Some one hundred years after the first bicycle boom, the single speed has returned to take Atlanta by storm. Just look around and you will see an increasing number of intown riders sporting a sharply appointed one speed for their urban cruising.
The toughest decision for these back-to-basic enthusiasts seems to be whether to have a fixed gear or a free wheel rear hub. If you are uncertain, the difference between the two is really quite elementary. A free wheel hub is found on most bikes, and in particular the coaster bike that many of us first learned to ride on. The free wheel allows you to stop pedaling and coast.
Conversely, a fixed gear hub means that if the real wheel is spinning so are the pedals. You cannot stop pedaling unless you stop the bike. Fixed gear hubs are most commonly found on bikes at the velodrome and they are usually referred to as track bikes. The fixed gear one speeds return to popularity outside the velodrome seems to have started with bike couriers. You may have noticed these rowdy downtown riders performing track stands at traffic lights back before e-mail became the standard mode of delivering documents. A fixed gear makes a track stand much easier because you can use your pedals to keep you balanced. Track stands are way cool. Besides that, with a fixed gear, you don’t even need brakes. This could definitely be a deciding factor.
A couple of other reasons for the one speed’s return as the bike of choice for intowners are the reduced cost and the reduced maintenance. By stripping away all of the extra componentry of a multiple geared bike, you can drop the overall price by nearly a third. If you opt for the minimal handle bars and no brakes, you can increase your savings even further. Eliminating all of this gear reduces the number of things that can go wrong with your bike, not to mention the less likely you are to have parts stolen.
The phenomenon that really catches the eye is the attention to detail regarding color schemes. It seems that people are applying the cash they save on parts to the personalized custom detailing of their frames and wheels. That’s not to say there are no really cool twenty speeds around. It’s just that they are usually traveling too fast to see more than a blur and you are not likely to see one chained to a bike rack in Little 5 Points.
When the original safety bike was brought to America from England in 1887, it replaced the high-wheeled bicycle. This helped make cycling appeal to a much broader market. Orville and Wilber Wright were a big part of the new craze. While most major turn of the century bicycle manufacturers employed mass production techniques, the Wright brothers insisted on hand-crafted originals and emphasized high quality frame construction and a highly polished finish. Oh, and by the way, all of their bikes had only one speed. Orville and Wilber left the bicycle business just after their famous flight in Kitty Hawk, but not before building 300 highly appointed one speeds.
Take a look at the accompanying sampling of photographs from around town and see for yourself how simplicity and beauty can be one in the same when you get it just “Wright.” You too could be ready for flight on on your own personalized urban cruising machine.