Fitness is a big part of it. There's also limits with gearing. On my trails, some climbs are extremely difficult and I have to walk, other times I spin out on the flats. I don't ride SS as my primary bike, so the fitness and endurance isn't there.
My old college roommate got a SS for his first mountain bike. He's an avid BMXer and seems to have no trouble so far.
Singlespeed is a bit different...
It does not have to come down to fitness level, but it might. Depends on what kind of trails you have available.
I live in a very good place for SS, I think: climbs are relatively short, so that I can get to the top before I burst a lung or pull a muscle. The "other side" is either steep or twisty enough that I don't really miss any additional speed I might get by pedaling in a tall gear.
Obviously, riding singlespeed you do not worry about shifting, gear selection, smashed derailers, etc.
In the rough but flat spots, or uphills, a singlespeeder needs to maintain momentum and that would be difficult if you have no experience coping with rough spots.
Riding behind a more experienced rider is a great way to learn trails riding. Singlespeed makes that more difficult, unless the other rider is also riding SS: a singlespeeder often needs to go fast where a "gearie" wants to go slow, or the other way round.
I am a relative beginner, and I ride a single speed and I like it other than the up hills. The thing about speed is pretty true I bike considerably faster than everyone else I see on the trail riding geared bikes. My friends who got me into riding and riding a single speed are way faster than me but they have been doing it for 10 years. My Road bike is also a single speed just a much harder gearing. My MTB is 32 up front and 18 in the back and I am not sure what my road is something like 48-18.
As a beginner, an SS will probably make you a strong rider, physically and skill-wise, in a hurry. Momentum and picking proper lines on the trail are much more important when you have only one gear. If you're riding fully rigid (which is super fun btw) it's even more important. It adds a fun new challenge to riding.
That said, for me, if I could only have one bike it wouldn't be a rigid or hard tail single speed. If I could have two or more, then I think it would be a great idea. Where I live and ride, I would be missing out on a lot of great rides if I had only an SS.
I rode my first-ever real bike race Monday night, short-track XC, beginner women class.
I did it on a 15-year-old Kona that I set up cheaply as a SS (38x22 -- it's what I had on hand -- but that may change). I did it with super-aggressive flat pedals, extra pins and Vans skate shoes. I had a fantastic time, even if I did have to do a couple of the hills as run-ups (good training for 'cross, right?). The scene was welcoming, friendly and refreshingly unpretentious. Everyone laughed and joked and had a great time.
I finished 22 out of 25 beginners and I was one of only three in my group racing SS. Had I signed up for my Masters age group (Women 45+) I would've been the ONLY one riding a SS bike. Eventually I'd like to get fast enough to upgrade out of Beginner class, but I expect that will take time and practice.
I'm 46, a daily lifelong bike commuter and occasional randonneur rider; and last rode in dirt on a 20" kids' Huffy BMX bike -- 35 years ago before BMX was a sanctioned sport in my area.
It's amazing what the body remembers about riding one gear and bike-handling.
I'm committed to SS from here on out. It's a BLAST.
Single speed is where it's at. IMO...it can be easier than geared and it can definitely be harder. I like it because it's simple. Back like in the days when you were a kid. Jump on the bike and pedal and not think about it. Just ride. No gears to worry about. Just fun. Kinda frees you in a way. Fitness is important on any bike. If you don't have it...gear for it. As you ride, you'll gain the fitness you need. Takes time but it comes. I'm a big fat arse currently riding 32/18 getting ready to start 32/17. I also just ordered a SSCX frame so I'll be hammer the roads a lot more ss. Can't wait!
Got my SS down from the hook tonight and pumped up her tires, taking her for a spin tomorrow. Haven't ridden her in over a year and looking forward to it. She has V brakes and a 120 stem, should be fun. I rode her often until last summer when my newer bikes (as in newer to me) caught my attention (and a few parts off of her). She has the "magic ratio" where she doesn't need a chain tensioner, I think she is 32/16. She's really zippy!
And I also have a SSCX, an old Gunnar Streetdog. I've run her fixed ever since I got the cog, though she has a free/fixed hub. She only has 25s so she sticks to the roads and granite dust paths. Both of my SSes have been powder coated and have zero decals, the mountain bike is orange and the Gunnar is white.
Ive been on a few rides and its freakn hard! But I know its a great work out and will payoff in the long run. Im riding the single speed mostly for fitness and sure enough im seeing how unfit i am.
my ride will get better as soon as i replace the rear tire with a semi slick
Pros: can't be lazy, usually take better lines, anticipate what is ahead, better chain line, simplicity.
Cons: it can be exhausting depnding on the hills and grades you have and even demoralizing at times, rear wheel slippage is aggravating and maybe you get lucky with a magic gear but unlikely, the simpliocity aspect can be total BS if you have meidocre hardware for the droputs or if you use an EBB and it is a design that sucks.
If you are considering it then go for it, you will be "all-In" on mountain biking. I got burned out on it after abouit 18 months and went back to gears as the clibs were tough and I ran 32/21. YMMV
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