Visiting tourists to Planet Gary can hardly fail to notice that there’s a new turfing bicycle on the block, a rather bright technicolour bicycle, a single speed bicycle. Yes, a single speed, a bicycle without changeable gears, just the one gear ratio. She’s called Harley Quinn, by-the-way, and she has already started to boss Ogre and Pugsley about. And yes, you might be wondering why on earth would anyone want a single speed? Perhaps you are wondering if I’ve finally lost the plot, well, lost the plot even more than that already lost. But the real question is why would you want a single speed for turfing? Or for anything really.
I would say the main thing about a single speed bicycle is mechanical simplicity. There’s a kind of cool neatness to a single speed bike. No chunky rear freewheels, no rear derailleur, no heavy hub gears, no front derailleur, no cables and shifters to clutter up the handlebars and frame, just that single chainring on the front and a neat wee freewheel on the back. All so neat, tidy and simple. All this saves weight and reduces repair costs and service time, which also means less to go wrong, fewer parts to replace and increased reliability.
Riding a single speed bike feels very different, you seem to gently float along. Less noise, less need to change up and down gears. All making for a more relaxed, smoother and simpler ride. One benefit I’ve already noticed, and that even after a single turfing session around Bonnyrigg, is that you really do use your leg muscles more. I can feel, and actually see, the benefit from yesterday’s ride. Quite pleasing really.
The downside of single speed bikes is, obviously, the lack of gearing making it less versatile. You cannot change down to climb the hills and must rely on leg power alone, either to pump those pedals harder, or to get off and walk. Some people see shame in that, I don’t. Even on downhills, you cannot change to a higher gear to increase speed. You can spin those pedals faster but there’s a limit how fast you can turn pedals. But hey, what’s the rush?
So, a single speed bike for turfing, yes, or no? Well, I suppose it depends on what you want from your turfing sessions. If you want exercise, to be cool, some mindfulness cycling, a relaxed and meditative time, then a single speed is great, even fantastic. If you are after turf points/medals/ranks or league positions, a single speed will not be as efficient as a geared bike. Having said that, if you like a challenge, go single speed. It’s fun!
Turfing on a bicycle often requires more than simply riding the bike. Zones are not always placed in the most convenient of locations and may require pushing, lifting or even carrying the bike across hazards such as steps, fences, gates and styles. And from what I hear on social media, even across raging rivers, across locked gates and through spiky hedges! I often swivel the bike around to face the other way at zones on narrow paths. I occasionally get visits from the Trapped-nerve-in-the-back Goblin (who also offers free aching back muscles as well), so keeping the weight of the bike down is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
It’s early days yet in my single speed bicycle turfing career, but I do find myself very enthusiastic about single speed bikes and might even build, or convert, another dedicated for off-road use, perhaps using the Surly Ogre. And there are a couple of turfing challenging I want to revisit with Harley Quinn. One is another attempt at the Loanhead Ferret Run. That should be fun. The other is the Seven Hills of Edinburgh. And that should be even more fun.
If you want to try single speed, you can actually use the geared bike you have. Just slip it into a middle range gear and leave it there. Then go turfing and don’t change gear. Should give you an idea of what single speed is like. You can also convert just about any bike to single speed with a suitable kit. I’m sure Scott at Mutts Cycles, aka turfer MuttsCycles, in Newtongrange, will be happy to advise/do the work/provide cups of tea. Enjoy.
P.S. Beware the challenges of bicycle maintenance. I stripped down the freewheel yesterday to add some grease, carefully making sure the ball bearings were all present and correct and fitted it back on the wheel. However, two of the little 1/8th inch blighters turned up on the bench this morning. Guess where they should be?
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