Why are SS'ers so damn fast?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Why are SS'ers so damn fast?

    Background:

    I raced my first MTB race in over 18 years last weekend. It was a 3 hour "endurance" race on a local trail that I know very, very well. I had two bike choices for this inaugural race: my Yeti ASR-5 and my Niner One9 SS. I just started riding SS this year and have put far miles on my SS than my geared bike so far. That, combined with finding out that the course bypassed the two toughest climbs on the trail, convinced me to ride my SS.

    So I arrive at race-day registration and have several options for which class to register for:

    Novice (no age groups)
    50+ Base
    50+ Sport
    50+ Expert
    Singlespeed (no age groups)

    It seemed a bit goofy to ride SS and not race the SS category but, having just turned 50, the lack of age groups made pushed me away from SS. Given that I hadn't raced a bike in 18 years, I went with 50+ base.

    I ended up winning that small class (10 riders) and realized I should have gone 50+ Sport. But with nothing to compare against, I was guessing.

    Then I did some digging around...I looked at all the other categories to see where I would have finished. I looked at those SS times and those guys were some of the fastest guys on the course. What the hell? I would have finished 8/17 or something like that had I raced SS.

    when I posed this question in the Endurance XC racing forum, the best response was that SS'ers are "young and angry" and that's why they are so fast.

    LOL...but there's got to be more to it than that. A SS bike is rarely an advantage in a race, as far as I can see...other than a few pounds of weight. But it's almost always a disadvantage (usually in the 'wrong' gear). I really only noticed the disadvantages on the flats where I couldn't downshift.

    But what makes SS'ers so fast on a potentially inferior bike?

  2. #2
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    Because ss riders get laid more often.
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  3. #3
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    My wife must not have gotten the memo!

  4. #4
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    As you said, the course was routed so the big hills were bypassed. they probably went with a slightly more aggressive gear. Also, age does come into it. A lot of young, fit, knees still working properly, crazy people ride single speed. since you haven't raced in 18 years, I wouldn't worry about placing higher than expected. Go into the next cat group next time.

  5. #5
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    Have you timed yourself on the same trail on each bike? Depending on the course running up hills could faster than pedaling.I have surprised and been surprised on/by single speeders.

  6. #6
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    In addition to the comment concerning the course bypasses of the big ups, could it also have something to do with momentum and the need to maintain it? So, for instance, instead of slowing down for some obstacles the SS just plows through or as a hill is approached (as mentioned they were small) the increased pedaling to get as far up the hill before the labored pedal strokes? With SS you got what you have for the gear ratio and I've found I take a breather or pedal slower sometimes with gears, because shifting.

    It really could be the young and angry thing, I'm not denying it, the anger has powered has powered me up a few hills.

    Also, my wife did not get the memo, so that adds to the personal anger level.
    I don't know why,... it's just MUSS easier to pedal than the other ones.

  7. #7
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    Because the faster you ride, the quicker you get to the beer at the end!

  8. #8
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    Most SSers that I know are very experienced riders looking for a new/simple twist on trail riding. Most of the time, that experience translates to fitness and speed. It's not the bike, it's the riders.

  9. #9
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    It's the mentality of a single speeder that usually makes the difference.

    When i used to ride a geared bike i would shift down to an easy gear and go super slow up the climbs or at a pace i thought was fast. It was definitely not fast!!!

    When i first got my torture machine i was too stubborn to get off and walk so i started flying up the climbs and I would lose some time on the DH but not a ton because i learned to break as little as possible and turn every bump or rock into a pump track to gain momentum. I finally got that painful climbing mentality instilled into me and it made me way faster than i used to be.

    Now that I ride both I try to climb in a gear equivalent of a single speed and then ride the flats and descents in a huge gear so it's night and day from riding my single speed.

