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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi from Australia,

can anyone advise me for a mate of mine who is wanting to buy his first MTB. He's keen on a 29er hardtail which i think is a good thing as he's quite tall and mostly interested in covering a lot of ground via dirt road/firetrail.

he's also quite taken with the notion of singlespeed ( i'm sure God invented gears for a reason!).

i've suggested that it might be easier to learn basic MTB skills on a geared bike and then convert to SS, but admittedly i'm not sure he wouldnt be better just to start as he intends to end up anyway.

thanks in anticipation,

Dave:
 

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As a noob myself, I would have to say gears unless everything is totally flat.
Can he barrow a bike, put I in a gear close to what the fixed would have and leave it there for the day? I tried this, and around here I found out I would be walking/pushing almost as much as riding :(. But southern Indinana is lumpy where I'm at.
 

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I'd say unless he can settle on a frame or bike that can be set up to do both, like the Surly Karate Monkey, go SS from the start. Conversion of a geared bike to SS is okay, but far from optimal. There are some pluses, like converting a geared rear hub to SS is a breeze when i comes to chain line. Just move spacers around until you've got it right. The big draw back is the chain tension. With an SS specific bike you'll have horizontal drop outs that allow for chain tension adjustment. With a geared vertical drop out frame it requires that the derailleur be replaced with a chain tensioner. While they work okay, they can slip or become loose during a ride and you loose your chain tension. Then it's stop and re-tension the chain. For a bike that is intended to do both there is usually a system for positioning the wheel specifically for geared set up, and a system that will allow wheel movement when set up SS for chain tensioning.

Using the Karate Monkey as an example of a convertible frame. The frame comes ready to go either geared or SS with horizontal drop outs with a deraillure hanger on the right dropout. It comes with what Surly calls "Monkey Nuts". These are inserts the go in the front of the horizontal drop outs that the hub axle slides up against and space the wheel in the drop outs perfectly aligned for a geared set up. To go SS you remove the monkey nuts and purchase a "Tug Nut" which goes around the hub axle and buts up against the rear (open end) of the drop out. With it you can easily adjust chain tension through set screws, and once the hub is tightened in the drop out it prevents the hub from shifting forward under heavy pedaling torque. So you can use either a qr hub or you can use a bolt on.

There are others out there as well with similar set ups, or even replaceable drop outs, one set for geared, one set for ss.

Bottom line it is, Yes it would likely be a good idea to go geared and get the basic riding skills down. Then go SS and learn the additional skills that are required.

But it's his call. If he really thinks that he wants to go SS out of the gate, there's really nothing to say that he can't. :thumbsup: And it'd likely be a bit cheaper in the long run as well.

Good Dirt
 

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T.W.O
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Unless he has a background in using a BMX or SS bike I would stick away from that. It will be much easier to learn to MTB on a geared bike, especially when your not used to the climbs and you can throw it on a way easier gear.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
thanks everyone, i admit i had been thinking of something like the "singulator" chain tensioner as a perfectly reliable fix for geared to SS conversion. didnt realise they would/could have their own issues.

i'll pass it on to him, thanks again.
 

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I wouldn't start with a SS. Sounds good on paper. But when you ride one the first time it is quite a different matter. There is only one gear - and it is always the wrong one.

Danger is that the SS will be dumped - temporarily or for good. Heck, I did the same thing. Dumped the thing - and then came back to it.

Far more chances that MTB will stick with a geared rig. Can always convert to SS. Unlike the poster above I had good experience with conversion kits.
 

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There is nothing better to learn to ride on than a Singlespeed. If he's going to be learning the basics, let him concentrate on his handling,braking and line picking instead of worrying about which of 30 gears to be in for that next little rise coming up. Additionally, his conditioning will increase exponentially on a singlespeed instead of sitting and spinning in a 22/34 granny.

Try asking in the Singlespeed forum. You'll find plenty of good advice from people who actually ride Singlespeed.

"I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"

- Henri Desgrange, L'Equipe article of 1902"
 

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Trying not to kill myself
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SeaBass_ said:
There is nothing better to learn to ride on than a Singlespeed. If he's going to be learning the basics, let him concentrate on his handling,braking and line picking instead of worrying about which of 30 gears to be in for that next little rise coming up. Additionally, his conditioning will increase exponentially on a singlespeed instead of sitting and spinning in a 22/34 granny.

Try asking in the Singlespeed forum. You'll find plenty of good advice from people who actually ride Singlespeed.
After spending some time on a SS last year, I'd say just the opposite. Better to learn your lines, handling and braking by being able to shift and actually ride a trail than constantly getting off a bike to push it up a hill (or spinning out in the flats). I can see the appeal of SS, and I generally don't shift much on singletrack. But had I started with SS back when I was out of shape and inexperienced, I likely would have given up and quit the sport.

