The art of simplicity

I read a quote from Leonardo De Vinci repeated some 500 years later in the pages of Roleur #17.3

“Simplicity is the ultimate in sophistication”.

To apply this logic to cycling is by no means original nor a giant leap of a faith. It is well documented and well understood, by us: Cyclists.

Yet often I still have to explain why I ride a singlespeed bike. “What do you use that for?” I’m asked. “Tell me again, why this is good?” someone will enquire.

Recently I went out with a group. Some of the people I knew. Many I did not. “What did you bring THAT for?” I was asked at the half way point. “If this gets pacy, you won’t be able to keep up”. To my mind it was a strange thing to say, given that we’ve never met and he had no idea of how much cycling I have or haven’t done, nor any concept of how much work I’m prepared to put in. “I’ll just try and hang on the back” I said and smiled, affably.


On the return, punctures and bad weather lent the group an extra incentive. The speed ramped up. There were around 16 riders left with 15 miles to go. The group fragmented. Two people were off the front. One of them was me. My interrogator was left behind.

The point is here is not about fitness or equipment or ego. But about simplicity. I have one speed on my bike. It’s gearing is 42 x 17. To make that work I have to anticipate hills and carry my speed through them. On downhills I need to make myself small and reduce my wind resistance. When things get pacy on the flat, I concentrate on my cadence, spinning fast on the front and take the draft when tucked behind. I know when to move and when not to. I understand the impact of my choices. I will of course, be spat out when things get very, very quick. But I will hang on for as long as I can and I will work. Very. Very. Hard. I am neither distracted by the crunching of gears nor lulled into a false sense of security by 22 options. I am in the moment. The here and the now.

Too much of life – way too much of life – is complex and difficult and taxing. Whereas cycling – gears or not – is a beautiful, simple pursuit. From the three speed utility of my city bike to the 22 geared luxury of my race bike, it is uncomplicated, unassuming and natural. But everytime I ride that one geared bauty/monster/quandary (delete as applicable), I am reminded of cycling’s simple joys all over again.

‘Ride Single, Ride Strong’ cycle art by unknown artist.

12 replies »

    • ….In fairness I love my geared bikes too, but the single speed always lets me concentrate on almost two things only; my effort and the environment in which I cycle. I did quite enjoy not rising to the verbal bait of the cyclist in question though 🙂

  1. It’s interesting that people equate number of gears directly with speed. Whereas is all about the ratio between the gears and your cadence. More gears just means there is a broader range of speeds available for a particular cadence.
    When I first came to the US I only brought my single speed and many people were amazed I was considering tackling this or that ride. Going up hill I wasn’t the fastest but I was far from the slowest because it’s harder to peddle slowly and you have to maintain a minimum speed. Going downhill was where they caught up or left me behind as I just couldn’t rotate the pedals any faster.
    Having a single speed really teaches you about gears and how when you need to use them, I often see people peddling too slow or more commonly way to fast because they are in the wrong gear. Also in my opinion it really improves your riding.

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