I'm an RA for a dorm that is considering buying a number of bikes that would be owned by the dorm and lent out to students. I will be at least in part responsible for maintaining the fleet (about 10 bikes) so I was thinking it should have fewer things to break. I considered getting single speeds but I think students might want to be able to change gears from time to time (though there aren't many hills here).

I was thinking maybe a triple crank and single speed in the back might be an option. This would mean only a front derailleur so fewer parts to fix. Has anyone tried this? I couldn't find anyone online mentioning it. I think a 1x9 with a 34T chainring is the other option.

  • The "suggestions on brands/models" part of your question is off-topic for this site. Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic because they tend to become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.
    – freiheit
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:29
  • If you want help with how to identify especially durable bikes, you should ask that as a separate question. Concentrate on what to look for in the bikes, not on specific brand/model recommendations.
    – freiheit
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:30
  • SRAM/Truvative makes an internally geared front crankset, so maybe you could do a 2x1 setup. Jun 24, 2015 at 17:48
  • I'd go for single speed if possible. Sram automatix if gearing is needed. People are going to put derailleur drive side down and ruin it. See citI bike in nyc as example of how to do this or other bike shares.
    – Batman
    Jun 24, 2015 at 21:41
  • 1
    Time's moved on in the years since this question was asked. Bike sharing programs are getting more popular. Try finding the one in your city and request racks be put in your area. That way its not your problem any more!
    – Criggie
    Jul 10, 2018 at 8:12

6 Answers 6


I don't think you can make a 3x1 setup work.

In order to have the chain change gears, there needs to be a mechanism to take up the slack in the chain. In a normal dual-derailer setup, the rear derailer does that.

You might be able to make it work with a chain tensioner, but I'm not sure if you can find one with enough range to do the job as well as a rear derailer.

Obviously you could do it with a rear derailer locked to the one gear, but that defeats the entire point.

A 1x8 or 1x9 would work fine, of course, since the only derailer is a rear derailer and it would handle the tension.

Another option would be to go with an internally geared hub (IGH). It's fairly common for "cruiser" and "town" bikes to have a 3-speed internally geared hub. That would give you most of the extra durability of a singlespeed drivetrain and allow for a very thorough chain guard (no pant rolling needed). Internally geared hubs often have a built in coaster brake, which would mean you'd only need a front brake. Even better would be a belt-driven internally-geared-hub bike (no chain lube!), but that requires a frame (at least dropout) built for it and would definitely be more expensive.


inner hub gears are near zero maintenance, and as you don't need a thin chain, the external parts (chain, "cassette", etc) can be made fairly sturdy. They also have a nice feature for town use: you can change gear while stopped at the lights. No more anticipation or setting off in the wrong gear.

The Sturmey Archer 3 speeds are probably the most affordable to build a bike from; the ratio normally gives a good spread. If you are hoping to fit this on drop bars, then you should be able to hook up a 3-speed front-shifter/brake unit to the SA hub. I have an 1999 Sachs hub set up exactly like this; Shimano RSX road lever controlling shifting -it just goes in the opposite direction from a front ring.

For 1x8 or 1x9 at the back, that's a pretty wide spread these days; you can go better than 1:1 at the bottom, at the expense of the upper gears: you'll need to get that front ring something everyone can agree on. 8 speed is probably the best choice as it is easier to set up than 9 speed; the chains are wider and a bit stronger. Even 9sp is easier than 10-11 for the same reason.

Going for a 1x8 would probably be a lower cost option as you can get rear freehub wheels for not much expense...though once you add in the cost of wheel+cassette+derailleur there's less in it.

[Update Aug 2018] When those Sachs hubs start playing up you will discover that it's nearly impossible to get spare parts...the only reason my bike is working again is the local bike shop found a replacement activation chain in one of their boxes of "old bike bits"

  • 1
    A Sturmey Archer 3 speed can easily last over 20 years. Generally hubs with more gears that tend to be more fragile (because the parts need to be smaller).
    – AVee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:39

If there are no hills, do not bother with gears.
Students who can use a free bike will be happy enough with a bike that actually works and does not break down just when they need it.

