I have an affinity for obscurity ... off-the-beaten-path places, no-named bands that fill my Spotify playlist, and simply the innate desire to go upstream. Fortunately or unfortunately the same applies for my tastes in bikes. You see, for a number of years before moving to the Pacific Northwest I rode a singlespeed XC bike at a time when most were not. I was drawn to the allure of singlespeed riding simply because it was "different" back then. But I had help.
Jerry was a mountain biking veteran. Having grown up in Tucson, Arizona he has been biking for decades. By the time I met Jerry he was a retired school teacher who began moonlighting as a hiking and mountain biking guide at the resort where I worked. But Jerry was a different kind of biker ... he didn’t have shifters, derailleurs, or anything like that. Just a bike frame, handle bars, two wheels, front shocks, and brakes. Jerry was a singlespeed mountain biker.
It was my first experience with one of those kinds of bikers as they were certainly a different breed. Kind of like running into a former guitarist from an 80s hair band or a classic rocker, the singlespeed mountain bikers are (or at least were) a throw-back to yesteryear. More than the current fad for professional sports teams to wear throw-back jerseys, these bikers rode this way before it was even cool or desirable. To add to his legend, Jerry (like a classic rocker) would weave us tales of jumping on his mountain bike (before shocks) and riding to Globe on a mixture of trails and dusty desert washboard dirt roads. Globe is a hundred miles away. We sat around in awe. It was like listening to some bassist talk about playing with Jimi Hendrix.
Jerry’s personality matched his love for riding mountain bikes in a way we could deem “quirky.” Come on, no gears? What about long technical climbs? Wouldn’t you spin out when you’re bombing down a singletrack trail? Like an impassioned evangelist, Jerry would do his best to convert us over to his kind of riding and biking lifestyle. I don’t remember the conversation in crisp detail but I recall standing around in our bike shop talking with Jerry, as he wore me down about riding singlespeed. His go-to line was, “If you’re going to do it, you have to be all-in. You have to give yourself six months minimum before you even think of riding a geared bike.” It was like a Gospel presentation and I walked the aisle and converted on the spot.
Since then my love for mountain biking and mountain bikes have been the same ... simple. Over this past year I had bought and sold 4-5 bikes. While it was fun to throw a leg over different brands I found myself continuously going back to my old singlespeed that I had since upgraded to a 1x10, repainted the frame, and swapped out what other components I could. For me though, there's something simple and refreshing about getting out and just riding. My 16 year old soft tail bike keeps up with the other guys on their higher end enduro rigs (on certain trails) and of course on the climbs it scampers right up.
What I continue to learn and be reminded of is that mountain biking in its purist form and essence is about this ... just ride.