How do Single Speed Bikes Work.

A single speed bike rear wheel.

A picture showing the simple gearing on this single speed bike. Note just the one sprocket.
A picture showing the simple gearing on this single speed bike. Note just the one sprocket.

What is a single speed bike?

A single speed bike is the most basic of all bicycles. You have one small gear sprocket attached to the centre of the rear wheel and a larger gear sprocket on the crank-set where you pedal. The ratio between the two is about 3:1 although this can vary. But you do not have to worry about this because the manufacturers will have worked out the best ratio for your bike when designing it. If you intend doing a conversion on your own bike speak to your local bike shop and get advice on the cog sizes you will need.

A single speed bike has no gears to change, no shift levers or derailleurs to change. A single chain joins the sprocket on the rear wheel with the one at the front on the crank-set and as you pedal the rear wheel drives you forward. These bikes are ideal for a short commute to work or for just getting a little exercise at the weekends.

Because of the simplicity of these bikes and the fewer man hours they take to build they are generally much cheaper to buy. There is less to go wrong with them and the performance is normally quite refreshing. The reasons for this is that single speed bikes tend to lighter in weight, you have no suspension or heavy duty front forks to worry about and the drive chain will be straight between the two sprockets. This is a very important characteristic because there is less drag on the chain, the alignment is kept in one position therefore they tend to be more efficient which improves performance.

A single speed bike is ideal if you live in an area where there are few hills and is generally flat. These bikes are great if you like to "free wheel" and only pedal occasionally, taking time to look around you. They are also great at nipping in and out of traffic if you use it for your commute to work. Single speed bicycles tend to have an upright riding position so if you suffer from a bad back or have poor posture try converting to a single speed bike. The angle of the bike frame is usually adjusted to produce a more upright profile. You can still get single speed bicycles with drop handlebars if you want it to look more like a racing bike. But mostly they come with straight handlebars or ones which are slightly bent down to improve the aerodynamics.


A nice looking Single Speed bike- note how many extras there are.

A typical man's single speed bicycle..
A typical man's single speed bicycle.. | Source

Advantages of buying a Single speed bicycle.

  • Cheaper to make and buy.
  • Mechanically they have less to go wrong.
  • No gears or derailleurs to worry about making them lighter in weight.
  • Useful in city commuting.
  • They require less maintenance.
  • Simple gearing means they are efficient.
  • Can be custom altered to your own needs and specifications.


The Disadvantages to owning a single speed bicycle.

  • Not having gears means it not suitable for getting up hills easily.
  • Once your up to speed you can't pedal efficiently.
  • Generally less versatile for more cycling options.

From the two lists above you can see there are more advantages than disadvantages to owning one. If you are not into racing and just like to get from A to B as easily as possible then this bike option may be right for you.


Ways to customise a single speed bike to your own specifications.

  • Adding drop handlebars if you prefer the more racing look.
  • Changing the gears to help you get up hills more easily.
  • Adding a front or rear shopping basket.
  • Fit a rear rack to help carry your items.
  • Getting a more comfortable seat.
  • Changing the pedals to the clip-less type. This is beneficial if you intend to use your bike for your commuting to work.
  • Add lights for your own safety.
  • Fit complimentary mud guards and a water bottle and holder.

Adding Extras to your Single Speed Bike.

A comfortable seat, large saddle bag, rear bike rack and mud guards can be easily added to customise your own bike.
A comfortable seat, large saddle bag, rear bike rack and mud guards can be easily added to customise your own bike.

Some different types of single speed bicycles.

We all remember the BMX bike well that was a single speed bicycle. Today we have or call them by different names like a city bike or urban bike or cruiser bike but basically they are all the same they have no gears you have a fixed gearing so the speed you can go is limited by the size of the gears you have. Any bicycle can be changed into a single speed bike but why would you if you have a mountain bike with full suspension what would be the point. Remember a single speed bike is the most simplest so altering an expensive mountain bike with lots of extras wouldn't make sense. But it does for some other types like a track bike or hybrid bike which you just use to take the kids out at the weekends.

