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I'm looking to buy a single gear bicycle. My experience with bikes is very limited, I haven't owned a bike since I was a kid. I have been mountain biking in the Lake District a few times in the last 3 years or so and enjoyed it a lot. At that time, I just hired a mountain bike.

I would like to buy a bike to to commute to and from work (8 miles/13 KM each way - no steep climbs). I'm tempted by the single gear bicycles because they require low maintenance and fitness wise they can be more of a workout.

My criteria so far is:

  • Has to have a free wheel,
  • Chain tensioning mechanism,
  • Brakes on both wheels

Is there anything else a newbie like me should consider before buying a single gear bike? I'm 6'2" and weigh 10 stone.

Appreciate the help.

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It's best if your question is more about how to look for what you want, rather than looking for specific product recommendations. Specific product recommendations can be problematic because not all products are available in all areas and products change year to year. See also: Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!. Therefore you maybe should remove the recommendation part of your question. –  Benedikt Bauer Nov 22 '13 at 11:21
    
Trying out different gear ratios on single speed cycle would be useful to help you pedal with ease for your commute/to be able to spin the pedals as opposed to pedaling hard. –  Akshay Nov 22 '13 at 22:20
    
Keep in mind the gear ratio for the purpose you will be using this bike for. I tend to aim for about 70 gear inches for a commuter bike. For off road riding I generally aim for about a 2:1 ratio or about 54 gear inches roughly. You'll probably want to play around by swapping freewheels or chainrings till you find a ratio that works well for your style of riding and terrain. Just think, more gear inches = faster top speed, lower accelleration, less gear inches = faster accelleration, lower top speed. –  Benzo Nov 23 '13 at 16:56
    
Bear in mind that in a lot of frames that are designed to be single-speed, the dropouts are horizontal, which takes care of chain tension for you. On my fixie (a Charge Plug) I also use a "flip flop" rear wheel - the wheel has a free hub on one side, and a fixed cog on the other. You just flip the wheel according to your mood. Also, if you're looking for a workout, remember that if you ride fixed you're never coasting. –  PeteH Nov 24 '13 at 8:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Fit is the absolute most important and first thing you should consider. If the bike doesn't fit, you'll never be happy with it. I won't get into how to fit a bike since that's not your question. However, you can find lots of info on this site and elsewhere around the internets.

After that, think about how you'll be using the bike.

  • Do you have to ride rough rodes with potholes? If so, think about getting something with slightly larger tires. If the roads are especially bad, or you want to cut through some trails, think about a mountain bike.
  • Will you ride when the roads are wet? If so, make sure you have clearance for full fenders. Even if it's not raining, morning dew spraying off your tires can get you soaked.
  • Will you ride in wintry conditions? If so, you'll need fenders and perhaps studded tires. That's even more tire clearance.
  • Will you carry a backpack, or would you like to use panniers? If you want panniers, look for a bike with rack mounts. It's much easier to mount a rack to a bike that's made for it than it is to Jimmy-rig one onto a bike that isn't. And frankly, I'd recommend the panniers. Carrying a backpack every day gets old really fast, especially if you ride in hot weather.
  • Are you interested in doing your own maintenance? If not, get a new bike. Not only will it need less maintenance, many shops offer free or reduced priced maintenance if you purchase a bike from them. If you do want to do your own maintenance, a used bike in good condition can easily fill your needs.
  • Look for something with multiple hand positions, either drop handlebars or get some bar ends for riser bars. Drops will give you aerodynamic advantages and more hand positions so are usually preferred.

It sounds like you're spot on with your other considerations. Don't worry too much about the chain tensioner though. If the bike that you end up picking out doesn't have one, they're cheap and easy to install. Brakes on both wheels are pretty standard if you get a bike from a shop. It's even legally required in many places. And a freewheel is a good place to start.

