Single Speed Gearing (part 2)

My previous post on single speed gearing covered all of the convoluted ground of figuring out the “gain ratio” to compare gearing between different types of bikes.  But it can be simplified to just the “tooth ratio”, as long as you’re comparing bikes with reasonably similar wheel/tire sizes.

I mean, maybe you care more about the details if you’re racing the thing, but I’m talking about riding around town, right?

So the tooth ratio I’ve stuck with on my daily rider is 2.67.  Some may call it laziness, but I prefer to think of it as, uh, Salsa’s excellent build design- I’ve stuck with the 48/18 gearing that came standard on my Cassaroll.

As it turns out, this ratio is quite similar to the popular single speed setup of a 42 tooth chainring and 16 tooth freewheel cog, which clocks in a tooth ratio of 2.63.  In fact, that’s the setup on my rain bike, but because that beast (a Marin 29’er) has bigger wheels the gain ratio is very, very close to that of my Salsa.

However, there’s no need to stick with what comes standard – a new freewheel cog costs about $10-$15 and can be replaced in minutes.

Here’s a handy chart for comparing tooth ratio across different single speed gearing setups.  I’ve highlighted the most common configurations:

single speed gearing chart

Single Speed Knee Pain

A couple of my neighbors are hardcore cyclists, riding STP in a day, doing the RAMROD, etc. One was telling me the other night that doing longer rides single speed would hurt my knees. Psshaw, I said – I’ve never had knee problems (wrists, yes, but not knees). My daily commute doesn’t seem to strain my knees at all.

Sunday’s lovely weather saw me taking a 40 mile jaunt out to Woodinville and back on the Burke-Gilman – and sure enough, my knees are still aching. So: Are single speeds simply not conducive to longer mileage, do I need more training, or am I just getting old?

I’d like to do a single speed century before I get too decepit, but I’d also like to be able to walk afterward . . .

Rancho Bravo Bike Drive-Thru?

My favorite source for local-local news, Capitol Hill Seattle, posted today that Rancho Bravo is considering putting in a drive-through. Traffic is already crazy on that block – the crosswalk from the park to Molly Moon’s, along with the GIGANTIC sign on the corner for Elliot Bay Book’s parking lot, make it a shooting gallery for drivers and cyclists alike. It’s hard to imagine that the restaurant would get city approval to add another level of vehicular complexity to the area.

BUT – as the CHS post notes at the end, perhaps Rancho Bravo will open up a bike-up window. If they do, I know of at least one Capitol Hill household that’s gonna see a spike in burrito consumption.

Bike Licensing

July’s Momentum magazine features an article on bike licensing that goes over the well-worn reasons why bike licensing is a bad idea.  There are many, but we really need only focus on two:

  • It costs more to administer and enforce administer a licensing regime than would be recovered in licensing revenue; and
  • There’s no public safety benefit from licensing.

Nonetheless, calls for licensing of bikes continue.  These arguments go along the lines of:  “Bikes get to be in the road, so they should be licensed like cars.”

That’s impeccable logic – if you’re six years old.  In the real world where we grownups live, people ask whether it makes sense to enact costly programs that serve no purpose.

I don’t think that advocates of bike licensing are so stupid that they honestly believe licensing is sound public policy, or that they possess the charmingly naive belief that licensing is a necessary corrective to a troubling inconsistency between two (radically different) types of vehicle.  So let’s call it what it is:  passive/aggressive bike-hate.  It would be refreshing if they’d just come out and say:

“We don’t like you people on bikes.  You add precious seconds to our commutes and confuse us while we chat on our cell phones and shave.  For that reason we’re going to put whatever impediments we can in the way of your using OUR roads.”

A Suggestion on Where You Might Put Your Horn

I ride on Capitol Hill every day; the drivers are generally polite and accustomed to sharing the roads with bikes. It may be that this general amiability, familiar as it is, is what makes the odd instances of boorish driver behavior harder to tolerate.

While I can understand the occasional driver inadvertence or mistake (“they’re just thinking about Christmas,” as my friend Lisa used to say), something about a driver honking at me makes my blood boil.

I’m not talking about a honk I’ve earned – if I’ve done something stupid or inadvertent (yes, people on bikes transgress as well), I’ll take the honk with equanimity.

But that’s rare. The honks that really get me, that make me want to stop in traffic, roll back to the driver’s window and make sure they understand – in the event they haven’t been told before – what an insufferably moronic tool they are, are the impatient, yippity honks of drivers behind me, aghast that I have TAKEN THE LANE.

As anyone who has spent any time riding in the city knows, it is often safest to take the lane. You’re more visible, you’re out of the “door zone”, and you’re not encouraging drivers to attempt to pass you unsafely. I almost always take the lane when going downhill or riding on narrow residential streets.

This should be no affront to drivers, as it would be if a cyclist were, say, to take the lane riding uphill on Pine. Yet, yet, yet. I’ve been honked at on Aloha when I’ve taken the lane to make a left turn; honked at downtown when I’m riding faster than most traffic but not fast enough for the impatient jerk behind me; and honked at in numerous other places for having the temerity to prioritize my personal safety over the right of a driver to go as fast as they want, unsullied by the vision of driving behind a bike.

But this morning’s honk, the inspiration for writing this screed, was the prizewinner. I thought at first the honk was intended for someone else: I was descending Olive Way, a narrow street, lined with cars and one lane in each direction. It’s also only about four blocks long and ends in a stoplight. Why would anyone honk at a bike under such circumstances, especially one that’s probably exceeding the speed limit? But then a second, more insistent honk followed, from the gasping roach of a car behind me. For some reason, the reptilian brain of the driver was telling him “must . . . beat . . . bike . . . to . . . stoplight.”

With age and judgment I’ve conquered my impulse to throw back a quick Philly salute, content to offer an incredulous look while riding blithely onward. But one thing is sure – your impatient little road raging honk isn’t going to get that bike out of your way.

San Francisco Cycling

I’ve been traveling in northern California, including spending much of the last week in San Francisco, a city where I lived throughout the 90’s. Lots of folks on bikes here; lots of single speed/fixed gear action. I never embraced commuting here because I thought my ride was too hilly, but much of SF is quite flat. If you lived in the mission, Castro (or even Noe Valley or Potrero Hill) and worked in the financial district commuting by bike would be a no- brainer.

And speaking of no-brainers: like in NYC, I see very few riders wearing helmets downtown. Tsk.

Commuting Progress

I try to ride to work every day.  As I’ve noted before, this is less of an accomplishment than it might seem – after all, it’s the fastest way for me to get to work, and the only way I get any exercise.

My goal for this year is to ride to work 200 times.  That should be doable, although business travel and vacation will make it close.  I’m ahead of pace with 110 rides through June, but I’ve got a lot of traveling coming up in the second half.

And if it snows again, like it did two Decembers ago?  No chance I’m putting my life in the hands of Seattle drivers’ ability to navigate through snow and ice . . .