As for the SS forum, I'm not so sure that's the best place to get unbiased opinions. ;)
 

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gabe23 said:
After spending some time on a SS last year, I'd say just the opposite. Better to learn your lines, handling and braking by being able to shift and actually ride a trail than constantly getting off a bike to push it up a hill (or spinning out in the flats). I can see the appeal of SS, and I generally don't shift much on singletrack. But had I started with SS back when I was out of shape and inexperienced, I likely would have given up and quit the sport.

As for the SS forum, I'm not so sure that's the best place to get unbiased opinions. ;)
I don't sure what "some time" is defined as or your fitness level, but I don't know any SS'ers who are "constantly getting off a bike to push it up a hill". Usually the only time I have to stop on a hill is when some rider on a full suspension is in front of me clogging the middle of the trail while fumbling with their front derailleur so they can get it into granny gear. Otherwise, it's stand and mash up that mother. Spinning out on the flats is alleviated by having the proper ratio for the trails you are riding. It definitely takes some time to learn techniques and find your ratio but it's worth it. I'm no pro, I'm a 43 yr old Daddy of 3 who works full time. I only started riding SS last year after 20 years of gears but it clicked with me and I was determined to stay with it. Now I'm hooked!

OP: Post up in the SS forum. The opinions may be biased, but they will certainly be better informed. Check out the link on the top right of the SS forum titled "Why SS?"
 

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Truly Doneski
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I think that there would be pros and cons to going SS first. Simply:

Pro: IF he likes it and wants to stick with it for sure, he'll be set from the beginning, and it will certainly be cheaper and have better results than buying and later converting a geared bike.

Con: He may totally hate SS, get discouraged and give up all together. Is this guy an athlete of sorts already? Does he have a big drive for this and an encouraging riding community? These kinds of questions come to mind when thinking of someone determined to start with an SS bike from the get go.
 

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Trying not to kill myself
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I think there's a pretty big difference between a rider like yourself who's been doing it for 20 years and the OP's friend who is a noob that's never owned a MTB. Maybe he's in great shape and will be able to "stand and mash up that mother" on every hill and love every minute of it. Or maybe he won't and he'll be disappointed with his new ride. I just think it's interesting that so many SS guys recommend them for beginners even though they didn't start riding one themselves and were often advanced riders when they made the switch. In all seriousness, how many single speed riders do you know who are brand new to the sport and never had a mountain bike before getting a SS? I can't think of many, though I admit that I don't have a huge number of riding buddies. Among the riders I know, the SS riders are more the experienced guys who are looking for a new challenge after doing it all with gears.

SeaBass_ said:
I don't sure what "some time" is defined as or your fitness level, but I don't know any SS'ers who are "constantly getting off a bike to push it up a hill". Usually the only time I have to stop on a hill is when some rider on a full suspension is in front of me clogging the middle of the trail while fumbling with their front derailleur so they can get it into granny gear. Otherwise, it's stand and mash up that mother. Spinning out on the flats is alleviated by having the proper ratio for the trails you are riding. It definitely takes some time to learn techniques and find your ratio but it's worth it. I'm no pro, I'm a 43 yr old Daddy of 3 who works full time. I only started riding SS last year after 20 years of gears but it clicked with me and I was determined to stay with it. Now I'm hooked!

OP: Post up in the SS forum. The opinions may be biased, but they will certainly be better informed. Check out the link on the top right of the SS forum titled "Why SS?"
 

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gabe23 said:
I think there's a pretty big difference between a rider like yourself who's been doing it for 20 years and the OP's friend who is a noob that's never owned a MTB. Maybe he's in great shape and will be able to "stand and mash up that mother" on every hill and love every minute of it. Or maybe he won't and he'll be disappointed with his new ride. I just think it's interesting that so many SS guys recommend them for beginners even though they didn't start riding one themselves and were often advanced riders when they made the switch. In all seriousness, how many single speed riders do you know who are brand new to the sport and never had a mountain bike before getting a SS? I can't think of many, though I admit that I don't have a huge number of riding buddies. Among the riders I know, the SS riders are more the experienced guys who are looking for a new challenge after doing it all with gears.
Basically, an SS MTB is just a larger version of the bikes we all rode as kids. Then we all got sucked into "You need 10 speeds" after "Breaking Away" came out. Suddenly you needed 12,15,21,24,27, and now 30 speeds. How intimidating and distracting is that for a noob to have on his mind? "OMG, What gear do I need to be in???" All the guys I know who recently started riding ate the line of crap from the LBS that they need a full squish with 30 gears and all the bells. C'mon now, all you need is one gear. No derailleurs to go out of adjustment or break, no cables to snap on you 10 miles in the woods. I was in crap shape when I started SS last year and I wanted to simplify things. But I got in better shape quickly by riding. (I do admit I picked up a 2001 Gary Fisher Sugar this winter that I'm making into a 1x9 96er so it's not like I'm Mr. "SS or nothing" guy. I'm just spreading the word.
 

