Troubleshooters.Com and Steve Litt's Guide to Transportational Bicycling Present

The Joys of a 1 Speed

Copyright (C) 2006 by Steve Litt





The information in this document is information is presented "as is",  without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The entire risk as to the quality and performance of the information is with you. Should this information prove defective, you assume the cost of all necessary servicing, repair, correction or medical care.

This page discusses coaster brake bicycles. Unless there's an effective front brake, loss of coaster brake effectiveness could lead to death or severe injury, especially on hills or in traffic. If the chain falls off (a fairly common occurrence), the coaster brake becomes inoperable. Even with a functional coaster brake, constant braking on a hill can cause heating and subsequent brake failure. Without a front brake, when the back brake is hit hard, weight shifts forward and braking force is reduced, often leading to a back wheel skid which can cause an instant crash, especially if on a slippery surface like snow, ice, algae, or even a wet pavement.

This document may not clearly express the use of coaster brakes, or may even contain errors. We are not responsible. If you use the information in this document, you take full responsibility for the outcome. If that is not acceptable to you, please do not read this document.

In all cases, I strongly recommend you install a front brake so if the back brake goes out, you can still stop. If such a front brake is installed, it must be installed in such a way that it will not fall off, which in itself could cause death or severe injury (through flipping the bike).

In no event unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing will the copyright holder, authors, or any other party who may modify and/or redistribute the information, be liable to you for damages, including any general, special, incidental or consequential damages or personal injury arising out of the use or inability to use the information, even if such holder or other party has been advised of the possibility of such damages.

If this is not acceptable to you, you may not read this information.


I'm Steve Litt. I created the Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP). I create and license UTP courseware, as well as teaching the UTP onsite. I've written five books on troubleshooting: Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, Troubleshooting: Just the facts, Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques, Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist, and The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting. Past professions include software development, electronic repair, corrosion engineering, and bicycle repair.

I hope you've read the disclaimer of this document. In spite of that disclaimer I ride a one speed coaster brake bike, and right now I have no front brake, although I will be adding one later. For various interchangability reasons, this bike will be hard to fit with a front brake.

This document describes why I enjoy having a 1 speed bike.

New Information: Please Read

Most of this page was written in early 2006. This article was written in autumn 2007. I now believe that a single speed bike should NOT serve as a daily driver, but instead as an auxiliary bike.

Single speed bikes promote coasting down hills and taking it easy in tailwinds, robbing the rider of exercise. Over time the rider loses the strength and conditioning needed to cover long distances at high rates of speed.

I therefore now strongly recommend using a multispeed bike, either derailleur or internal hub, as a daily driver. I now recommend relegating your single speed to local shopping trips hauling large amounts of groceries or whatever. In my case, my seven speed with coaster brakes serves long distance and local transportation, and with its large basket, it serves well whether hauling or not. My plan is to use the single speed when the seven speed needs maintenance, or once in a while just to get a different riding experience, or when the riding involved is risky in terms of theft or physical damage to the bike.

In summary, I recommend either using the single speed for local shopping and a derailleur bike for trans-city travel, or, as I have done, use an internal hub seven speed with coaster brakes to fill both roles. A seven speed with coaster brakes has all the ease of use benefits of a single speed, but it's faster transportation and keeps the rider in better shape.

December 14, 2007 Multispeed Results

On December 14, 2007 the doctor gave me a treadmill stress test. I scored better than 2 years ago, when I weight 20 pounds less. How is that possible? What is the explanation?

In late 2005 I'd been riding a 1 speed for several months. I had been deconditioned. On December 14 I'd been riding a 7 speed with coaster brakes for three months.

Riding  a multispeed bike measurably improved my conditioning. I therefore recommend an internal hub seven speed with coaster brakes for use as a daily driver city bike.

My Bike

This article was written before the articles describing the superior conditioning of multispeed bikes. The bike described in this article suffered a frame failure in April 2007, and its parts were moved to an old-school Schwinn frame.
My bike's name is Always Ready because it is "always ready" to ride. Almost nothing can go wrong with this simple machine. Here's a picture:

My bicycle         This a quarter-sized picture of my bike, Always Ready. You can see also a half-sized and full-sized picture.

This bicycle's features, and the origin and cost of the parts, are described below.

The rear wheel is a 65312 26" coaster brake wheel with alloy rim. It's very sturdy, and stops very well. It has about 2000 to 3000 miles on it, was just overhauled, and looks pretty fresh. The rear tire is an older model Specialized Nimbus Armadillo, back from the days when these tires are rated at 100 PSI. Now these tires are rated at 80 PSI and cost more.