If you're even remotely interested in fixed gear, a flip-flop hub is cool. But don't listen to people who say that fixed is the most awesome thing in the world. Some people like it. Some people don't. It's completely personal preference. It's also hard on your knees.

People will also tell you that steel is the only type of bike you should ride. Steel absorbs shock well and gives a more comfortable ride than aluminum over rough roads, but is also a bit flexier. A cheap steel frame will feel like a wet noodle underneath you whenever you pedal up a hill. A decent steel frame will still feel quite rigid, but still absorb some of the shock from the road. Aluminum is rigid and gives a bit rougher ride, but also doesn't rust. Rust is a pretty minor concern, but worth noting. And having correct tire pressure will do more for the feel of your ride than your choice in frame material. But steer clear of carbon fiber for a commuter. It's uber-expensive and not as durable as either steel or aluminum.

Finally, make sure the bike is a good fit. Give it a test ride. If it doesn't feel right after a few adjustments, get a different bike. Fit is the most important thing. Did I mention that already? Good. It's that important.

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Some other items you might consider:

  • Most importantly, the fit of the bike. If you are 6'2, you will be on the high end of normal sizing, and not all models may be available in a suitable size. Staff at any decent bike shop should be able to measure you, and suggest a range of suitable models however. Take them for test rides and make sure you don't experience knee pain or back pain.

  • Weight of the bike. If you will ever have to carry the bike, this can be quite important. For example, if you live in a flat above ground level, and don't want to leave your nice new bike outside at night where thieves can get it. Single speed bikes tend to be lighter anyhow, so you should have no trouble finding a cheap model that's still under twenty pounds.

  • Low maintenance design. If you want a low maintenance bike, single speeds are a great start. I'd also look for a coaster brake (back-pedal brake), and a nice chain case, possibly even a full chain case if you can bear the weight. An aluminium frame may also be a plus, as ChroMo (Steel) will rust relatively quickly without careful maintenance in wet climates, especially if there will be salt on the roads in winter.

  • Fenders if you ever plan to ride in rain, mud, or snow.

  • Rack Mounts if you ever plan to carry something heavier than a backpack. Also useful for riding in the heat.

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Fixed wheel/single speed bikes are now pretty common, so you aren't stuck for choice. At 6'2 you'll still be within the height range for most brands, although at that height your weight might be a factor (e.g. I'm 6'1 and 14 stone and there are some marques I would break).

Most road-worthy bikes (i.e. not built for the track or polo or anything else) will come with two brakes - even if on a fixed you'll likely never use the rear.

I don't know of many brands which sell with tensioner installed as standard, but any half decent bike shop would be able to install them as part of a new bike purchase.

I would suggest that you try a flip-flop hub. I know you think you want a single speed, not fixed, but until you've tried it, at least keep the option open.

I would visit an actual physical shop and try some out, the geometry and setup for single speeds can feel a little different to a road bike, let alone to mountain bikes. You'll also want to feel the various types of handlebars (drops, flat, courier), which make a big difference.

When you're in the shop, discuss tools with them, if fixed is even an option, you'll want to get some instruction on lock rings and how to deal with them.

If you are completely new to single speed and are adamant you don't want fixed, perhaps look at hub gears (e.g. something with a Shimano Alfine hub). You'll get the advantage of a single rear cog, but the benefits of gears. Fixed is a different beast, but hub versus single speed is such a distinction that I can't see why people wouldn't take the gears.

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+1 for the fixed vs. single consideration. Also, 3 speed hubs make for a great about-the-town bike, as suggested. –  John Doucette Nov 22 '13 at 14:43

For a longer-distance commuter singlespeed, it's good to look for:

  • rack and fender mounts
  • room for wider tires (at least 700x28c) with fenders
  • road (as opposed to track) geometry, which means less-twitchy handling
  • cromoly frame (as opposed to cheaper, heavier high-tensile steel)
  • handlebars offering multiple hand positions

You sound British, so I'll note that a British bike offering such features is the Charge Plug.

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