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Dive Bomber
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Just go for gears, you can always have SS without shifting on the opposite you cannot 'shift' with SS since you only have pair of cog and chainring.

I ride SS, we actually have invisible shifters.
 

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I like the idea of a convertible.

For 95% of the people, unless it's really flat, I would recommend starting with a geared bike. For those 5% like my husband who like pain, challenge, and adversity, starting with a single-speed would be great.

Single-speeding is a great way to improve your skills, but for most, I think it would be good to develop basic skills (and muscles) first on a geared bike.
 

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Fat-tired Roadie
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I like the convertible idea too. There are a lot of options on the market, including some with sliding dropouts that will make installation and removal of the rear wheel just as easy as with a multispeed bike with vertical dropouts. There's also the eccentric bottom bracket thing - one can just leave that adjustment alone and ride the bike geared, or switch to singlespeed and it's already there. A lot of Voodoos and a lot of Salsas have this option. Not sure about the big bike companies, but Voodoos and Salsas are available complete, at least some bikes, so it's not like you'd be committing to building a bare frame.

For the sake of disclaimer, I haven't taken a singlespeed bike off-road. Had one as a commuter for a while in a fairly flat place, but I have dodgy knees and wouldn't want to be committed to it where I live now.

I think people on geared bikes often shift too much and overthink the whole lots of gears thing. I have a pretty traditional 3x9 setup. I don't think about which of the 27 possible combinations I want to be in. I think "small ring," "middle ring," "big ring," and shift the rear derailleur in order to keep my cadence reasonable. The small ring is for climbing, the middle ring is for flat or rolling terrain, and the big ring is for extended descents. I try not to get into my little ring to do a small climb, though. The shift is sometimes harsh and I can often climb it doing the singlespeed version of a shift anyway - getting out of the saddle. If I start to feel like I'm working too hard, or the terrain develops an uphill or downhill trend, I'll shift. If I'm riding pretty close to redline, my "power band" gets a lot narrower, so I'll shift for somewhat smaller climbs and changes in terrain. But trying to be in the "perfect gear" for every little variation in grade, or downshifting after losing some speed getting over an obstacle is overdoing it, IMO.

The point being that if instead of getting hung up on the tons of ratios available, new (or experienced) riders just think of their three (or two) chainrings, and use the cassette as more of a tuning adjustment, the whole thing suddenly becomes a lot simpler again. Granted, cross-chaining is a concern, and some new riders, especially on highly technical trails, may find they're really only using their granny ring most of the time, but for the most part, I think treating the drivetrain as having three gears, instead of boatloads of them, is actually a very rational and effective way to get all the advantages of a modern multispeed setup without spending the whole ride shifting and doing fractions problems.
 

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jackspade said:
Just go for gears, you can always have SS without shifting on the opposite you cannot 'shift' with SS since you only have pair of cog and chainring.

I ride SS, we actually have invisible shifters.
Agreed, It just doesn't make sense to me to waste all that energy riding SS. To me, SS is like pushing your car instead of driving it. WTF! Gears allow you to ride faster and further with a much more efficient use of energy. I like to let the gears do the work. I never think about what gear I should be in. I automatically shift when my body tells me to. It's like I have an automatic transmission.:thumbsup: Just like a car. The car senses a heavier load and it automatically downshifts. The car starts to spin out and it automatically upshifts.

In the terrain that I ride,running 2X8 gears beats me up enough. Actually, 99% of the time I only use my 26T granny with an 11X32 cassette. Rarely do I spin out and need a higher gear. Although at the beginning of the season, I sometimes wish I had a 22T granny.
 

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my first and only MTB is a rigid SS. I think ignorance is bliss. I am afraid of trying suspension and gears because it might make me spend lots more money!

If your friend is afraid of having to fiddle with derailleurs, SS is nice because you never had to worry about it. just get on the bike and ride.
 

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"Have him get a geared bike to learn and then have him stay in one gear for a day and seeif he likes it."... im not sure about you guys, but if i had a vast number of gears at my fingertips andi wsa told to keep it in one gear all day long and i came up upon a nasty, steep hillclimb id be shifting. I sold my geared cross country bike and now just ride Single Speed. Although you are limited on flat, fast areas. i feel it has made me a much faster and much more efficient rider. theres no being lazy and grany gearing the hills. its 110% all the time. if your friend is in good shape theni would have him go single speed. The simplicity is amazing. you dont have to worry abot bashing your $250 deraliuer off of a rock and being screwed for the rest of the ride. Just replace the brake pads, true the wheels every now and then and your golden!;)
 
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