Which one would you take? This is an intrinsically difficult question to answer as the answer in this case (eternity, or until you die) will continously change depending on any given set of parameters. I have found that it is much easier to choose the one kind of food I would take to a deserted island to eat for the rest of my life (Samosas, of course. Or maybe vietnamese egg rolls.) than to choose the one, do-it-all gear I want to have on the singlespeed mountain bike. The decision is reliant on an infinite number of contradicting variables, and like so many other cycling related issues, totally and completely subjective. I have listed some things that could be taken into consideration when choosing the appropriate gear. 1. What are the specific qualities of the trail(s) that you are planning on riding? This includes things like the degree and level of the technical sections, the amount of climbing/descending, the length, and how much paved road is involved. 2. What is your level of personal fitness at the time of gear selection? Consider whether or not using a hard gear will help you gain fitness or help you walk more. 3. What is the wheel size on your bicycle? 4. What gear is your riding buddy using? Yours will need to be harder. Historically, I have tended to go with a theoretically easier gear in general on both the 26er and 29er. It didn’t make much sense to force myself to walk up everything. I have recently been thinking I should start to gear up and see what happens. Sure it will be harder to ride up hills, but I would really like to have a little higher top speed on the rollers, flats, and road. And hard gears make hard men. Out of desperation to make the Bianchi Grizzly rideable (as described here), I threw an 18 tooth cog on and hoped for the best. I’m not sure what is going on, but this gear doesn’t feel any harder than the 32/20 that was previously on the same bike. I guess I will stick with it. I am also thinking that I should drop a tooth or two on the 29er since it seems to work fine on the 26er. I can always switch back if I don’t have the legs. I am listing below the gears that I have experience riding which may give someone else a reference point to start from.
26er – 32×20 (pretty doable, only have to walk sections that I couldn’t ride with gears anyway), 32×18 (same as 32×20) (Side Note: the wife is riding a 34×21, and she gets up pretty much everything)
29er – 33×21 (pretty doable, only have to walk sections that I couldn’t ride with gears anyway), 32×21 (same as 33×21), I am going to try the 32×20 on the 29er this summer.
I don’t really know what this does, but this is a link to a gear calculator that will tell you stuff about your gear inches.
Technically speaking, I have used and am using a variation of rings and cogs for singlespeeding. On the Grizzly, I am using a standard middle chainring from a triple crankset and a cheap, pressed steel, singlespeed cog like the kind that come from singlespeed kits. “They” say that these cheap steel rings will dig into your cassette body leaving indentations since the cog is narrow and harder than the aluminum cassette body. That has not happened to me so far. On the Niner, I’m all official with a Surly Stainless chainring and a Surly widebody cog. While out on my first ride with the Surly chainring, I was riding over a log pile and stopped on the top log, teetering precariously with the only point of contact being the chain-wrapped chainring. After a split second of tottering, I kept pedaling only to realize a minute later that the manuever had resulted in 4 teeth on the ring bending out about 30 degrees. I was able to finish the ride, and bent the teeth back when I got home. I was suprised that the teeth would bend that easily, but it has worked perfectly ever since.
In the end though, we are talking about singlespeeding and having fun so the whole point is to ride what you can with what you got, no excuses. The debate I outlined above is really a moot point. Personally, I intend to harden up and crush the gear that I have and try to make it look easy so people with gears feel ridiculous when we end up on the island with only one gear.