Single speed mountain bikes have a reputation in mountain biking circles as being ‘hardcore.’ This isn’t entirely true. Yes, as a gearless bike, the single speed forces you to work harder and smarter to ride up steep hills and keep your momentum throughout long, obstacle-ridden trails. But, you don’t have to be an expert mountain biker to master a fixed gear, and as any veteran rider knows, there are a lot of great reasons to ride a single speed. Chiefly, the simplicity of a single speed means less maintenance and upkeep. It also means you can splurge on other bike features–like the frame, tires or brakes–with the money saved by forgoing an expensive gear system.
Riders loyal to single speeds claim the riding experience to be superior to any other. It’s a quieter ride (without the scraping and clanking of gears), a far better workout and a much purer form of mountain biking. Without the a gear system helping you maneuver through tricky areas and bolster your speed as your legs get tired, you need to stay completely focused on your riding and in harmony with your machine. For beginners, riding a single speed bike is a crash course into the core tenets and techniques of mountain biking. For pros, single speed riding offers a new and exciting challenge.
Top 3 Best Single Speed Mountain Bikes
Nashbar Single Speed Mountain Bike
This budget bike is an incredible deal. For under $500, you get a quality single speed featuring an incredibly durable 6061 aluminum frame, resistant to corrosion and rust. This Nashbar single speed is a hardtail with front, chrome-forked suspension, ensuring a stable ride with few vibrations. One of this bike’s best features is its set of large, 29-inch wheels paired with speedy WTB Nano Sport tires. Most budget bikes at this price point feature outdated rim brakes, but not his single speed. You’ll find mechanical disk brakes that offer superior control when your single speed starts gaining momentum. The winning wheel combination, durable frame and quality brake system make it a perfect single speed for cross country and enduro riders alike.
State Bicycle Co Pulsar Mountain Bike
This one-of-a-kind single speed is the product of an incredible collaborations between renowned cyclist and bike artist Dustin Klein and quality manufacturers, State Bicycle Co. At first glance, the Pulsar single speed makes an impression, featuring bold black and white graphics.
But this single speed is more than a pretty face, featuring an impressive steel frame and large 29-inch wheels. The Pulsar comes in a standard version, which features a rigid frame, or one without any suspension. A rigid ride is best for cross country riders who are looking for less intense trails. On the other hand, the Pulsar Deluxe features a full suspension frame, perfect for everything from paved paths to intense downhill races.
Both standard and deluxe feature a stellar option to easily transform your single speed into a geared bike using additional cable guide hardware included on the bike. The flexibility of switching from single speed to geared is like getting two bikes, each offering a completely unique riding experience, for the price of one.
Gravity G29 FS Single Speed Mountain Bike
Gravity bikes are known for their superior geometry to make for a faster, easier ride, and the G29 FS is no exception. The backbone of this single speed is its 6061 Hydroformed Aluminum Frame followed by an excellent front suspension system. This hardtail uses the Suntour 29er Lockout Fork to stabilize your ride absorb any turbulence before it takes its toll on your joints.
Disc brakes and 29-inch tires mean you should have no reservations about taking this single speed on difficult trails.
A question every rider should ask themselves before investing in a new machine is, “What type of riding will I be riding most?” Your answer will tell you a lot about the features your new bike will need. A single speed is better suited for certain riding disciplines, but will work for any provided you choose your other features wisely.
A lot of mountain bikes will be recommended for a specific riding discipline based on their design.
Cross country riding is probably the most common mountain biking discipline. It involves trail riding through natural pathways or man-made trails in semi-secluded areas. Cross country trails can vary greatly, but often involve winding climbs, short downhill slopes and a lot of natural obstacles including rocks, logs, waterways and more.
For cross country trails, you’ll probably want your single speed to have front suspension, but can skip the back suspension unless you are a dedicated rider with time and money to spare. Front suspension bikes, known as hardtails, remain the most common suspension type and are significantly cheaper than full suspension machines.
Downhill rider is the discipline of adrenaline junkies. Downhill riding typically involves being carted to the top of a peak and racing down the steep slope on your bike, dodging dangerous obstacles the entire way down.
Downhill riders should invest in a chain guard for their single speed, and a quality set of safety pads. Downhill riders should also consider full suspension frames to help absorb some of the shock of downhill riding.
Enduro / All Mountain
Very similar to cross country riding, enduro mountain biking happens mostly in mountainous landscapes. The jumps are higher, the drops are bigger and the trails are longer. Stability and durability are crucial for enduro riders, because you can be sure their bikes will take a beating on some of the more unforgiving mountain trails.
If you plan on doing a lot of enduro riding, consider pairing your single speed with large, 29-inch tires which will help you tear through tough terrain. Also, consider a steel or aluminum frame for increased durability. A steel frame can weight down a standard mountain bike, but single speeds are much lighter than standard bikes so you can invest in a heavier-duty frame.
Riding a single speed means being one with your bike. Without the extra bells and whistles, the minimally designed rig heavily relies on your skill as a rider–rather than an expensive gear system– to conquer the trail.
Because you must completely be in-tune with your new single speed bike, finding a proper fit is paramount. Most bike frames come in a variety of sizes, but only one is the correct fit for you. Often, the price varies from size to size, but choosing the less expensive size to save money instead of choosing the right size is a mistake. Keep in mind, an ill-fitting bike will be more difficult to ride, and generally needs more repairs, costing you money in the long run.
To find the most accurate size, you should always look at the bike manufacturer’s official size chart (just about every company has one) and pay special attention to any weight restrictions. That said, you can refer to the sizing chart below to get a general idea of what size you are and how large your frame should be.
- Extra Small: These are 13-14 inches in size and typically fit riders between 5’ and 5’4”
- Small: These are 14-16 inches in size and typically fit riders between 5’4” and 5’ 7”
- Medium: These are 16-18 inches in size and typically fit riders between 5’7” and 5’10”
- Large: These are 18-20 inches in size and typically fit riders between 5’10” and 6’1”
- Extra Large: These are 20-22 inches in size and typically fit riders taller than 6’1”
One of the perks of owning a single speed is customizing it. Single speeds are akin to a blank slate, full of possibility. Because they are a lower price point and are made inherently lightweight, you have a lot of room on your bike and in your budget to sweeten your ride.
Consider a bike pack or bottle cage which come in handy on those long, tiresome rides through secluded forest trails. Most bikers doing any extended period of riding will also invest in a seat saddle mitigate discomfort on particularly bumpy or intrepid rides.
Aside from accessories, you can take your single speed to a local bike shop to have them outfit it with any number of hardware flourishes. From suspension to brakes to tires, you can enhance your bike by adding more functionality.
Single speeds are nothing to be afraid of. Riding a gearless bike puts you in a fearless, focused and adventurous state-of-mind, and you may even find yourself more confident and secure on your single speed as a result. With so many variables, finding the right single speed can be tricky, but by asking yourself a few simple questions before buying, you can guarantee a great riding experience.