Are Single-Speed Bikes More Efficient Than Other Bikes?

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I have been riding single-speed bikes for over 20 years and they are some of the most fun bikes to ride. They feature a single gear, meaning there are no shifters, derailleurs, or complicated drive train mechanics. Does the simplified mechanics mean single-speed bikes more efficient than other bikes?

Are Single-Speed Bikes More Efficient Than Other Bikes? Single-speed bikes are more mechanically efficient. No derailleurs, shifters, shifter cables, and additional gears means less friction and less weight. 

Since I have been asked this question quite a bit, I will go into detail as to why single-speed bikes are considered more efficient (and fun) than other bikes. We will also cover some of the single speed advantages and disadvantages and when they might be a good fit for you.

Single-speed bikes don’t have the extra weight of additional gears, derailleurs, derailleur pulleys, shifters, and extra cables. Without these components the bike becomes lighter with less pedaling resistance. On flat terrain, single-speed bikes need less effort to operate.

Besides, single-speed bikes have a gear train that runs the chain in a “straight” line from the chain wheel to the sprocket. The implication is that there is bend in then chain, less wind resistance.

Additionally, there is less friction from the longer chain, derailleurs, and pulleys as found in multiple geared bikes.

On a flat surface, reaching high speed means more power is required in multi-speed bikes, making them less efficient compared to single-speed bikes.

Types of Single-Speed Bikes

There are two main variations to single speed bikes:

  • Freewheel Bikes: These feature a freely rotating cog mounted at the rear wheel. The mechanism allows the bike to coast while the cranks are not spinning when the bike is in motion. This type of bike is popular among beginners as one is less likely to halt the bike with the wrong leg movement accidentally.
  • Fixed Gear Bikes: The second variation drivetrain features a fixed rear gear. Here the cranks keep spinning any time the bike is moving. Since there is no freewheel, an experienced rider can slow or stop the bike using the pedals. Fixed Gear Bikes are also more efficient than traditional bikes. Fixed rear gear bikes are popular with city riders and the cool kids.
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Advantages of Single Speed Bikes

Single-speed bikes, both the freewheel and fixed rear gear bikes have their unique advantages, and some of the main ones include the following:

Low Maintenance

Photo by Tom Conway on Unsplash

Single-speed bikes are considered bomb proof when compared to other bikes due to their minimalist design. The more components you have, the more items there are to break.

Under regular use and care, there is little that can break on a single-speed bike. The minimalist design also means that there are fewer parts that need replacing compared to multi-speed bikes.

Single speeds are popular because they lack derailleurs, which makes them more resilient to off-road riding. For example, if you are a big fan of off-road riding, you don’t have to worry about a bad landing and bending the derailleur and messing up the alignment.

More Affordable

Single-speed bikes are often more pocket friendly compared to multi-speed bikes. You will also find that their affordability transcends the bike’s initial purchase price as there is also little to spend on repairs.

In most brand new multi-speed bikes, a significant part of the cost is attributed to the drivetrain, including shifters, derailleurs, cassette, cables, crankset, and housing. Most of these parts don’t exist on a single-speed, which explains the bike’s lower overall retail price.

The overall maintenance cost is also considerably lower because you don’t replace parts found in multi-speed bikes. For example, you won’t have to replace a bent derailleur because single speed bikes don’t have them.

Lightweight

The lower number of components also translates to lower bike weight. If you live in a city, the lower weight can be particularly appealing due to ease of movement. You will realize that it is easier to accelerate on a flat surface, partly thanks to the lower weight.

Single-speed bikes can have a weight difference of several pounds compared to multi-speed bikes.  Riding a lighter bike requires less power.

A lighter bike is also easier to lift and carry. For those who live in a story building where they frequently have to carry a bike up and down the stairs, you might consider going for a considerably lighter single-speed.

Storing

Storing a single-speed bike is easier since you can manipulate it in tight spaces because it’s lightweight. Such a factor is particularly crucial if you live in urban areas where space can be tight. With a light bike, you can carry it to and from your apartment with relatively little effort.

It's Practical All Year-Round

For most people, riding a bicycle is a daily routine. It can be taking a ride to work or for exercise. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where winter doesn’t hit too hard, you have nothing to worry about.

However, for those who live in areas with a colder winter season, riding multi-speed bikes can get frustrating, particularly for those with bikes not suited for the area. Single-speed bikes don’t have many parts that are susceptible to snow, salt, and sand, found in winter-time.

Single-speed bikes are also easier to clean due to the minimalistic design. They are also less likely to get damaged when cleaning. On the other hand, multi-geared bikes get all clogged up, particularly in parts such as the derailleur, which stops them from operating optimally.

If you want to ride through varied weather conditions, then a single speed is the most practical option.

Photo by Solé Bicycles on Unsplash

Physical Fitness

Riding a bike is a great way to work out. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you not only reach your destination but also meet your fitness goals. In a world where a sedentary lifestyle is becoming increasingly common, any good reason to get our bodies active is welcome.

Single-speed bikes are great for fitness enthusiasts because they don’t have various gears that can make a ride easier. This applies more so in hilly terrain where more effort is needed to ride. In rough terrain, a single-speed can, therefore, provide you with a better workout.

Disadvantages

Despite the numerous advantages of single-speed bikes, they also come with some disadvantages, and they include the following.

Riding in Hilly Terrain

By now, you might be wondering how a single-speed bike fairs up a hill and whether you can ride one to the top. This is a common concern given the apparent limitations of a single-speed on hilly terrain. Indeed you need less effort to go up a hill in a multi-speed bike than a single speed.

But once you have mastered the technique of gaining momentum on a single speed, it gets surprisingly much easier than expected to go up a hill. Sure, the first couple of hills will be a challenge, but you will definitely get the hang of it over time.

They're Not Versatile

One of the main disadvantages associated with single-speed bikes is the lack of versatility. In a variety of terrains, the multi-gear bikes are unmatched. On hilly terrain, multi-speed bikes are perfect in matching ideal cycling speed with the hill’s slope the rider is facing.

Conclusion

With the lack of gears and more parts to break, Single Speeds are more mechanically efficient. More of the power from your legs goes into pushing the bike forward and does not get lost in friction and extra weight on the bike.

In addition to being more efficient they generally are less expensive, easier to maintain, and break less. Plus riding single speed bikes is lots of fun.

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