One Gear, No Problem

We’re enjoying some truly glorious weather here in New York, and I’ve been taking advantage by running through my various all-terrain bicycles. Having ridden my Jones on Saturday and the American M-16 yesterday, I figured today would be a perfect day to ride my artisanal Engin singlespeed. So I went to add some sealant to the tires, but instead I got something of a wild hair and wound up sort of “gravelizing” it:

So what does that entail? Well, for one thing, I had a pair of Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Road tires:

I bought these tires quite a few years ago for my Surly Travelers Check, which I no longer have. (A few months ago I had to return a bike case to Paul at Classic Cycle. Instead of sending it back empty I put the Surly in there and told him to do whatever he wanted with it. To date he has never acknowledged receiving this bicycle. This is not surprising inasmuch as he curates a bicycle museum, and sending the curator of a bicycle museum a beat-up Surly is like sending the curator of an art museum a copy of “Cracked” magazine.) This was before gravel tires were really a thing, and I figured they’d help me turn the Surly into a go-anywhere, do-anything kind of bike, though for various reasons the Surly never really lived up to that promise. Next, I used these tires on my Marin Pine Mountain (which I also no longer have) during my ill-fated attempt to ride only one bike for an entire year. Since then they’ve been lying fallow–until it occurred to me that they might be a lot of fun on my singlespeed.

Instead of fussing with sealant and all that stuff, I used good old-fashioned inner tubes and mounted the tires to an old pair of wheels:

I built these wheels myself out of budget parts, back before I had kids and could do stuff like build wheels in the living room. The rims are Alex Adventurers, and the rear hub is a singlespeed cassette-type number that is (or at least was) sold under many different labels, though mine happens to be branded as a Nashbar:

What’s great about this hub is that it was cheap, it works great, it’s durable, you can change cogs in like a minute, and it’s incredibly easy to maintain. What’s not so great is that it weighs roughly nine hundred pounds, and it uses 17mm nuts. There aren’t too many 17mm wrenches out there that are small enough to stow in a saddle bag, and I think I ended up ordering this one from AutoZone or something:

I’m pretty sure the combined weight of the hub and the wrench accounts for at least 50% of the bike’s gross tonnage.

As for the front hub, it’s a garden variety Deore, which are about a dime a dozen and as good or better than anything else out there:

Oh yeah, the wheels each have thirty-six (36) spokes. Because my feeble wheelbuilding skills need all the help they can get.

Since I hoped the Rock n’ Roads would make the bike feel faster on pavement, I figured I’d help things along by gearing it up slightly. So I changed the rear cog from a 20 to a 19, and the front chainring from a 32 to a 34:

My thinking was that this would put a little extra spring in my step on the flats while still allowing me to make it up those offroad climbs.

Finally, I needed a bell since the paths and trails are quite crowded with walkers these days, so I stole one off my son’s old bike:

People are very surprised when they hear what sounds like a kid on training wheels behind them, only to turn around and find this:

That’s a Vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt and the Outlier shorts I’ve had since 2009–and while I was in the Wayback Machine I also grabbed the Vittoria 1976 shoes that I’ve also had since 2009:

While you may think I was attempting to push my foppish look over the top, I mostly wore them because the elevator in my building is being replaced and the soft rubber soles make it much easier to negotiate the five flights of stairs between my apartment and the bike room.

So how did this “gravelization” work? Quite well! In fact it may be just what this bike needed. When I first got the Engin I lived in Brooklyn, and when I wanted to go mountain biking I’d drive to the trails and ride around in circles like an idiot. So a singlespeed with a low gear and fat, squishy tires made sense. But now that I live in the bucolic north Bronx I forego the car and instead string together different parks and trails, of which there are plenty within easy striking distance of my home. The “gravelization” worked extremely well for this, and I rode for Fifty (50) American Fun Miles (well, okay, 49.99 miles) without ever lamenting my gear or tire choice:

Even the shoes worked great, though every so often a twig or a leaf stem would make its way through one of the ventilation holes and poke me in the foot:

While some might equate singlespeed bicycles with austerity, this particular ride was both sumptuous and decadent. Not only did I take in a wide variety of terrain, but I also basked in so much brilliant foliage it made me wanna puke:

I even made a coffee stop:

Stopping for coffee during a ride is like stopping the movie to change into your sweatpants–it’s how you know you’re really getting into it.

The only blemish on all of this was when I got trapped on the Old Croton Aqueduct because they were repaving the sidewalk and I had to cut through someone’s yard so I wouldn’t have to backtrack:

Sorry I trampled your ground cover. It was either that or ruin my shoes in the cement.

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