Modern mountain bikes really are incredible contraptions. So are road bikes. If, however, you want a simple, low-maintenance ride to exercise or commute on varied terrain with, a single speed bike will do the job quite nicely.
Deservedly or not, I have a hard time trusting bikes with skinny tires to hold my 6’4″, 250 lb frame, especially when I enjoy the occasional bunny-hop or curb roll. My solution was to convert a mountain bike into a single-speed for mostly road use.
This conversion transformed an older Cannondale bike into a single speed ride, stripping off any excess weight, and generally cleaning everything. I obtained a single-speed chain tensioner to keep the chain taught, and a single-speed rear cog second-hand from a friend. I also took off the extra two front chain rings, leaving only the middle ring intact. I considered leaving the outer one as a “bash guard,” but that’s not really the kind of riding I planned on doing with this.
In addition, I added a dedicated single-speed chain, clipless pedals that could be used with normal shoes when needed, and put on road(ish) tires. As tested here, this makes a big difference on paved roads. From personal experience, one really needs to be cautious on fire roads when used to “knobbies.” I managed to wipe out pretty bad on some loose gravel using this bike, but possibly that loss of traction could have happened with either type of tire.
The first video below shows a time-lapse of my basic conversion, and the second shows my tests of the new Michelin Country Rock tires. The engineer in me just couldn’t stand to wonder if they were actually any better performance-wise.
If there’s one thing that frustrates me about this bike, it’s that there’s not a good way to add disk brakes. The front would be possible with a new fork (possibly more than doubling what I’ve spent on the bike), but putting them on the back would be very difficult.
If you’re wondering about the wooden bar grips seen in the second picture, they were put on temporarily, and information on them can be found here.