You can get some road racing bikes with a single speed gearing but it will probably have been altered to go much faster for the intended user. If you like cycling up hills you could alter your mountain bike but the effort required would be much greater than with standard gears.

Manufacturers over the last few years have progressively moved away from single speed bicycles, but there are still some who make them like- Bianchi, Cannondale, Kona, Raleigh and Giant to name a few. These companies have bucked the trend and a few specialised companies also have also started to make them. It is not uncommon now to see clubs that have been set up specifically to promote the use of the single speed bicycle.


Convert your bike into a single speed bike.

How to change your own bike into a single speed bike.

If you are practical and have a good amount of bike tools already converting your bike from having derailleurs or shift gear changes into a basic single speed bike is quite easy. You will need to have some experience of mechanical applications and have the knowledge to basically do it yourself.

Start by removing the rear wheel, the drive chain and the front sprocket(s). If you can't do this then it may be beneficial to ask a local bike shop to do it for you. Rather than re-use your existing chain buy a new general one from your bike shop along with a new front drive sprocket and either a new rear wheel with a single sprocket or you will need to remove the existing derailleur from the rear wheel with a specific tool or ask someone to do it for you.

Check the video above which gives good advice on the tools required and new parts you will need. You should be able to get the job done within a day but you might have to play around getting the spacers sorted where the old derailleur gears fitted. You should also be confident in using a chain breaker and know how to split a chain or add a half link if it is required.

There are several ways you can tension your chain to find the optimum position. You can move the rear wheel backwards and forwards in the slot known as the dropout slot. This allows for small corrections to be made otherwise you will need to buy a tension-er. Again there are various types for a single chain you can buy. The video shows you 3 different types in use any one of those will be sufficient to obtain a satisfactory job.

Fixed gear bicycles.

Fixed gear bikes are totally different in how they work compared to single speed bikes. Fixed gear bicycles have the same single sprockets on the front and rear wheel but with one major difference. The fixed rear sprocket is bolted directly to the wheel doesn't free wheel which it does on a single speed bicycle. This makes the drive continuous, as you move the pedal the rear wheel drives and as long as the rear wheel is moving so are the pedals.

These bikes are used for cycle trialling on tracks and in the Velodrome where speed is the main concern. Fixed wheel bikes generally only have a front brake. Braking can be done by trying to hold back or resist the pedalling motion. It is common among road cyclists to use a 'fixed' wheel during the winter months to gain additional fitness. Although both of these bikes look very similar there are major differences both in design and there uses.


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Comments 8 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I can see a single speed bike perfect for me as I never can figure out what gear I'm supposed be in on a ten speed.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Dave and I just said yesterday we should get new bikes. We tried taking the girls a few times but a half mile is a long way for little legs:) we were thinking they may even have more stamina than us nowadays!

I'd think single speed is all we need!


rahul0324 profile image

rahul0324 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

most of my childhood, I have had the pleasure of single speed bikes...

Somehow.. they were largely responsible for me burning my fat..

Great hub


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I would prefer a single speed bike. You give lots of info here Brian!


johnmarsh098 profile image

johnmarsh098 4 years ago from New York, Smithtown

Nice hub !!! and It reminds to my school days.I had a single speed bicycle that I used to ride all the time and I loved that bicycle. Now That Car is the necessary things for our life, I missed my bike very much...


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

I had no idea there were advantages to single speed bikes, but because of needing less maintenance they could be useful to leave with grandparents (where it's relatively flat and the bikes aren't used all that often. ) For home, we'll be sticking to gears as we live at the bottom of a hill!


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

Very Interesting and Informative Hub on "Single Speed Bikes" Brian. I'm not a Fan of too many Speeds on a Bike...It gets Complicated. We don't need many Speeds here on the Jersey Shore, because it's so FLAT. Thanks for Sharing.


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

a single speed bike is all I use.. great hub.. thank you Brian.. sharing

Debbie

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