Our bike editor couldn't find the ultimate single-speed, so he built one himself
Single-speeds evoke a certain ambivalence in me. On the one hand, there’s admiration, especially for those in the endurance world who can use these bikes on 100-plus-mile races with 15,000 feet of climbing—and win. But my feelings also veer toward derision: in this age of ultrawide cassettes and blink-of-an-eye electronic shifting, choosing one gear feels like shopping for a Tesla but opting for a Flintstones footmobile.
Of course, there are training upsides. “You can gain muscular power and core strength,” says Lynda Wallenfels, owner of LW Coaching, who works with some of the best endurance mountain bikers in the country. Wallenfels has training plans specifically for single-speeders who want to cultivate those strengths. “You improve efficiency by staying off the brakes in technical sections and downhills, and you develop the ability to produce power in a full cadence range, from 30 rotations per minute grinding to 130 rotations per minute rap ’n’ coast.”
More important, single-speeds can be really damn fun. “It brings a new dynamic and variety into your riding,” says Wallenfels. “The same old trails look brand new from the seat of a single-speed.”
I’ve long toyed with adding a single-speed to my quiver. But many off-the-shelf models are low-end and heavy, and when you’re used to riding fast, light racing bikes, nothing kills the joy of one gear faster than a ponderous ride. So late last year, I set out to build what would be the ultimate single-speed machine.
Enter the Reeb Dikyelous 29er.
Created by the Oskar Blues Brewery, Reeb (yep, that’s “beer” backwards) sells a small range of boutique, made-in-America bikes with snappy names like Dirt Diggler and reeBMX, all of which can be built as single-speeds using Gates Carbon Drive belts. Over years of testing, we’ve found models like the Reeb Donkadonk to be as fun as they are iconoclastic, which seems like just the right balance for the ultimate single-speed.
My first choice was steel or titanium, and though the bike would have been three-quarters of a pound lighter in titanium, I opted for True Temper OX Platinum steel for its buttery feel and stunning patina finish. Since this was to be the paragon of the genre, I went with all of my favorite parts. There’s pretty much no lighter and stiffer option out there than the Race Face Next SL crank, so that was a no-brainer. I wanted the bike to be light yet incredibly capable, hence the 140-millimeter RockShox Pike fork and the Thomson Elite External Dropper seatpost. These two parts are, without question, the best in their respective classes. Cockpit duties went to the burly new Easton Havoc 35 Carbon line for its mix of stiffness, extra width (800 millimeters on the bars), and light weight. For the saddle, I chose the carbon-railed Specialized Romin EVO, because it’s comfortable and matched the aesthetic. And since light, rigid wheels are probably a bike’s most most important feature, I chose the single finest hoops on the market: Enve M50 Fifties.
It’s not a cheap bike, and I lost count along the way of exactly how much it cost as I subbed in parts I already owned, traded with friends for spares, and basically pieced it together as best I could. It would probably cost around $8,000 as built. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the frame sells for a pretty reasonable $1,600, and Reeb offers complete bikes for just double that.
I’ll be the first to admit that $8,000 for a bike with one gear seems…obnoxious. But you know what? I have more bikes in my garage than most people have shirts in their closet, and there’s not a single one that I like riding more than the Dikyelous. The super slacked-out front end (67.25 degrees) combined with the bomber fork and 125 millimeters of seat drop make for a bike that gobbles big rocks like Tic Tacs. It’s only a hardtail, sure, but no trail is too rough or scary for this bike. And just as important, at 23.1 pounds, it’s plenty light for climbing, even in our jaggy high-altitude Rocky Mountains, and it’s a real treat just to spin out on the buff singletrack in the valley.
Will I become a dedicated single-speeder? Probably not, but that’s because my wife all but appropriated the Dikyelous after she borrowed it shortly after its completion. But if there were a bike that might ever win me over full-time to the simplicity and quiet of single-speeding, without a doubt, this is the one. Every time I take it out, I giggle like a five-year-old who just got his first bike on Christmas Day. And there’s no derision in that laughter.