Single-speed bicycles are bicycles that have only one gear ratio. They are common in most children’s bikes, commuter bikes, unicycles, track racing bicycles, and BMX bikes.
Being single-speed does not mean your bike will not run like other bikes. On the contrary, BMX is getting more popular in the US and other countries as one of the best adventure bikes.
These bikes are the basic categories of bicycles, perfect for biking enthusiasts and even veteran cyclists.
BMX bikes are some of the best single-speed bikes in the market today. This means they have no derailleur hangers or freewheel apparatus. Instead, their rear wheel can rotate even when you stop pedaling. However, the cranks stop moving. Despite having a single-gear ratio, they stand out over their multi-gear counterparts.
In this article, we will go through the basics of BMX bikes as single-speed bikes and how to differentiate single-gear bikes from fixed-gear ones.
We will also examine why BMX bicycles have one gear, its benefits, and its limitations.
Are BMX Bikes Single Speed Bikes?
BMX bikes are single-gear or single-speed bikes. These bikes allow a unidirectional movement that keeps the back wheel rotating even when the cranks stop.
This continuous rotation action of the rear wheel is known as coasting. What coasting implies is if you are riding a non-custom BMX bicycle, you have to ensure it has fully functional brakes.
Even if you stop pedaling your bicycle, it will keep moving until you apply brakes.
Another critical characteristic of the single-gear bike is its unidirectional nature prevents you from pedaling backward. Instead, you can only pedal forward.
Because of their names, it is easy to confuse single-speed or single-gear bikes with fixed-gear bikes. However, despite their similar names, these gearings are entirely different.
We must look at their differentiating properties to understand fixed or single gears properly.
#1. Wheels and Brakes
Unlike the single-gear bike, the fixed gear has no freewheel. As a result, when you stop pedaling a fixed-gear bike, the crank and rear wheel will turn.
While you need brakes on a single-gear bike, you can brake on a fixed-gear bike by resting your legs on the ground or changing your body posture.
Despite this ease with fixed gears, most riders still prefer to install brakes on their bicycles – as braking maneuvers take time and expertise to master.
#2. Riding Direction
Because of the freewheel mechanism, you cannot pedal backward with single-gear bikes. This feature makes single-speed bikes easier to ride, especially for beginners.
On the other hand, fixed-gear bicycles allow you to move in both directions. This feature makes them great for racing events.
#3. Bike Speed and Control
Due to the coasting mechanism, single-speed bicycles require less of the rider’s control. As a result, this bike will keep on moving for a while without you having to pedal furiously, giving you time to rest at intervals.
However, with fixed-gear bikes, you must be conscious of balancing and stopping the cycle. Since you must always pedal, the bike speed and control rest solely on the rider.
The table below presents the critical differences between fixed-gear and single-gear bikes:
|Single Gear Bikes||Fixed Gear Bikes|
|Allow coasting||Do not allow coasting|
|It needs physical brake mechanisms||Can brake on this bike by body motions|
|Can only pedal forward||Can pedal forward and backward|
|Are easier to ride and control||Require rider’s active participation for control|
How Do I Know if My Bike Is Single Speed?
The best way to know whether your bike is single-speed is to pay attention to the gear ratio. The gear ratio of any bicycle consists of a chainring and a rear sprocket.
Now, even though single-speed bikes have many similarities, there are different types of gear ratios. These different ratios include straight ratios and gear inches.
#1. Straight Ratios
The straight ratio is the most common type of gear ratio. This is a ratio where the chain ring teeth are double that of the rear gear or the cog.
The most common numeration in this ratio type is 32/16. However, most BMX bikes have different ratios from 22/8 to 36/16. In addition, some older models have a 44/16 ratio.
The working mechanism with the straight ratio is such that every time the crank revolves, the rear wheel rotates twice.
One noteworthy fact for single-speed gear ratios is the higher the ratio, the harder it will be to pedal – and vice versa.
#2. Gear Inches
The gear inches are slightly different from the straight ratio in that it adds up the bike’s gear ratio and the wheel diameter. The result determines the distance your bike will go for every crank revolution.
The proper formula for gear inches is to multiply the drive wheel diameter in inches by the number of teeth on the chain ring. Then, finally, divide the answer by the number of cog teeth.
In this way, a bike with a wheel diameter of 30 inches and a gear ratio of 32/16 will have gear inches of 60.
Additionally, where a multi-gear bike will have about two derailleurs – both front and rear, the single-speed bike has neither. So instead, it relies on the chain and cogs to run its course.
Also, only single-speed bikes have the freewheel, which allows you to coast.
Why Do BMX Bikes Only Have One Gear?
BMX bikes are known to be lightweight, durable, and very easy to maintain. These features can be attributed to their small frames, varying wheel sizes, and single gears.
There are many advantages to single-speed bikes. These advantages include ease of riding and pedaling, more straightforward configuration, and fewer maintenance costs.
However, the highest advantage of riding single-speed bikes is the simplicity of the devices. Knowing that the bikes are unidirectional, you are always confident of where you are going.
Also, it is perfect for new riders as they do not have to worry about changing from one gear to another. Instead, their only focus is riding the bike and knowing when to apply brakes.
With only one gear and lesser parts compared to the multi-geared bikes, the bike parts are less likely to wear – guaranteeing that you do not have to worry about repairs and maintenance so often.
Can Single-Speed Bikes Go Fast?
How fast your single-speed bicycle goes depends heavily on how furiously you ride it. Since you cannot switch gears on these types of bikes, it is left to you to pedal slowly or faster.
Another factor that determines the speed of a single-gear bike is the gear ratio. Gear ratios are divided into tall and short gearings.
Tall gearings have a higher gear ratio between the chainring and the cog. On the other hand, short gearings have smaller gear ratios.
As a rule, bikes with smaller gear ratios are easier to pedal and, eventually, can generate more speed and momentum for the rider.
For example, let us consider two bikes with 2.78/1 and 3/1. The former has short gearing, while the other is the tall gearing bike.
You can make the best of these bikes by combining these two factors. But, of course, the challenging part would be pedaling up a hill since it relies on your muscle power.
However, due to coasting, coming down the hill will be a smooth and enjoyable ride because you can relax and let your freewheel ride on.
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