The chain is a Bell chain from Walmart. The chains sold at Walmart aren't long enough, so that you need to buy a second chain and small sections of it to add on to a full chain. Probably every fourth chain requires the purchase of a second chain. Given that these chains are less than $7.00 apiece, this is not a burden.

The one piece (Ashtabula) crank was cannibalized off a 20 inch bike that my son outgrew. The front chainwheel is a very straight, very circular (little eccentricity) 46 tooth chainwheel taken off a Schwinn ladies 3 speed purchased for $5.00. The origin of the pedals is long forgotten.

The front wheel and front tire came with the bike, which originally was a 12 speed I bought from a bike shop for $45.00. It's also possible they came from a bike grabbed from a dumpster soon after that purchase. Anyway, a year or so after I purchased the bike I changed it into a 1 speed.

The basket is a paperboy basket. As I remember, it cost about $25.00. It's well worth it -- I can easily carry huge amounts of groceries.

The handlebars were cannibalized off the same $5.00 Schwinn 3 speed that contributed the front chainwheel. To make it more comfortable, I lined the handlebars with thick sponges (about $6.00 from Walmart). I wrapped electrical tape, sticky side out, around the bars. Then I put on the sponges, then wrapped electrical tape, sticky side in, tightly around the sponges.

The seat came from a Gary Fisher bike that rusted through the top tube three years after I bought it new. The frame pump is held on by rope. The seat bag is a Bell brand bag bought for about $7.00 at Walmart. It holds the tools I typically need, on a ride, to make it home. It also has a patch kit.

The bike currently has no front brake. I'm hoping to fix that safety problem soon. The paperboy basket and the fork style do create challenges for mounting a front brake. The front brake will always be just a "plan B" in case the chain falls off.

This is an extremely reliable bike. The low eccentricity front chainwheel makes chain loss less likely. The lack of caliper brakes means it's very tolerant of out-of-true wheels. Almost every fastener is a hex bolt, so a single adjustable wrench does the majority of the work. An Allen wrench set and a screwdriver round out assembly and disassembly tools. A set of tire irons and a patch kit facilitate flat tires.

But It's Slow!

I can hear the catcalls now. But it's slow!

Well yeah, you're never going to descend hills at 40 miles per hour. Unless you're able to spin really fast (over 120 RPM, you'll never break 20 MPH. Tailwinds aren't the advantage they would be on a multipspeed bike. Although I believe in peddling always, I coast down steep hills, or even shallow ones with a tailwind.

Taken over the course of a 10 or 20 mile ride, all of this translates into maybe a 20% speed decrease over a multispeed bike. So if a 20 mile ride takes 90 minutes on a multispeed bike, it might take 108 minutes on a one speed. Doesn't sound like a big deal to me.

But it Can't Climb Hills

True. Unless you're a muscle man, you'll walk it up a 3% grade. In cities like Atlanta, San Francisco or Pittsburg, this bike is impractical. But in most cities you'll be able to climb most hills you encounter, even with lots of groceries in the basket. You'll expend more energy getting up the hill, but you'll get up it faster. Not a big problem.

But One Speeds Have a Bad Image

We've all seen it. The old man on the beat up old bike, piddling along at 6 miles per hour. The guy's obviously too poor to afford either a car or a good bicycle. The guy carries groceries on his bike.

You don't want to look like that, do you?

I'll tell you what I don't want to look like...

I don't want to wear wild color nylon, ride a $3000.00 bike I can't repair. I don't want to be afraid to run railroad tracks or jump curbs or park my bike and go in a store. And above all, I don't want to be behind the wheel of a car going to a store 4 blocks away because my bicycle can't carry groceries. That looks REALLY stupid.

The image thing really isn't a bicycle question. It's a question of practicality. Of pretentiousness. There are half-deaf people spending thousands on pro-audio. People in debt after buying their $70,000.00 sports car. People who can't leave the house unless they look "just so". People with shelves full of books they've never read. Wannabes and posers. You know the type.

Besides, you know darned well the coolest people are the ones who don't give a flying flamingo what others think.

