What Is a Single Speed bike – All you need to know

Cycling is a common form of exercise with many health benefits. From commute to exercise, people use bicycles for many daily activities. Bikes are dependable, and they don’t require a lot of maintenance. They are relatively affordable and even good for the environment.

There are also many different bikes, from single-speed bikes to hybrid bikes. All these different bikes serve different purposes and can be your choice depending on your personal preferences. Since they serve different purposes, it’s also likely you need to be intentional when shopping for your bike. If your aim is resistance training, a different bike would help you achieve your goal instead of a bike meant for commuting.

Different bikes have different features, speeds, and maintenance; thus, you should ensure you don’t treat all bikes like they are the same and look into the features of whichever bike you wish to purchase. One bike, a lot of the older generation will be familiar with is the single-speed bike. For younger people, we’ll help you answer the question, what is a single-speed bike?

What Is a Single-Speed Bike?

A single-speed bike is a type of bike with only a single-gear ratio. The gear ratio is the ratio of the number of teeth in the gear to the number of teeth in the pinion, the pinion being the smaller of the two gears in the mesh. 

These single-speed bikes don’t have any way to manipulate the gear ratio of the bicycle or any other hub gears. They only have a single gear ratio they can maintain. Examples of single-speed bikes are the following, BMX bicycles, cruiser type bicycles, classic commuter bicycles, and even unicycles.

Single speed bike
Single speed bike

How Is It Different From a Geared Bike?

Single-speed bikes cannot shift from gear to gear and only have a single gear ratio whereas geared bikes can switch through different gears. Single-speed bikes have a freewheel, and in this kind of bike, the rear cog is joined to the rear hub. Therefore, the cog turns with the wheel.

How Does It Work?

A single-speed bike has a simple mechanism that involves a freewheel. In a single-speed bike, the rear cog works in combination with a rear hub. The freewheel turns with the cog, causing movement that propels the bike forward.

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Is a Single-Speed Bike Faster Than a Geared Bike?

You need to consider many aspects to understand if a single-speed bike is faster. A simple way of knowing which is faster is to experiment with both. Then, time your journey down a hill with both a single-speed bike and a geared bike. The bike that takes less time is invariably faster. Make sure you repeat this experiment a few times to remove any bias

The factors that dictate the speed of a bike can be broken down into a simple Physics equation, F=ma, where ‘m’ is the bike’s mass and the rider, ‘a’ is the bike’s acceleration while it’s being ridden, and F is the resultant force.

The resultant force depends on a few things, but it mostly depends on the friction of the bike and the air resistance the bike might encounter when cruising. Besides these factors, the mass also matters greatly.

Geared bikes are often heavier than single-speed bikes, which may be a reason for single-speed bikes being faster. These bikes are heavier because they have extra gear, heavier chains, and components that increase their weight.

Geared bikes also have components like hub-gears and derailleurs that increase the ratio of friction acting on the bike, causing the bike to slow down considerably.

Here are some reasons for single-speed bikes being faster than geared ones.

Is It Good for the Commute?

Single-speed bikes can be good for a moderate distance commute that doesn’t involve too many hills. You don’t want to over-exert yourself before you go to work, and the simple fact is that single-speed bikes require more effort than other bikes.

If your work is at a moderate distance and accessible on flat land, you’ll be alright. They are not fixed-gear bikes, and thus, you can coast any time easily. Here are some reasons you would want to use a single-speed for your commute.

You can go at your own speed

You can go slower or faster according to your preference. Pedal slower or quicker as per the pace you want to maintain. You can focus on your surroundings instead of thinking about switching gears. So, in this way, single-speed bikes give you more control.

They’re immune to rough conditions

Single-speed gears don’t have a derailleur or other chain specification you need to keep checking well into your journey. As long as the chain is well-oiled and chain tension is fine, you can cruise down in snow, wind, or rain without the rider having to worry about the bike; this is a great advantage to have.

They’re the cheapest option out there

Single-speed bikes will cost you way less than a hybrid bike or an electric bike. Even if you’re just renting a city bike, the single-speed bike will cost you a hundred less than other variants.

What Are Its Benefits?

Now that we know more about single-speed bikes, we can move on to learn about their benefits. Single-speed bikes have many advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages of this bike are as follows:

What Is a Single Speed bike
Woman riding a bicycle

1. They are simple

Single-speed bikes have a very simple, minimal mechanism so not many things can go wrong with it. They do not require derailleurs or shifters of any kind. The drivers during their rides do not need to adjust any components.  These bikes also have a strong, thick bike chain that is relatively more difficult to break than the ones on other bikes.

2. They are reliable

Simple speed bikes are more reliable because they’re simpler. They do not require many components to work. This bike doesn’t have derailleurs that can go into the bike wheel and render the bike useless.

3. They are affordable

Components like shifters can be very pricey, especially those for road bikes, going for over 200$. The extra equipment and gears make the price of the bike greater than that of a simple speed bike that has only one chainring and one cog. Since they’re more affordable, single-speed bikes can always be kept as spare bikes for when you want to change things up.

4. It makes you stronger

Single-speed bikes work best if you want to gain more leg muscle and get in a proper workout. Single-speed bikes don’t have extra gears or any fancy gadgets that may ease your experience going up and down the hill. Your legs and calves are undoubtedly going to have stronger muscles so that you can keep up with what your bike requires of you.

