.  So, she asked if I would switch with her, giving me the opporunity to try yet another type of mountain bike. 

After adjusting the seat post (which was much easier to do than on the older bike), we set off.  Immediately, I felt the difference of having the full suspension.  The ride was so much more comfortable!  However, this bike’s shifters were quite a bit different from her older bike.  So once again, I found myself distracted and trying to figure the bloomin’ things out.  It’s frustrating to shift in the wrong direction when climbing.

Regardless, I was grateful for the switch b/c right away, my knee pain calmed down.  Plus, the cushy ride was very nice and very addictive.  I will say that I did like that bike quite a bit.  So when we were done, I had to give this buying decision some deep thought.

I did.  Furthermore, I got some more input from my mountain biking friends.  Curiously, all of them warned me about getting a singlespeed bike.  In fact, each of them were quite concerned that I was even considering such a prospect and really tried very hard to discourage me from going that route!  I found that to be somewhat amusing and disconcerting at the same time.  I started to wonder if I was nuts, if I was making a mistake.  What if I did want a geared bike a year from now?  (or less?)  What if this?  What if that?

The joy of the purchasing process was not fun anymore.  So, I put it on a mental shelf for a couple of weeks and walked away from it.  It’s not like I was in any hurry, anyway.

A story I had heard on the radio nearly two weeks later touched me, and I realized something key with regards to my mountain bike purchase.  The first and most important thing was this:  I don’t know what I am going to want a year from now.  Heck, I don’t even know if I am going to BE around a year from now.  Life offers no guarantees from day to day, even from hour to hour.  You have to live it in the best way you know how, at that particular time.  Sure, there are times when you learn something new and come to realize if you set upon the same set of circumstances regarding a past situation that you would choose to do differently.  Sometimes.  Not always.  What you have to realize that is we all do our best at that moment in time.  If you set your life up by going on what your future circumstances or decision might be, you set yourself up for a lot of failure and unhappiness.  Life is NOW, not in the future.

So, let’s say that I do want a change in the future; what happens then?  I don’t know, and I don’t have to, either.  I decided that I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.  I do know this much, though.  It’s not the end of the world!  Far from it!  Who knows…maybe I’ll have enough in my coffers to get a second mountain bike.  Heck, or would it be so bad to have to sell the first one and then get what I want at that time?  No, people do that all the time, too.

So if there’s nothing earth shattering about “what if I do want a change in the future” then, there’s nothing stopping me from getting what I want, right now.  So when I came to this realization, the joy and the fun was back.  I realized that what I wanted above all else was the singlespeed 29″ frame bicycle.  In a perfect world, I’d have the exact same bike as the one I demo’d that fateful day in October.  However, I also knew that in all likelihood that bike had some really expensive components that would put a new bike out of range for me.  Furthermore, I wanted a particular color — that bright “Kermit” green is so me!  It’s loud and distinctive, and I just love that color for a variety of other reasons.  Problem though, Kermit green was phased out for all 2011 bikes from Niner.  The 2011 bikes have been on most bike shop showroom floors for a couple of months, already.  Drat, this could get hard.  Now what?  A visit to my favorite local bike shop to talk turkey on bikes, that’s what!

I explained what I wanted to Josh and shared my quandary, as well.  He took me out on the showroom floor and pointed to a Kermit Green Niner bike frame.  I looked at him quizzically.  I didn’t remember this frame from previous visits.  It was not the One 9 singlespeed frame.  It was the Air 9 frame in size medium, which is made of the same material as the One 9.  (It’s equally as light as the One 9, too.)  However, this frame has the part from which a rear derailer could hang.  It also has the cable channels on the underside of the top tube.  I could use this as a custom singlespeed, but what about the special part that keeps static tension on the chain?  Niner has a special part built into the crank hub area on the One 9.  It’s not something you can order separately.  Josh had a remedy for that, as well.  As it turns out, his suggestion offered an even more stable solution than Niner’s specific part, and *bonus!*, it was a tad lighter, too!   Lastly was my concern over the frame size.  I had been told, at first, by the Niner rep that according to my height (5′ 7″), the frame size small was my best bet. However, that’s not entirely true and as it turns out, the medium is actually the best choice for the way my body is engineered (long torso, long arms, etc). The best part of all?  The frame is a 2010 which meant that the bike shop wanted to move it and had a discount already in place.  Sold!

That frame took away any possible objections I had.  There were no worries for what I wanted right now…OR in the future.  If I did want a change on down the line, it would be easy to simply change the gearing…and not the entire bike.  So with no worry of a potential buyer’s remorse, my bike was built.  For now, her gearing is a 32 crank in the front with a 20 gear in the back.  (I can change this, too, as time goes on.)  The front fork is a Rockshox, and the rest…is just details.  It’s all good, even my friends are happy for me!  No, it’s great, but you’ll learn more about the “great” in other posts yet to come.