    I have watched tons of friends move over to the dark side and all of a sudden they are way faster on the climbs

  10. #10
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    My theory is this...
    On a SS, your effort is generally a function of the grade and gear you're running. When it gets steep, you put forth more effort as opposed to hitting the "easy buttons" to keep your HR low. So, think the SS makes you strong since it sort of builds in interval training. BTW, I only ride SS mtb's and when I do a "recovery ride", I HAVE to chose my gearing and route very carefully...I'll blow through my planned HR limit even if I try and take it easy.
    The comments about being more in tune with momentum and stuff is totally true as well. I find that instead of spending time thinking about the gear to choose, I'm looking ahead trying to figure out how to conserve momentum.
    What I also notice, is that at some fitness and skill level, it seems the pendulum swings back the other way. Dudes around here (PHX) that are racing Cat 1 and pro MTB are riding super light FS rigs and just killing it. They do structured intervals however...I think for the rest of us that just like to ride(and work hard while doing it) find that the SS not only builds fitness, but makes us more efficient riders.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by KevinGT View Post
    My wife must not have gotten the memo!
    My Australian sense of humour makes me want to reply with "No, she got that memo" but I don't know if it will offend you so I'll refrain.

    Grumps

  12. #12
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    Single speed forces you to ride harder and more aggressively.

    It's as simple as that

  13. #13
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    On more flowing, twisty trails, I am always faster on my rigid SS bike. I think I do a better job of conserving momentum for hills and the bike has a bit better XC style geometry vs my geared HT or fatbike.

  14. #14
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    I'm not fast! On any bike...

    "it IS possible that you are faster or slower than anybody else who is having at least as much if not more or less fun"

  15. #15
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    When I get the right gearing, I'm faster. Wrong gearing, I'm blown up.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by khardrunner14 View Post
    Most SSers that I know are very experienced riders looking for a new/simple twist on trail riding. Most of the time, that experience translates to fitness and speed. It's not the bike, it's the riders.

    This^

    SS'ers are fast because they are generally hardcore. Hardcore riders on geared bikes are fast too.

  17. #17
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    In a 50 mile race with lots of climbing that I've done 5 times, 4 on a FS geared bike and last year on a rigid SS, I beat my best time by 40 minutes on the SS. I'm not fast at all but I was faster on the SS mostly because I couldn't gear down and go easy on the climbs. But I'd also been riding the SS for a year at that point so I was also in better shape than prior years.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by KevinGT View Post
    But what makes SS'ers so fast on a potentially inferior bike?
    Because the engine is what makes them fast. If you give them a geared bike, or they race the with cat 1/pros, they will still be fast. I know a good amount of guys racing cat 1 on their ss against open fields.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crosstown Stew View Post
    Because the engine is what makes them fast. If you give them a geared bike, or they race the with cat 1/pros, they will still be fast. I know a good amount of guys racing cat 1 on their ss against open fields.
    This.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by wjphillips View Post
    Single speed forces you to ride harder and more aggressively.

    It's as simple as that
    Actually, it's the opposite IMO. SS has forced recovery built in to the ride. I ride no less aggressively when I have gears at my disposal. Perhaps even harder than I ride SS. But I end up with dead legs when I hit a climb because I was trying to push 34x11 on the flats. :idiot:

  21. #21
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    Love these discussions! I demo'ed a 2015 Stumpjumper FS bike 2 weeks ago on my local trail. HATED EVERY SECOND on the bike I was so slow and so tired from doing one lap. My conclusion: I am a masher and a terrible spinner. HT SS for me. Not that I am fast, but I am certainly faster on a SS, and a whole lot happier too.
    -rides bikes for fun.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by solo-x View Post
    Actually, it's the opposite IMO. SS has forced recovery built in to the ride. I ride no less aggressively when I have gears at my disposal. Perhaps even harder than I ride SS. But I end up with dead legs when I hit a climb because I was trying to push 34x11 on the flats. :idiot:
    amateur :P
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  23. #23
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    I've raced in the WVMBA series and even though I'm not now...I still watch some of the rankings and SS are often fastest on the course any given race. I thought it was crazy too. I tried it. Didn't work out the same for me. But I'm fat, out of shape, and will always be slow.
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  24. #24
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    When I was younger, fitter, and angrier, I never got beat by a single speeder. Then I got older, less fit, mellower and found that I grabbed for that extra gear when the going got tuff and some single speeders would sneak by on the climbs. I added a SS in for training and got fitter again, but still found myself reaching for the shifter when it started to hurt. So I started racing single speed and got younger, fitter, and angrier (at least for a couple of years). Now that I'm well north of 50, even being on a single speed can't make me younger, and fit at 50+ is not what fit at 40 or 30 is (expect if you're name is Ned Overend). So...being faster on a single speed can come from both fitness or riding style, but it's mostly (IMO) due to the forced aggression on tough sections (i.e. - climbs).
    (TL / DR: When mental toughness is strong, multi-geared bikes are faster. If mental toughness is limiting, riding single speed increases it and you get faster.)
    "The plural of anecdote is not data." -- Attributed to various people in a variety of forms, but always worth remembering...

