Keeping in front of those one-geared wunderkinds
Eight hours into the gnarly technicality of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race, I’m feeling battered and bounced into oblivion. My Gary Fisher HiFi boasts almost 5-inches of suspension front and back to “float” over the rocks and roots, and I have 27 gears to get me up those steep trails. Yet, inside, I’m begging for mercy. Then some dude on a single-speed bike with no suspension passes me on the next climb. Actually, that would be inaccurate. Most of those singlespeed riders passed me on the first nasty climb of the race. I’ll only see them back at the finish when they’re collecting prizes for taking most of the top spots overall.
How can a single-speeder be faster?
-Momentum: Single-speed riders rely on momentum to move quickly. Because of their one gear, restarting requires a lot of energy, and may take more time than someone with a working drive train. So SSers like to keep rolling once they’re on pace. This is even more true when paired with 29″ wheels, as many SS bikes are. On climbs, the SSer has incentive to keep the hammer down and maintain his momentum. This is easier the faster he pedals. Think of riding in your big chain ring up front. Geared riders often slow down and try to spin in an easier gear on prolonged climbs. Single-speeders will pass them on these climbs if they are rideable. “Momentum’s key for a single-speeder in other ways; keep your momentum on the rolling hills, especially the short steep ones. And truly I’m only working half the time compared to the geared guys. I work on climbs, but every where else I’m drafting off of them and recovering,” says single-speed champion Fuzzy Mylne.
-It’s not the shoes: In Michael Jordan’s heyday, Nike used to run commercials quipping “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Well, those single-speeders that are rocking their way to the podium would be really fast on geared bikes too. Additionally, riding a single-speed bike all day takes a special form of tolerance for discomfort. So does marathon racing. So the SSers are suited to the event.
-The Law of Averages: Successful single-speed riders try to maintain momentum and pace, to make their riding easier. So, if their gearing is higher than the average of your gear switching, and they push that gear to a consistent max, they will outpace you. SSers don’t lose time on shifting, they get up to speed and try to stay at speed. Better single-speed riders adjust their gearing to be as efficient as possible depending on their strengths (spinning versus stomping).
Poor conditions are a chance to gear down to pass up SSers
How to beat single-speeders in an epic event:
-Big Ring – Play to your advantages. One of your biggest is that large chain ring up front. Every chance you have, level trail, slight descent, downhill … run the big ring and crank it hard. Every turn you make in the big ring is an advantage over the single-speeders with their smaller gearing. To win in the battle of average speed, you have to up your average. Pedal in the big ring past the point of pain. If you need inspiration to keep going, look back and see how far back the nearest single-speeder is.
-Granny Gear - Sense a theme? On those long technical climbs, leverage your easier gears to make ground on the single-speeders. Any section that disallows a steady pace (i.e. rock gardens, tight switching climbs, roots) is where you can whip out your granny gear and flog the SSers with it. Soft ground or poor conditions are another place where you can gear down and keep pedaling while the single-speeders walk. This only makes sense if you can up your average speed over the SSers. If you’re spinning away like a mad hamster, and they’re keeping up with you on foot, then you’re not heeding our final tip on beating Single-speed riders:
-Efficiency – Learning to spin efficiently will mean you’re getting the most out of your +20 gears. Shifting at the optimal time leads to less gear grinding and chances for the dreaded chain suck. Keep your drive train in prime condition with lots of TLC. Improve your strength and style so you can push a harder gear on the climbs and save that Granny Gear for super technical and steep stuff.
Thoughts for the trail: Put in the miles, pushing bigger gears and mastering your shifting. Boost your technical skills and stop and start riding skills to take advantage of trail sections that will disrupt SSers momentum. Be ready that local single-speeders will know the trail better than you and will be ready to compensate for the momentum loss. Watch and learn from how they tackle those sections. You can apply it to your riding. Remember, we’re all part of the mountain biking culture, and we all succeed or fail together. So, if you haven’t tried one, get on a single-speed and see what it’s like. SSers, keep pushing the envelope of what we can do on one-geared cycles. I know I’ll continue to see mono-coggers on the podium at epic race events.
©2010 Big Mountain Riding