Mountain bikers: why it’s better to be single (speed)
Photo: Logan Robertson

Mountain bikers: why it’s better to be single (speed)

Posted by: Shauna Farnell

On those especially grueling, steep climbs, many mountain bikers begin pining for a pedal option easier than granny gear. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum – that crew grinding it out on whatever chain ring they’ve got. They’re standing out of the saddle, cranking on their pedals, dipping their shoulders from one side to the other … by all appearances, making things as hard for themselves as possible.

These are the single speed die-hards, the small community of pedalers who prefer to ride – and race – with no gears.

“No matter what, it feels like you’re always pushing,” said Anthony Iannacito, by way of explaining why it’s better to ride single speed.

Iannacito finished second in the single speed category of Saturday’s TIAA Bank XC Mountain Bike race. Colorado Springs rider JJ Clark cleaned up in the single speed category, finishing more than three and a half minutes ahead of Iannacito. Clark completed each of the two 7-mile, 1,500-foot vertical laps in an average of 35:36. Let it be noted that Iannacito and a handful of other single speed racers in Saturday’s race (there were only 15 total – 12 men and three women) notched laps that were faster than those of many pros on geared bikes.

“This is actually an ideal course to ride on a single speed,” Iannacito said. “It’s better when it’s all up and all down. When it’s too flat, you end up spinning out and losing speed.”

When local single speed rider Ciro Zarate crossed the finish line in third place, the announcer joked that he was thinking, “dude, that’s the hardest $100 I’ve ever made.”

“It’s fun, it teaches you how to really ride a bike,” Zarate offered as a reason to ride single speed. “You learn how to not waste any energy.”

When asked why she prefers single speed, Saturday’s winning woman – Sara Sheets, was a little more blunt: “We like pain.”

Second place female finisher Niki Pardoe quipped, “because we’re masochists.”

In all seriousness, there are some valid reasons to ride without gears.

“It’s a different mindset than when you ride on a geared bike,” Iannacito said. “On a geared bike, you’re almost always thinking about your gears. On a single speed, you’re thinking about keeping your momentum, using everything to get up steep sections and generally more about your bike handling.”

Plus, there’s extra thigh burn. Most single speed riders are out of the saddle 90 percent of the time.

“It’s actually your lower back that gets it,” Iannacito said.

“Also, your triceps get a lot of action from all the rowing,” Zarate said. “When you’re hammering uphill, it really is like rowing.”

There are also general human virtues to be cultivated by riding single speed – patience, simple concentration and a sense of camaraderie with like-minded individuals.

“In geared racing, I don’t make friends,” Pardoe said. “There are definitely more friends to be made in the single speed category. There’s more camaraderie and a sense of community.”

“We definitely have more fun,” Sheets agreed. “We’re all in it together and on a single speed, no matter what, it feels like you’re always pushing. Plus, we get the badass label.”

Nobody can argue that. Hats off to numero uno.

By Shauna Farnell

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