With all the advancement in bike derailleur and drivetrain technology in the last decade, many new bike riders are asking, “what is a single speed bike?” It is true that bikes with multiple gears are vastly more popular than bikes with one gear. There are a lot of advantages to bikes with multiple gears. But a cool single speed bike is worth a second look.
In the simplest terms, a single speed bike is a bike with only one rear cog, one front chainring, and a drive chain that runs tightly between them. Because it’s fitted with a single cog and a single chainring, the bike is called a single speed (or singlespeed).
Obviously, lacking more than just one gear, there is no option for shifting gears to make pedaling uphill any easier (or pedaling downhill any faster, for that matter). There are no shifter levers on the handlebars and no derailleurs to move the chain between different gears. Accordingly, there is no option to shift into an easier gear for climbing or a harder gear for descending.
Many types of bikes are technically “single speed” bikes. For example, a BMX bike, a cruiser bike, a track racing bike, an urban fixed gear bike or “fixie,” and many kid’s bikes have only one gear and thus could technically be classified as single speed. But they are rarely referred to as singlespeeds.
Among experienced riders, the term “single speed” or “single speed bike” applies mostly when a rider has the option to fit their bike with a modern, multi-gear drivetrain and yet chooses not to. This deliberate rejection of the convenience and efficiency of a multi-gear (or “geared”) drivetrain represents a preference on the part of the rider for a bike that is mechanically simpler, quieter, lighter weight, and in some ways more “pure” than a more modern drivetrain. And this choice by the rider usually signals a dedicated, hard-core vibe to other trail users!
In the earliest days of cycling, bikes with one gear were the only option. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that bikes with multiple speed gearing became common. As the mechanisms for shifting gears became more lightweight, reliable, and more refined, single speed bikes with just one gear lost popularity.
But with the advent of mountain bikes in the 1990s, this simplified, lightweight version of a bicycle drivetrain experienced a surge in popularity. Single speed bikes are lighter, simpler, quieter, and often more reliable than their geared counterparts.
In fact, the early versions of many Niner models were intended for use in single speed configuration. Many original Niner fans were dedicated, hard core single speed riders. In a big way, the Niner brand was built on the surge of interest in lightweight, efficient single speed mountain bikes.
To this day, all the Niner hardtail frames and gravel bike frames in our current range are easily configurable for single speed gearing. These bikes feature PF30 bottom bracket shells which are compatible with our Biocentric 30 eccentric bottom bracket. And this year, we’re excited to bring back stock assemblies or build kits in single speed configuration. The AIR 9 RDO, AIR 9, and SIR 9are all available in stock 3-Star Single Speed builds.
So, why ride a single speed? Stay tuned for our next post!