The only thing you can’t do on a single-speed bike is change gear. As the name suggests, there’s just one gear in a single speed’s drivetrain, making it lighter, less complicated and easier to maintain. You can freewheel but if you want to go faster you have to pedal faster.
Such a basic drivetrain makes it easier for you to work on your leg speed and leg strength. That’s not to say you can’t work on them without a single speed; you can develop them both just as effectively on a geared bike simply by not shifting – just because you have more than one gear doesn’t mean you have to use them. It’s just easier on a single speed because the ‘bail-out’ option of bigger sprockets has been removed.
A single-speed bike can improve your leg speed because to go faster you have to increase your cadence. Increasing your cadence not only teaches your leg muscles to contract quicker, it also makes your heart and lungs work harder to sustain the increased rate of pedalling. You develop the muscle coordination that’s required for a fast, fluid pedalling action (often referred to as ‘souplesse’) and your cardiovascular system becomes better at handling this work rate.
You can build leg strength using a single speed by climbing hills. Without the bail-out of easier gears, all you have to get up the climb is your legs. So rather than spinning a bigger sprocket, a single speed forces you to keep turning whatever gear you have with whatever strength there is in your legs. And the more you do it, the more strength there will be.
Potential pitfalls can come in the shape of knee problems, possibly as a result of the extra strain needed to climb with a single speed. If you’re already clocking up trouble-free training miles, however, it would seem this isn’t a concern for you. But for anyone considering training on a single speed, such problems can be avoided by choosing the right size gear and carefully setting up your position, especially your pedals and cleats.
When it comes to gear selection, it’s always worth erring on the side of caution. Going for an easier gear will ensure you’re able to ride it even when you’re knackered and miles from home. Local bike shops can offer more specific advice on gear selection, provided they have a clear description of the severity of the hills you intend to ride and of your fitness levels.
Should you swap your single-speed steed for a geared bike? If it’s just a training machine and it’s not holding you back, there’s no reason for you to change.