It’s been a while since I’ve been mountain biking. Before my first Jack and Back (which I count as what got me started road biking) I used to mountain bike all the time. Me and some co-workers would cut out of work early on beautiful days and head out. At that time, I didn’t realize I couldn’t really turn the pedals. I did wonder how those guys in tight pants could fly up those hills. It was because they rode road as well. I digress…
Well, on Saturday some friends were heading to Lock 4. Since I don’t have a mountain bike any more, a buddy had a single speed mountain bike for sale and I figure I’d try it. I was a little intimidated. My friends ride off road fairly often. It’s been since the 2006 HBC Ocoee trip since I’ve gotten tires dirty. One friend talked about having to wait up for a guy on a SS on another trip.
So, we all gathered on the gravel parking lot. I installed my SPD pedals and did a few laps around the parking lot to get a feel for the bike, a GT Peace, 32×19, no suspension front or back, mechanical disc brakes. Normally set up as a 29er, this GT Peace is set up as a 26er. The handle bars are a little wide, the 2.3" tires a little fatter than my old Hutchison Pythons I used to ride. Off we went into the woods.
I took up the back spot thinking I would slow everyone down. First thing I noticed was that no suspension will cause the front steering to buck around, therefore the wide handlebars. I can imagine with 29" wheels it can really buck on fast rough downhills.
Lock 4 has no epic climbs. The SS was perfect for the terrain. Nothing was too long to keep me from standing up and pumping up the uphills. Downhill, I could keep my speed but I couldn’t add any because of the low single gear. On rough downhill, I did have to slow down because of the bucking. I just need to pick my line better and stay loose.
On the technical uphills – switchbacks, rocks and roots, the lack of suspension was a serious advantage. With front suspension, you stand up and the front end sinks, causing the front end to stick on bumps. I would have never believed it until Saturday. Many of the sections that I remember catching me at Lock 4 were no problem at all on the Peace. I could stand up and pump through just about any of the technical sections. I rode almost everything.
OK, so my hands got really cramped hanging onto the handlebars because of the rigid front end. My shoulders are aching. My back muscles are exhausted. But, I never got dropped. I think it was because I had to keep my momentum up and I picked my lines very carefully. It’s not because I’m a great pedaler. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been on a real bike ride since November 4 at Jill’s bonfire! And, I ran the Boulevard Dash on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and my legs have been killing me for days! Maybe I just had a good day.
So, for $300, I now own a single speed mountain bike. It will be a great way to spend some cold weekend days turning the pedals. And I won’t have to listen to all the mountain biking stories. Hopefully I’ll be telling them.
UPDATE: I originally wrote this back in early December 2008. Since then, I’ve ridden twice more – once at Montgomery Bell SP In White Bluff with Paul Kitchen, and once with SiAnte at Bowie in Fairview. Montgomery Bell kicked my butt. Some of those long climbs made me feel like I had just started riding a bike. Though it may sound bad, it’s not. It inspires me to ride harder to get back to the same feeling of riding those hills on a geared bike. Long live the singlespeed!