I’m trying to answer that question for myself, and I’m not entirely sure I will like the answer - not one bit.
I went for a ride with a group of friends today in Harold Parker State Forest, one of my favorite places to ride, for a sum total of about three hours. I’m sore in all the ways I should be, including one that I’m especially not psyched about. My right knee is really bothering me.
As a cyclist, I’m no stranger to knee pain. It’s always been just one of those things that I expect to come along with the sport - what with all the crashing involved in BMX and mountainbiking. I’ve ridden my share of over-geared [sweet] fixies and ridden in the cold in shorts, and everything else one should avoid if long-term knee health is something of even a passing interest. It’s been something I’ve brushed off over and over, but after today, the pain is just too much. Now, I’m afraid it’s time to make a decision. Is one just not enough, anymore?
I enjoy riding singlespeed. I enjoy it for all the reasons you’ve heard. I’m not afraid to tell you that I like it for the way people look at my bike or for the nods-of-approval from other singlespeeders or for the occasional, “Dude, you did that on a singlespeed?!” Beyond all of that, though, I like singlespeed as an equipment choice. As a professional mechanic, when time rolls around that I can spend some quality time with my own bike, I like it to be with wheels-on-the-ground, as opposed to seatpost-clamped-in-a-repair-stand. My single-geared, rigid bike with cable-actauted disc brakes doesn’t require a lot of maintenance and that’s just the way I like it. This is how my pre-ride ritual goes:
1) Oil the chain
2) Pump the tires
3) Squeeze the brakes
4) Bounce the bike (if it sounds like a basketball, it’s good - I can tell you more about that, later)
I don’t have to worry about checking sag or when was the last time the brakes were bled or did I smack a derailleur on the last ride. I just get on the damned bike and go. Great, yes? No.
My devotion to simple thrills is wreaking havoc on my joints. My wrists and elbows seem to deal with the rigidity portion of the equation just fine, but my knees can’t hack the harshness of their workload anymore. I’d gear down, but then I’d be working harder and spinning faster on the flat bits and the downish bits. Plus I begin to wonder whether gearing down and letting myself spin more on the climbs would limit my ability to bump and float over rocks and roots, bringing suspension back into the picture, but that’s just getting ahead of myself. The root point of it all is I don’t want to be forced into ending my ability to ride, altogether, by being a bullheaded stalwart.
Much as I love it, I think time may have come to let go of my beloved SOMA and give derailleurs a go.