  25. #25
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    While age can be a factor its not always. One of the fastest guys that I race with is 50 and he races SS. He typically races 50-59 expert and wins but when he does race SS Expert/elite he is top three.

  26. #26
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    IN terrain that either going up and down and twisting, the majority of riders would eventually be faster on a SS. Some riders are really good at shifting though can still be faster on geared bike.

    IMO the bane of SSs are.

    1. slightly descent that not be pumped

    2.slight uphill that will spin you out.

    3. flats that are boring like road or railtrail.

    4. really steep hills that you either slip or get VO2 maxxed out on. Although walking is sometimes faster than people spinning their grannies.

  27. #27
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    I think it comes down to a few things:

    1. The mentality like previously stated, you know you can't gear down so you challenge yourself to stay on the bike and make the climb.

    2. The fast SS'ers are likely also fast geared riders as well and would be fast regardless what they ride.

    3. From a training perspective pushing a bigger gear all the time builds leg power better than sitting and spinning. Because of this if your legs have enough power. To top each climb of a race without seizing up than in many cases (depending on the length of the climbs) you don't dip into your cardio reserves as much than spinning would. Think the difference between running and cycling,the former is more lungs and the later is more legs.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by KevinGT View Post
    But what makes SS'ers so fast on a potentially inferior bike?
    It's not about the bike.

    Find a trail and time yourself doing test laps at race speed on your geared and your SS. In most cases, you'll be surprised that your times are very similar. You can track your wattage, HR, speed, etc... as well if you want to, but again - you'll be surprised how similar it all works out to be.

  29. #29
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    An older and very experienced rider I know said he learned more about mountain biking from riding behind two very good SS riders, than he learned in the last 10 years. He was amazed at the methods they used to gain/keep momentum, and how they were utilizing different trail features to create speed.

  30. #30
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    relative newb here (2.5ish years on dirt)
    I know when I picked up a SS - that it was pretty good about making sure I suffered for not using brakes correctly and building up momentum to clear things.

    Also makes you get good with quickness at line choices

    Those two things alone sped me up bunches on the geared bike - now I kind of want to just always do SS - but man do endurance events hurt without your LazyBoy Recliner FSR

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crosstown Stew View Post
    Because the engine is what makes them fast. If you give them a geared bike, or they race the with cat 1/pros, they will still be fast. I know a good amount of guys racing cat 1 on their ss against open fields.
    Yes this. It is that simple.
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  32. #32
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    Because beer

  33. #33
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    and Amendment 64
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  34. #34
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    Because it hurts so good.

  35. #35
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    It's not because of some super scientific explanation. You go faster up hills because you have to. And beer.

    PS-I'm middle aged and mellow, so much for that theory. Wait, I'm also slow.

  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Awshucks View Post
    Because it hurts so good.
    Pretty much. On gears the hurt is bad and I gear down while on SS I suck it up and use it for motivation to keep grinding. I'm always faster on my SS road or mountain bike.
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  37. #37
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    its all rider

  38. #38
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    I'm faster riding SS because I have to be, I can't spin.
    Instead of the old habit of shifting to make a climb easier, I stand up and attack.
    I'm up the hill at 3x the speed.

    Slight downhills are the only time I get annoyed.

  39. #39
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    I know you're talking about the Ft. Yargo race. I raced SS and finished in the top half. Six of us were within a couple minutes of each other. The first place guy was really fast. My times included stopping to change water bottles and downing a gel between each lap.

    That course is almost too fast for SS, especially for the 19t cog i left on the bike. I don't know how that first place guy was so fast. He must have been pushing a big gear as i was spinning out much of the time.

  40. #40
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    You guys were smokin' fast. All around that 2:40 mark...a full 11 minutes faster than me. I rode 32x20 (just started riding SS this year) and should have geared down. I have a 19t in the mail and will hopefully be able to handle 18t for next year's race.

