Surly Singulator - Single-Speed Bike Conversion

There comes a time in the lifecycle of a bike when the cost to replace certain components becomes unjustifiable. New derailleurs, chainrings, cranks, bottom brackets, cassette gears and other parts can quickly add up to several hundred dollars in expenses.

I faced this very conundrum last month after deciding to resurrect an old 21-speed Schwinn mountain bike as a city cruiser. The bike, which had seen much abuse over the last ten years, had a crusty, barely functioning drivetrain and a frame flecked with rust.

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At a friend’s recommendation, I wheeled over to One on One Bicycle Studio in downtown Minneapolis for a diagnosis. Established in 2003 by former professional racer Gene Oberpriller, One on One caters to urban bike commuters, messengers and single-speed fanatics, so it was little surprise when the shop recommended I convert the Schwinn to a single-speed configuration.

To do this, the bike mechanics would need to add one new component — a Surly Singulator chain tensioner — and remove about a pound of superfluous gears, shifters, derailleurs and other parts. The final product would be a streamlined bike with one speed.

In addition to saving on costs, the single-speed setup would require little maintenance and upkeep, as moving parts are minimized. Typically, drivetrain tune-ups are the No. 1 expense and headache for bikers; this setup would eliminate those issues pretty much altogether.

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With one speed, there’d no longer be downshifting on the uphills, which could at times be annoying. But for the most part when commuting and biking around town I rarely change gears anyway.

After removing the rear cassette, adding some spacers and cutting off the extra front chainrings, the shop added the Surly Singulator ($50, www.surlybikes.com). This component acts like a rear derailleur arm to keep tension on the chain so that it does not slip on the gears.

As a final step, we sanded and spray painted the frame black to cover the unsightly paint chips, rust streaks and early-‘90s color scheme.

Total cost of the job was about $100, with $60 going to parts and $40 to labor. This is an average price for a basic single-speed conversion, according to One on One. (In most towns, there will be bike shops more attuned to the single-speed movement, so call around for some bids if you go ahead with a similar project.)

The end result of my Schwinn upgrade is a solid, skimmed-down bike that will make a worthy all-weather commuter while standing up to several more years of abuse.

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