Single-speed bikes are the cycling trend from left field, the impossibly illogical populist fad that has in the past couple years put hundreds of thousands of people on bikes with just one steady, often slow, speed. And I’m one of them.
The single-speed craze is not difficult to delineate: These bikes are efficient, lightweight, low maintenance, clean-looking, and often far less expensive than their gear-laden cousins. They do the job for the common biker tootleing around town. Spin the pedals, and go.
In the past couple of years, I have covered the Raleigh Rush Hour, Wabi Cycles Lightning, the Co-Motion Streaker, the Surly Singulator (for a single-speed bike conversion), and the Kona Paddy Wagon, which is reviewed below and here.
Single-speed bikes — and the urban bike-messenger crowd to which they’re yoked — also have garnered a cool factor that’s been compared to the zeitgeist of the surfing or skateboarding culture circa 1995. The little biker beanies, knickers, seatbelt-buckle-equipped messenger bags, and other subtle styles of the scene are, for better or worse, moving out beyond the indie world, toward a mainstream-culture acceptance as valid and neat.
So what’s an aspiring single-cog-cranker to do? I built my own single-speed a couple years back, trimming a well-loved mountain bike down to a skeletal status, ditching chainrings and cogs, and leaving just one gear in back with the chain wrapped around a tensioner unit.
But bikes like the Kona Paddy Wagon (www.konaworld.com), a new model that sells for $649, now offer quick entrance into the single-speed scene.
Let me gush a little bit: This is a great bike, a clean and smooth ride, strong, simple, and fast enough. It’s geared just appropriately perfect for speed and hill-conquering ability, something missing from other single-speed setups I’ve tested as of late.
Many single-speed bikes err on the side of easy pedaling, using gear/chainring ratios that spin out once any kind of substantial speed is obtained. But the Paddy Wagon comes set with a 42-tooth chainring and a 16-tooth freewheel in back, letting you power up past 20 miles-per-hour.
Bonus: The rear wheel of the Paddy Wagon has a fixed cog opposite its freewheel gear, letting you flip the wheel around to switch hit as a fixie rider. This fixed-gear configuration works like a unicycle or a child’s tricycle, lacking freewheel spin, which is the component that allows the rear wheel to spin independent of the drivetrain while coasting.
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