Thursday, 29 November 2012

Derailed Thinking


I always wondered what the attraction was with single speed cycling.


It was always my belief that the more gears you had on your bike, the better it was. Back in the late 70s, I recall my dad buying me my first road racer. It was a Kalkhoff German machine with cotter less cranks, Weinmann centre pull brakes and 10 speed derailleur gears, yes 10!!! This was a massive step up from my previous bike, the Raleigh chopper, which only had a measly three gears.

My mates at the time were also upgrading from Choppers to road racers. My best mate Andrew Jones had a vary nice matt black Raleigh Record, 10 speed too.
The 3 speed Sturmey Archer internal hub gear grew to be the victim of much ridicule from us now that we had bikes with 'real' gears. After all, the Sturmey Archer was standard fit on the old 'sit up and beg' Rod Brake Roadster bikes that our granddads rode to work.

The introduction of the mountain bike in the 90's, as cycling was experiencing its second wind, further enforced the argument that the quantity of gears was directly proportional to the caliber of the bike.  
Gear envy was rife amongst the new breed of MTB masses. Not only was it the number of cogs on your chainring-cassette combo but the make. 
Throwing the brand name 'Shimano' into any conversation would also certainly boost your bicycle's status. "Oh, I've got Shimano gears in my bike". 


The Change


Then, there's the method for changing gears. On my old chopper it was made easy with the huge lever positioned in a console on the cross bar just like the throttle on a jumbo jet.
On road bikes, prior to the luxurious indexed flight deck integrated brake/gear levers, there were the paddles on the down tube that required an element of manual fine tuning to get the chain on the right cog without making that irritating noise. It still concerns me that some cyclists are oblivious to that chain noise caused by incorrectly engaged gears. They cycle for miles without realising.

So, we have established that gears are king - or are they? 




Last year I became intrigued with the whole single speed thing. Prior to this, I had little knowledge of this branch of cycling except from noticing that fixies had become most fashionable amongst the London messenger set. Once upon a time I got talking to a hardened cyclist in a bike shop and he impressed me by telling me how he cycled everyday from Stafford to Cannock   on a bike with only one gear. In fact I was more than impressed, I struggled to understand how this was possible.  Even closer to home, upon joining the #ShifnalCyclingSociety, our very own 936ADL would occasionally turn up for our social rides on his Langster but I never really paid much attention.

I began to wonder what it would be like to ride single speed and whether or not I would get any pleasure or benefit from it. More importantly, was I physically capable?

Experiment


My daily commute on the 27 speed Genesis Croix de Fer became a test bed for the single speed experience. The experiment involved riding the 10 miles round trip back and forth to work without changing gear. Most of the journey was spent with me out of the saddle in an attempt to turn the biggest gear possible. The result was indeed quite satisfying and synonymous to fell running in that it posed more of a challenge and required considerably more physical effort (I do enjoy a bit of a challenge). 

The conclusion from experimentation was that I really did fancy a go and I made the executive decision to acquire n+1, my first single speed (except for my Raleigh RSW11 which I had as a toddler).
 The online bike shops, including eBay, were trawled for many weeks before I eventually reached the verdict that the best option would be to go for a new On-One Pompino. A most versatile, aesthetically pleasing bike and great value for money. My decision was supplemented by 936ADL's comments in his posting The Pomp from September 2011 "A fantastic bike, I'd recommend to anyone who's after a no nonsense bike for all seasons".

n+1


In September we took a trip up to On-One bikes in Sheffield so that I could take a closer look at a Pompino. We were very impressed with the set-up of the establishment (big shop with lots on display) and the staff were very helpful. Unfortunately, there wasn't a blue Pompino in my size made up so I tried a white one for size. It felt great but I really wanted a blue one. After a few minutes of private deliberation, and much to the surprise of my wife who thought that I'd only gone to have a look, I agreed to buy one and drive back later that week to collect. Job done!
So we drove back to Sheffield two days later to collect my shiny new blue Pompino. 

My new Pompino
I've owned more than 20 bikes in my life but I can honestly say that, so far, the Pompino is my favorite. I love the look of it. I love the feel of it. I love its simplicity and I love riding it. 

In the eight weeks that I've had it I've ridden everyday to work and back. The morning rides (inspired by 936ADL) are so exciting that I find myself waking up and setting off earlier to get in a few more miles. I've never been one for getting up early but the Pomp has changed all of that! 
I've become a little addicted the 9% climb up Jiggers Bank out of The Ironbridge Gorge (it's probably close to the limit of the 48x16 setup, especially with loaded panniers). 

In those 8 weeks I've also treated the pomp to a few new bits. A longer stem, traditional dropped handlebars, red bar tape, leather saddle, mudguards, lights and the obligatory 16T White Industries ENO freewheel.

The Pomp in action Commuting through Ironbridge Gorge
My love affair with the single speed continues to grow as I develop a passion for the challenge and simplicity of cycling at its most basic.