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I need to decide between a single-speed and multiple-speed bike.

I usually ride multiple-speed mountain/city bikes in the highest gear anyway (around town). They're not intended for that, and doing so will wear out those cogs faster than the other unused ones.

But I assume that single-speed parts are designed with this more in mind?

Ignoring the other pros and cons of single-speed bikes:

Is it better for the long-term to get a single-speed bike; or is there no significant difference in the longevity of the cogs, chain, and so on?


(Of course it will depend on the quality of the actual parts and how they're used, but let's assume that all parts are from a good, original equipment manufacturer, and are used for daily commuting, ~30min.)

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In general, the chain and cogs on a single-speed are thicker and wear more slowly. Plus you can wear single-speed cogs down much further before they begin to skip. (This is a poor reason to make the choice between single-speed and multi-speed, however) –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 24 '13 at 22:51
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@DanielRHicks: Yes, all that. Also, if you have even tooth counts front and back you can wear things down much further before there's any skipping. –  freiheit Apr 24 '13 at 22:53
    
@DanielRHicks, thanks, but why is it a poor reason? –  Baumr Apr 25 '13 at 9:24
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Because the difference is insignificant. On a multi you have to replace the chain roughly every 2000 miles and the rear cassette every 5000 miles. On the single, while you should replace on about the same schedule (maybe even earlier for the rear sprocket), you can likely stretch it out to double those intervals (though with some increased friction) since shifting will not become a problem, and "chain suck" not a serious one. It's just not enough difference to bother with, especially considering that the parts for the single may actually cost more. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 25 '13 at 11:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd transform the comparison between single-speed vs. multi-speed(derailer) to SINGLE-CHAINLINE(single, fixed, or internal-geared-hub) vs derailed(assumed always multi-speed).

Then, there are ONLY advantages for the single-chainline bike:

  • Overall material is thicker. On the other hand, the need to pack a lot of gears in a cassette requires that the cogs are relatively thin, and so the chain, and that means wearing out faster;
  • Chainline is usually away from the rear wheel. On the other hand, the lower gears of a derailed bike make the chain get very close to the rear tire and get more dirt (MUCH more dirt in case of a fat-tired knobby mountainbike slowly building up mud during an off-road climb in the granny gear);
  • The chain doesn't catch so much road grime, (because) in the other hand, derailed bikes literally rub the chain against cogs in order to shift. Also, the cogs that ARE NOT being used keep exposing their oiled surface to the elements, gathering dust and putting it in contact with the chain as soon as it is shifted to that gear again;
  • The chain is always in line, so theoretically there is an even stress on the pin/inner-plate working surface, that's where the wearing happens after all;
  • It takes at least double the time, work and cleaning materials to clean a derailer drivetrain compared to single;
  • As already said, single-chainline drivetrain can be enclosed;
  • Single-chainline usually won't skip when you install a new chain;

So, I would say that for COMMUTING or for utility use in general, a single-geared or internally-geared bike are excelent choices. I have both setups and don't regret.

I don't regret giving up gears in my fixie because it is lightweight and efficient, and I can go fast if I want, and go up most hills if I want (of course not at high speed then).

And I don't regret throwing some serious money for an internally geared hub, because the original cog lasted for at least 20 thousand kilometers, and I saved A LOT of tinkering with the drivetrain (such as cleaning, adjusting, and replacing parts).

Hope this helps!

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If you live in a hilly area, a single speed bike can be quite hard on the drive train as it will often be the case that you're in the wrong gear and putting quite a bit of force on the drive-train just to get up a modest hill. –  Kibbee Apr 27 '13 at 12:49
    
@Kibbee I agree that this seem to make sense, but in my experience that's not how it "actually happens", for two reasons I think: 1) it is different to ride "wrong gear" with a derailer bike, which suffers from that (it's not the intended use) and with a single-gear bike. Single-gear is DESIGNED for that, besides being beefier and always aligned (no chain crossing). Also, singles are very efficient, and you can keep the bike moving uphill even at very low cadence, without abusing neither the drivetrain nor your own legs. There are no "wrong gears" with singles. –  heltonbiker Apr 27 '13 at 19:26

I used to have single-speed commute bike. Then switched to 9-speed setup for commuting. I find no significant difference in lifespan of chains and chainrings.

The obvious advantage of single-speeder is constant nearly perfect chainline. This means your chain is never bent. But most of the times chains die by getting stretched. And equally good chains will get stretched the same way on a single-speed or multi-gear setup.

As already been noted, I would not take into account chain-wear when choosing between single or multi-speeded bikes.

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I am not sure if you fancy that, but with single speed setup, you can potentially better shield chain from dust and elements, which can prolong the life of drive train significantly.

Also, single speed sprockets and chain rings can potentially be made of more solid material than multispeed variants, which are now days mostly done out of Aluminium to make them lighter but also to allow for more complicated shapes and machining required to ease shifting.

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I can't really debate whether your drivetrain will have less wear. However, the symptoms of wear are much less pronounced on a single speed drivetrain (assuming you are not using a tensioner). You're just not going to get the same chain skipping / jumping issues you would on a derailleur system. The same thing is applicable to internally geared hubs.

It's still important to check your chain for wear and replace as needed. Keep in mind, a worn chain is going to keep wearing down your drivetrain. However, it's not going to really suffer much in terms of performance degradation until everything is really worn.

Also, see Sheldon's comments on extending single speed chain land sprocket life by using even numbered cogs and chainrings.

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TBH, I don't think it matters much anymore, modern geared equipment is soo good it just keeps working regardless. My work commuter bike has done 3 years on the same 7 speed setup. It doesn't change as smoothly as my weekend road bike, but I don't need it to.

If you want longevity from a Fixed Drive Chain I would say get a decent Stainless Sprockets for both front and rear, and get larger sprockets as this spreads the wear. I got some surly kit and it done about 3 winters with it and it isn't massively worn.

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