A vast amount of ink has been spilled by the bicycle press recently in regard to the proliferation of single ring road bicycles aimed at the endurance or adventure category of riders. Traditional road cyclists scoff at the notion of 10 or 11 sprocket cassettes with 36 to 42 tooth large cogs and relatively wide spaced steps between cogs.
In response to the rise of single ring drivetrains, road-centric cyclists and commentators spend hours extolling the virtues of traditional multi-ring cranksets and close ratio cogsets. Trust me, if you mention this topic to a cyclist bedecked in Rapha gear you will get to hear him—it’s always a dude by the way—berate you for even thinking about having steps in your rear cog be greater than whatever percentage was deigned by Merckx or Anquetil decades ago. Although I have to believe that any of those legends would have scoffed at such technical debate, preferring to just ride hard.
The people I know who have gone “over to the dark side” with single ring rigs setup for endurance road or gravel grinding or fireroad flying or whatever you want to call it come from many walks of life with regard to cycling. Some, like me, came from the mountain bike world and now find a plethora of opportunities to ride on gravel in our new homes where trail networks are somewhat sparse. We are refugees from a cycling niche where bicycles are of ever increasing complexity and expense. Where once mountain bikes were cobbled together from various disciplines these machines now resemble human powered motocross bikes. Red Bull Rampage may be an attraction for some, but for many of us we felt “extremed out” of the mountain bike scene years ago.
Others have come from the road world where group rides have become microcosms of high schools with cliques and socially acceptable behavioral patterns only known to a select few tastemakers who are able to pass judgment on all others. These riders no longer want to worry about having perfectly matched kit that also happens to be color coordinated with the bar tape and saddle on their bikes. These are riders who no longer want to talk about the latest Strava achievement.
The single ring phenomenon, to me at least, is about simplifying the ride. It’s about crafting a bike that is perfectly suited to my needs. It’s about creating something that is unique and that someone walking into a bike shop with a high credit limit cannot duplicate.
It’s about not worrying about pace and accepting that you might only be going fifteen miles an hour, but you don’t care because the smile on your face is ear to ear. It’s about the silence of your drivetrain and not worrying about trimming your front derailleur to cut out any chain rub. It’s about the satisfying crunch of limestone gravel beneath fat adventure rubber.
It’s about getting back to what bicycles were when you were a kid and two wheels seemed to open up the whole world in a way that was incomparable before.