If you look at the most popular rental bikes in the Netherlands you do not see any gears.

an OV (rental) bike, without gears

(But if you think it is needed, three gears (or up to 8 gears) inner hub gears work well.)

I have recently been cycling in the dunes quite a bit and see a lot of these (no gears) rental bikes. While the dunes are not high, the roads through them tend to go up and down all the time.
Young adults are less likely to want gears for a relatively flat area than any other age group. And students who can get a free or very cheap bike with no gears are more likely to take them, especially if the alternative is more expensive.

  • Actually, IGH goes up to 11 gears. Shimano Alfine. There's even an electronic-shifting (Di2) version.
    – freiheit
    Jun 25, 2015 at 0:22
  • @freiheit: Nitpick: Actually, they go up to 14 ( Rohloff Speedhub ) . Of course, that hub is way out of price range for this question.
    – sleske
    Jun 25, 2015 at 8:25
  • Very much agree with this provided the area is very flat. The Netherlands is notoriously flat. Probably one of the reasons cycling is so popular there in the first place. I would consider my area to be reasonably flat, but I still wouldn't recommend a single speed to most people. Even the smallest bit of hill or a little bit of headwind can make my single speed quite difficult to pedal. I've adapted to it, but most casual cyclists would not enjoy it.
    – Kibbee
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:40
  • 2
    It is infrastructure that makes the Netherlands the cyclist paradise. In the past the UK had many more (proportional) cyclists than the Netherlands. Then the cars took over and now you take your life in your hands competing with the lorries on the road. But hills were never a problem to cycle, not even on the much less advanced bikes in the 1920's and '30's.
    – Willeke
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    The comments here make me wonder, do you need to standardize the fleet? How about some single speeds and some geared bikes and see which ones the residents prefer?
    – Tony Adams
    Jun 25, 2015 at 20:46

I would personally go for the 1x8 over the IGH for a couple reasons. The first is initial cost. 3 speed hub is going to cost more than a single 8 speed hub. Also, it makes changing tires a lot easier. Changing the tire on an internal hub can be quite daunting for somebody who's never done it before. Internal hubs are more durable, but there are precautions you can take with deraileurs such as getting a guard shown below to ensure that they are protected if the person leans the bike down on it's side.

Derailleur Guard

  • Changing a tire on any bike is daunting until one has done it a few times.
    – Tony Adams
    Jun 25, 2015 at 20:43
  • Changing a tire on IGH just requires removing the gearbox (1 manual screw, no tool required!) plus unfastening the break lever (which replaces the rim break that you would otherwise have to disengage to be able to get the tire through). I would not call that daunting. Jul 11, 2018 at 18:04

Singlespeed is cheap and should be generally sufficient for loaning to students.
Anything with dérailleurs is too frail and requires too much maintenance in this conditions.
Planetary gear is always nice, but for this kind of situation it should be purchased only if the locale is really hilly, you can find them cheap for some reason, or you have money to burn.

Also, if there is bicycle factory or a large repair shop nearby, you may try asking them for discounts or special offers.

  • Anything with dérailleurs is too frail and requires too much maintenance in this conditions. - How? Most people I know ride 3x7 that is like 10 years old and has never been maintained. I think you are overestimating the supposed frailty of modern derailleurs.
    – Davor
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:32
  • Actually, those 10 years old ones might be more solid then modern derailleur. Either way, being on the outside they are more likely to get hurt when a bike is dropped etc. In this specific scenario that could be a concern.
    – AVee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:46
  • @Davor Students on free to use bikes are not careful and dropping bikes on the chain side will be more frequent than most people do their own (bought) bikes.
    – Willeke
    Jan 4, 2016 at 23:39

I've known something like this: http://www.cycleexif.com/surly-dual-speed but I don't know this will work for casual bikes.

I also agree with @reiheit, internal geared hub is much more nicer idea. An example of this is bike rental system in Taipei (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2012/12/10/2003549807). I've been in Taipei for a while, and these bikes were awesome. They had 5 speeds (If my memory is correct.). Moreover, Internally geared hub is less prone to failures, and I think the bikes require less maintenance.

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