  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeT View Post
    I started racing single speed and got younger, fitter, and angrier.
    Oh yeah!

  42. #42
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    When I went SS, I expected climbing to suck. To my surprise, when I can't shift down, I just stand up and push harder to keep the bike moving. Going at the sit-and-spin speeds I use with my other bikes would mean stalling out and tipping over. (There are places where I get off and walk, but if that really bothered me I'd swap in a larger cog.)

    I used to want a 40t or 42t cog for my geared bikes, but not anymore. I'm sure it would just slow me down. Now I'm much more i'm really intrigued by the 6-speed setups some people are building with Hope's trials hub.

  43. #43
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    I always assumed it was because they're trying to catch the thief that stole their gears, but a SSer I know claimed he pedals harder to overcompensate for his small cog.

  44. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by AllMountin' View Post
    I always assumed it was because they're trying to catch the thief that stole their gears, but a SSer I know claimed he pedals harder to overcompensate for his small cog.
    Was the gear thief on a geared bike or SS bike? If geared, he will be caught!

  45. #45
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    I bought a SS to help train my legs a bit. I want more power for technical climbs. My local 16m/800ft loop was 1:05 for more than a year. I rode my SS once with a 34/19 with my wife. Too low. Changed to a 34/17. Went out solo and beat my old PR by 10 minutes.

    My old PR was done on my 30# RIP9. The SS rigid is 22#.

    Sometimes it is the bike...

  46. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by cbrock450 View Post
    It's the mentality of a single speeder that usually makes the difference.

    When i used to ride a geared bike i would shift down to an easy gear and go super slow up the climbs or at a pace i thought was fast. It was definitely not fast!!!

    When i first got my torture machine i was too stubborn to get off and walk so i started flying up the climbs and I would lose some time on the DH but not a ton because i learned to break as little as possible and turn every bump or rock into a pump track to gain momentum. I finally got that painful climbing mentality instilled into me and it made me way faster than i used to be.

    Now that I ride both I try to climb in a gear equivalent of a single speed and then ride the flats and descents in a huge gear so it's night and day from riding my single speed.

    I have watched tons of friends move over to the dark side and all of a sudden they are way faster on the climbs
    Yep. You charge hills instead of doing the sit-and-spin thing.

    And even when on the flats, a lot of riders shift into their most efficient gear (and sort of balance the effort with the gear they're in) instead of just pedaling like a maniac. If you want to see how fast guys can spin a singlespeed gear (basically riding in the "wrong gear"), watch pro BMX racing. Of course an xc race is not a sprint.... but still, that attitude can serve you well.

  47. #47
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    Have done the same hill climb (zero flats or downs) race in the Rockies region for like the last 10 years... only one of them on a SS (this year). Fastest time by like 3 mins (and that's a big improvement) was on the SS. Hm For me, I was forced to turn the cranks and did... would have bailed on the gears. It's the mentality of the SS rider (who is likely already a very fit rider or probably wouldn't even consider riding a SS in this region) that pushes them on the trail. I am fastest on my SS, and it's the only explanation I can offer.
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  48. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeT View Post
    (TL / DR: When mental toughness is strong, multi-geared bikes are faster.)
    and even faster in the hands of a rider who knows his/her optimal power/cadence curves and uses the gears correctly

    An interesting read here and here

  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by The STIG View Post
    its all rider
    Not quite......

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by c8stom View Post
    and even faster in the hands of a rider who knows his/her optimal power/cadence curves and uses the gears correctly

    An interesting read here and here
    Here's another article about efficiency using bigger rings/sprockets well worth reading

  51. #51
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    it depends on the course... for me at least... I test rode the Mountain Mayhem race course (on a pre ride) and I was about 1.5mph faster on my geared bike... I thought about running it on my SS.. but I was super fast on my geared bike...

    I rode the shorter distance category... came in 1st overall... on the geared bike..


    but I can see certain courses really favoring the single speed..

  52. #52
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    For me, I find that whatever I'm riding, I have to settle into a comfortable cadence. On the SS, every pedal stroke of that cadence propels me just a wee bit farther (faster) than if I settle into the cadence on my geared full squish. Human nature being what it is, I tend to always select the easier gear versus being unable to on the SS.

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