Mountain biking without gears is not for the faint of heart.
Hipsters riding through town on steel, gearless bikes aren't the only ones reveling in the single-speed craze. A whole culture of "purist" cyclists have taken to the simplicity of single-speed bikes, including roadies and commuters. Extreme single-speed devotees have pushed the envelope, opting to tackle tough terrain and rocky trails on gearless bikes. Single-speed riding, especially on trails, can be significantly more challenging and produce a greater calorie burn than riding a geared bike, but there are some things to consider before ditching your gears.
Benefits of Single Speeds
One of the most-cited benefits of single-speed bikes is their simplicity and low maintenance requirements. Without a cassette, derailleurs, shifters or cables, there's a lot less to maintain and fewer parts to replace over time. Riding a single speed also helps cyclists become better at maintaining cadence and improving explosive strength. If you approach a hill on a single speed, you have no choice but to stand up and pedal hard to get to the top. A geared bike, on the other hand, provides the luxury of gearing down and climbing hills with minimal effort.
On a typical mountain bike, a 150-pound person could expect to burn an average of 500 to 600 calories per hour. Terrain, wind conditions and fitness levels will affect that number, as will the type of bike you're riding. Without gears, single speed bikes are lighter, which means there's less weight to push, but single speed mountain bikes can give a merciless workout. Because you will spend minimal time coasting and a lot more time out of the saddle to push up climbs, your heart rate will likely be elevated for a longer period than if you were riding a geared bike. Minute for minute, your calorie burn on a single speed will likely be higher.
Not So Fast
If a single speed mountain bike burns more calories per minute than a geared mountain bike, you might think it's a better choice for weight loss goals, but that's not necessarily the case. Single-speed mountain bikes can be grueling to ride and your legs may not be able to withstand nearly as much saddle time as on a geared bike. You'll probably burn a few more calories in less time on a single speed, but if you can ride twice as long on a geared bike, the overall burn on single speed may actually be significantly less.
Determining if a Single Speed is Your Speed
If you're new to cycling or just starting a fitness program, a single-speed mountain bike may be an extreme choice. However, if you're already in shape or are an experienced mountain biker who's looking for a new challenge, a gearless bike may be right up your alley. Choosing between a single speed and geared mountain bike should also be based on preference. Make sure that whichever you choose is a bike you'll enjoy riding.