Minimize the Maintenance
There are many reasons you might want to buy or build a single speed.
- They’re cooler,
- they’re more fun,
- there is less to break,
And in Chapter 2 of Singlespeed and Free Wheel, I talk about – it’s cheaper.
Enter my early 2000s Gary Fisher Wingra. This bike is the skinniest tire ride the I own and one that I’ve been unable to sell even though it always comes up as the one most likely to be pushed out of the stable when a new bike comes in. It’s not a great bike, it’s not a bad bike. There is nothing particularly cool about it. It’s not a clunker, it’s not vintage, it isn’t really desirable in any sort of way other than it is from the time before Trek killed off the Gary Fisher brand. But what this bike is – it’s simple, it’s consistent, it’s efficient, and maybe most importantly – it’s inexpensive.
I bought this bike for a commuter about 15 or 20 years ago before I knew a whole lot about bikes. It came with gears and I think it was maybe around $400 retail. The shifters and derailleur were cheapies. The wheels aren’t great but they worked. The frame is aluminum. The rim brakes work fine. I think the fenders cost around $20 for the set. The sales guy actually tried to talk me out of this bike due to my size and reputation for being extremely un-gentle with bikes, and everything in general. I’ve replaced a lot of spokes and the seat a few times, but the obvious weak link for a bike is this price range is the drive train.
I assume it was originally a 2x something, obviously not even memorable. When the time quickly came to replace it, I decided this would be a scenario where less is definitely more. What does it mean to “upgrade” anyway? Could I get a more robust cassette and chainrings? Sure. Should I try to make sense of the levels of quality associated to the weird ass names that Shimano allocates to the better stuff? Should I go with Sora or Tiagra? Maybe Ultegra? Maybe Allegra (ask your doctor) Duregra Super-egra – Godzill-egra and Mecha Godzill-egra 2000? I didn’t know enough then to make a quality decision and maybe I still don’t today, but this “upgrade” consisted of minimizing the maintenance. The cassette became spacers and a surly chain ring. The derailleur went away and the dangly space became the hang out spot for a surly single-ator.
After the drive chain change, this bike became a way better ride for me. I can trust this bike and it goes just as fast or slow as I can pedal. I’ve knocked out a couple Almonzo 100s on this steed and a shit ton of commuting. I have confidence on gravel climbs where I used to worry about a slip and no more hesitation if I could put the power down after a shift underload. It doesn’t make any weird sounds or creaks and if there ever is a problem it will be easy to diagnose. This bike has seen a shit ton of gravel and spent a lot of time tied up outside of the bars. And sometimes, not tied up. With the minimal investment I have in my Wingra, this is still a bike that I would hate to have stolen, but also wouldn’t mind trying to hunt down if it did find it’s way to someone else’s garage.
If you have an old bike that you’ve not ridden in a while because it is old tech, I encourage you to simplify your ride and try removing the shifty bits. Breath some life into it by taking some complexity out of it. This is one of my most comfortable bikes and I don’t think I could have achieved this kind of result with a ground up build of the best stuff I could afford. No, this came about by keeping the stuff that worked and replacing the stuff that I couldn’t count on, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.