One Good Turn: The 8 Best Single Speed Bikes

You can go out onto the roadways and mountain trails of the world with a dozen gears to make pedaling easier, or you can learn to train your body to cope with a solitary single speed (SS) bike for a greater challenge. These bikes are lighter in weight that traditional bicycles since they aren’t weighted down with derailleurs, shifters, cassettes, or other gears, making them quicker off the line. They’re often confused with fixed gear bikes or “fixies” since the chopped-down design is similar. Though they look alike, single-speeds offer a few more options. Things like brakes.

If you’re in the market for a single speed, then you should already be familiar with ratio of size between the pedals and the cog on the wheel. This is the primary determining factor in choosing your bike. The lower the ratio, the easier it is to pedal up hills. The higher the ratio, the more speed you can get. 2:1 is pretty standard. With it, you get 2 revolutions of the wheel for each turn of the crank by the pedals. It’s usually where single speed riders start, but for our purposes of finding the 8 best single speed bikes, we found all kinds.

Critical Cycles Urban Road Bike

Critical Cycles Urban Road Bike

Pro: Strong steel frame
Con: Lacks a front brake

Starter Kit: Bearing a touch of sportiness with BMX handlebars and a straight track frame make this a stand-out among the plethora of cute and quaint single speeds that pepper the low-expense landscape. Meant mostly for urban riding, the pedal crank cog has a 48:16 (aka 3:1) ratio made with speed in mind, though it still performs on most mild to moderate hills. There’s a little added weight with the TIG-welded steel frame, but it’s hardly heavy. With the flip-flop rear cog, you can try your hand at fixie riding should you so choose. Beware the lone, cheap rear brake. [Purchase: $195]

Schwinn Meridian Adult Tricycle

Schwinn Meridian Adult Tricycle

Pro: Won’t ever fall over
Con: Low speed

Triple Threat: Your bike need not be a two-wheeler. Those with children or loads of gear to tote around might prefer a tricycle to take them back to their Big Wheel days. That’s why Schwinn made the Meridian. As far as cruiser bikes go, this meets all the benchmarks: Aluminum frame and alloy wheels; rear and front hand brakes; fenders all around; a folding storage compartment; and an accessible step-through frame. Don’t even think about steep hills or taking this into the wild, but it’s a stable joy for tooling around town. [Purchase: $250]

Retrospec Siddartha SS

Retrospec Siddartha SS

Pro: Angled forks
Con: Extremely archaic look

Retro Grade: Retrospec is a great name to go with when hunting for an SS in the low to mid level. Throw a rock at their line, or swing a dead cat and you’ll hit a great product. We enjoyed the Siddartha since it is a cast back to the early days with plenty of modernization to make it pop. At 48:16, the ratio is ideal for the lazy, summer style that this bike represents, while still giving you enough coasting kick for a nice adrenaline jolt. Classy, comfortable 30mm Deep-V rims provide an airy ride and the leather grips capping mustache handlebars are vintage through and through. [Purchase: $250]

Fairdale Parser

Fairdale Parser

Pro: On or off-road options
Con: Needs disc brakes

To the Job: If you aren’t in the know, Fairdale has Taj Mihelich, former BMX racer, at its helm, which is why they make products that crush. When you demand comfort, ease, and unshakable durability from your ride, the Parser is worth the investment. The 42:16 or 42:14 gear ratio is made for a flat ride to work, but can handle a few peaks and valleys without leaving you sweating bullets before you hit the office. An SRAM chainset along with SRAM brake levers feel abnormally receptive to every movement and give you a sense of true control as you go along. Offers a rack mount option should you need a basket for your tisket or tasket. [Purchase: $770]

All-City Nature Boy

All-City Nature Boy

Pro: Works well in wet conditions
Con: Heavy steel frame

Dirt and Pavement: Juxtaposed in the world between heading for the hills and tackling pavement, All-City has created a true all-terrain steed with the Nature Boy. Disc brakes have been added to the 612 ChroMoly steel body. It bears an expanded ChroMoly steel fork for larger wheels and the ability to add in fenders should you wish to tame this beast and turn it into a commuter bike. A pure pitbull on gravel, trails, and even the broken pavement of Detroit, your dental work will never rattle and with a 49:17 ratio, speed is always on tap. [Purchase: $1,250]

Raleigh RXS

Raleigh RXS

Pro: Weinmann wheels and Clement rubber tires
Con: Built almost entirely for off-roading

Off the Chain: The world of cyclocross is mostly unbroken territory in the commercial industry. Professional riders have been doing it for a while, but without sponsorship, you mostly couldn’t find a ‘cross bike worth melting down, much less using. The RXS uses Raleigh’s immense knowledge to bring all the mudding and dirt racing action to anyone. The drivetrain employs a Gates belt, not a chain, for less clatter, more durability, and quicker off-the-line speed. Light as a feather, the 6061 aluminum frame corners like butter and stands up to most abuse while the carbon fork absorbs shock like it’s spring-loaded. 50:22 ratio. [Purchase: $1,550]

Surly Pug SS

Surly Pug SS

Pro: Low gear ratio for more torque
Con: Very large

Go Big: Normally, to make a single speed fat bike, you would need to retro-fit an existing frame or do the design yourself. If that sounds like too much work, then just spend the money on a Pug SS. Proprietary TIG-welded 4130 ChroMoly steel makes this a rough customer that isn’t so heavy it’ll break your back. The 33:19 ratio is definitely not for cruising but for taking on snow and terrain that would annihilate a lesser machine. Huge 3.8” tires on sit on 65mm rims allowing for grip and girth without tacking on a ton of weight. [Purchase: $1,750]

Niner ONE 9 RDO

Niner ONE 9 RDO

Pro: Large wheel and drivetrain allowance
Con: Expensive

Hill Racer: Single speed mountain bikes are typically relegated to digging in and climbing, not for racing around the slopes; but the One 9 RDO is a shameless speed freak. Where ordinary mountain bicycles have wee front rings that are just darling, this uses an oversized CYA bottom bracket shell and chainstay allowing it to more effectively transfer energy for enhanced torque. You can give the frame a multi-gear set if you wish, but as a single speed, this shines. Pimped out and pumped up, you’ll still be able to get it under the 17 lbs. mark. If your heart has stopped from sticker shock, riding this will get it jump started. Ratio depends on build. [Purchase: $2,149]

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