5. It challenges you mentally

Continuing to ride a single-speed bike when you have other easier options available is a true sign of strength. Even mentally preparing yourself to exert yourself on a bike is a great challenge, and so by choosing to do this, you are challenging yourself and are likely to feel accomplished every day you don’t fall back.

However, you also need to understand that it’s okay to take it easy on certain days, and if your single-speed bike is not doing it for you, you can always switch to easier options.

6. You get street cred

Commuting and traveling on single-speed bikes in this day and age is nothing short of an achievement. So, you might get complimented for it endlessly if you ever bring it up. Anyone who knows anything about cycling knows that it’s a great feat to be able to bike distances in a single-speed bike. Say your route has hills, and now, you’re a superstar!

7. You have greater control

In a single-speed bike since there is no derailleur, the transfer of power is directly from the rider to the vehicle, which means you can have a more controlled working of the bike.

What Are the Disadvantages?

There are many advantages to single-speed bikes but the good comes with the bad. All the olden versions of bicycles were single-speed bikes, and since then, manufacturers have made many changes to facilitate cycling enthusiasts.

These newer versions contain features that single-speed bikes don’t have. We will now list a few of the disadvantages of single-speed bikes:

1. Single-speed bikes are inefficient

In bikes, having a greater cadence (rotations of the cranks per minute) has been directly linked to faster average speed and minimized energy output.  Single-speed bikes cannot benefit from this principle because of their gear ratio which can’t be altered. However, optimal cadence can be reached for a very short time.

Consequentially, the bike is either traveling at a higher gear or lower gear than required, making matters inefficient.

This feature also makes going up and down a hill a rocky affair; thus, it is also inconvenient to travel on such bikes, especially on tough terrain.

2. It is not the best for long distances

Cycling is a human-powered endeavor for which we need to consider that people aren’t machines that can run at one power. This consideration has not been made in the design of single-speed bikes.

Geared bikes have gears constantly that aid with the longevity of a ride because they provide a mechanical advantage and reduce the energy the riders would need to spin the wheels.

When less energy is used, it’s called low intensity pedaling, and cyclists employ this method to travel long distances. Since this isn’t present in single-speed bikes, they’re not the best for such journeys.

If you’re planning on using your bike as your only method of commute, you might want to opt for something that gives you more ease, like an electric bike or a hybrid bike.

3. It can cause joint pain

Even though cycling is a low-impact exercise, with the features present in single-speed bikes, this low-impact can very quickly convert to high-impact. Such bikes can harm the joints, especially those of the knee and the hip.

Because it requires so much energy, pedaling this bike might cause a repetitive strain injury. Geared bikes are better in this way because cyclists can find gear ratios that align with their speed and abilities.

4. It can amplify mental stress

Single-speed bikes may create a lot of mental stress for beginners, and they might just swear off biking altogether. Even for well-seasoned bikers, this is a huge mental toll to take on, especially, when the route involves ascending a hill or moving through rough terrain.

5. It leads to greater fatigue

Since riding a single-speed bike requires expending a lot of energy, it becomes very easy for a rider to succumb to fatigue. This can also cause people to become less motivated about cycling because of the intensity of said fatigue. They are likely to not be able to ride long distances.

6. It has limited capacity

If you plan on taking a longer trip with these kinds of bikes, and even if you muster the courage to do so, there’s still very limited availability of space for you to keep your things.  You need special equipment for longer trips like an extra water bottle, an extra chain, maybe even a mini-pump in case anything goes wrong with the tires.

This bike’s limited capacity doesn’t allow for a ride to do this. Additionally, if a biker does manage to carry this equipment somehow, their stability might be affected.

Single-Speed Bike vs. Fixed Gear Bike

These two types of bikes are often compared to each other. It’s important to note that a fixed gear bike is always a single-speed bike. However, a single-speed bike may not always be a fixed-gear bike. We have mentioned some of the distinctions in the two below:

Single-Speed BikeFixed-Gear Bike
Easy to coast/cruise
Easy maintenance
No prior experience is needed to ride
Great transitional bike
Very affordable
Lack of coasting ability
Brakes can stop reliably
Extra stopping power
Can switch gears for ease of transit  
Not great for long distances
Not efficient on  hills and rough terrain
Relatively expensive
Difficult to maintain  

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Final Thoughts

In this article, we have tried to answer your question, what is a single-speed bike? We have stated the many benefits and disadvantages of a single-speed bike and its competitors in the market.

Single-speed bikes are used for recreational purposes, exercising, and commuting in the city. They might not be ideal for each of those purposes at all times; however, they are affordable and can be a change from riding normal geared bikes every day. They can be very helpful for someone who’s looking to build a little lower back muscle or willing to take up a challenge.

These bikes are one of the oldest versions of bicycles out there. However, the reason they’ve stood the test of time is that they serve many functions and are accessible to the general public. They’re not the kind of bikes that need special gears or equipment to maintain.

However, what bike you wish to buy is solely a choice you need to make. We suggest not just to look at the price when shopping. However, if you need somewhere to start, the single-speed bike is a great cost-friendly option.