It's Reliable

One speeds are the picture of reliability. Assuming you have good tires and tubes, you can count on being able to ride this bike, day after day, mile after mile. Typically the frame is older, from the days before "compact frames" and metal so thin it rusted through after a few years. Think of all the parts you don't have. No shift levers, shift cables, or derailleurs. No rear caliper brake, cable or lever. With no rear caliper brake, the rear wheel can take abuse and bending without seriously affecting the bike's rideability. The front caliper brake can be set fairly wide, because it's a "plan B", and except on extreme hills it's hard to get a 1 speed to go faster than 20 MPH.

It Carrys a Payload

Because a one speed's front brake can be set wider than normal, using a front basket is a reality. I use a paperboy basket that can carry several grocery bags. If you want, you can also put a rack on the back. You could do that on a multispeed bike too, but because a one speed has no rear caliper brake, it's much more tolerant of the extra bangs that come from having a heavy load right above the rear wheel.

If you need to carry a load for distances less than 5 to 20 miles, a one speed is the way to go.

It's Interchangeable

There was a time (the 1970's and early 1980's) when a multispeed bike could be put together mix and match. You could replace any rear derailleur with any other rear derailleur without replacing the shift levers and rear cog. You could replace the front brake with any other front brake. If you didn't like the shift levers, you could buy another pair and strap them around the down tube.

We've come a long way baby! With indexed shifting, changing to a rear cog with more gears means changing your derailleur and shift levers to match the number of gears. If your front fork wears out, you might need to change your cantilever brakes to match. Oh, and the idea of shift levers that strap around your down tube? Forget it -- today every bike has a different diameter down tube.

It gets worse. I saw a reasonably priced "road bike", but when I looked closely, it appeared that the deep teardrop profile of the rims meant that the stem on the inner tube must be extra long in order to "stick out" of the inside edge of the rim. It appears to me you must buy a special inner tube whenever you get a flat!

Contrast all of this with a 1 speed. Grab any old 26" bike out of a dumpster. Replace the rear wheel with a coaster brake, and if necessary add a front brake if possible. Slap on a front basket and you have practical transportation. If your front wheel dies, you can grab another out of a dumpster. If the front fork has pivots for cantilevers, you can grab a cantilever brake from a fairly modern (last 8 years) kid's bike. If the front fork has a center hole, replace it with side pulls from a dumpsterized 1980's bargain store bike. If your coaster brake hub goes on the fritz and you need parts for it, thousands of kids bikes with shimano coaster brakes are dumpsterized annually. You can fish one out of the dumpster and use it for spare parts, always assuming the retrieved parts are identical to the original and in good shape.

The current lack of interchangability makes modern multispeed bikes difficult and expensive to maintain. The one speed's interchangability makes it easy and cheap to repair.

It's Cheap

It's very possible to get a 1 speed free, right out of the dumpster, and actually have it work adequately, especially after pumping up the tires, truing the wheels and maybe relubing the hubs. But even if you have to spend some money, it's not going to be much -- almost certainly less than a hundred dollars.

Once it's paid for, maintenance is even cheaper. As you chalk up hundreds and even thousands of miles, you'll replace tires and tubes and maybe the occasional spoke, and that's it.

It's Not Theft Bait

The guys in the bright nylon outfits can't lock their bikes, can't let the bike out of their sight. Every thief knows the bike costs $3000.00 and can be fenced or sold for hundreds. Locks aren't an answer -- carbide saw blades, bolt cutters and even wire cutters (for cables) can render locks, chains and cables useless.

My one speed looks like junk. Thieves have seen hundreds just like it in dumpsters. I often leave it unlocked when I buy a drink or use a store's bathroom. It's always there when I get out. I often leave it locked outside for hours at a time. Its market value isn't worth the dulling of a saw or bolt cutter.

Besides, if someone DOES steal it, I can get another one from a dumpster (plus maybe buy a coaster brake wheel).

You Can Have Other Bikes

There's no law that you can have only one bike. You can leave your one speed locked up in the yard, ready for trips to the grocery store, and keep your $3000.00 road bike in your room, ready for a club ride, triathalon or race. That way you don't risk your good bike on local errands, and you don't poke along when swift movement is called for. The best of all possible worlds.

I have a 12 speed bike. It's not in good repair right now, but I sometimes use it for rides over 20 miles, or rides where I want to go fast, or go with less effort.


One speed bikes don't get no respect. They're thought of as slow, bad on terrain, and a "loser bike". What they really are is a reliable source for local errands, especially carrying luggage. They're cheap to buy and operate, and less likely to get stolen. A one speed can augment your multispeed bike.

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