This is my re-vamped old Speedwell – a bike that was already old when I was given it by my grandfather in the early ’70s. I’ve now converted it back to a coaster braked single speed from it’s 3-speed conversion in the late 70s.
But this post is more about the virtues and vices of single speed versus gearing than about my old bike itself – so what do I think now I’ve had some long rides on it ?
I have deliberately left the gearing low, at 40T x 18T – that’s around third gear equivalent on my ten speed commuter. Why ? Because I find that gearing too high puts a strain on my knees on the local uphills on long rides, while faster spinning seems to better alleviate that.
To compensate for this low gearing at speed a technique that I sometimes use when wanting to ride faster than my comfortable cadence allows is to spin then coast, spin then coast … I think it’s good to practise mastering a faster cadence too, as it can help improve pedalling action and control at all speeds.
On the steady uphill of the Fernleigh track this gearing is about as high as I would want. I could manage a 16T cog if I needed to, but for now it stays as is. Of course, if you are unwilling to get off and push occasionally on hills, a single speed is probably not for you anyway. I can stand up and pedal if necessary, but personally prefer to remain in the saddle or push it up the steep ones.
Otherwise, I will just cruise along more slowly on the flats and downhills. On my work commute though, I do like to pedal continuously down hills to maintain a higher average speed, and you can’t really do that without a good top gear. This bike is therefore not used for such “timed” commuting.
This new hub has some real braking bite that is lacking in my old restored pre-’70s coaster hubs, and so I reckon that the “modern” coaster brake really is the thinking person’s single speed – it has operational silence and reassuring wet weather braking with fine low speed control while still having the freedom of the freewheel to coast.
Unlike a fixed wheel, your gearing is not restricted to higher ratios by the “eggbeater” effect down hills. With the addition of a front handbrake you have an easier way of braking while dismounting as well as a backup brake for sudden stops. And don’t forget that while they aren’t common, you can have coaster brakes with hub gears too …
All this perhaps with only one cable !