I see that Blue Collar MTB has an interesting article up about single speeding and how it should be a prerequisite for novice trail riders. Seeing as how I am a contributor to the sister of Blue Collar, Twenty Nine Inches, I figured that I'd keep my comments here, so as not to hog up a bunch of commentary space there. I tend to go on and on sometimes, ya know?
I'm seeing two sides to this story, and I haven't quite decided which side to take.........yet, but I think this is the result of a bigger, more complex situation. If you notice what Tim Grahl reports about his conversation with Brad Quartuccio of Dirt Rag, you'll notice that the idea stems from the thought that you would get a better quality single speed at a sub $500.00 price than you would a geared mtb at that price point. So, what is this really saying here?
Are we inferring that mountain bikes at the entry level are too expensive and not high enough quality? Does a higher quality rig, single speed or geared, result in a better off road experience for the beggining off roader? Does any of this really matter at all?
I think all of those are fair questions. My gut reaction is, it really doesn't matter how good your bike is. Or isn't, for that matter. What kind of bandwidth could we fill here with all the stories of begginer mtb'ers or "regular joe" types that were/are cleaning up on folks with mega dollar rigs and more experience on junk equipment? You've all heard the stories before.
So, if it wasn't the equipment, what was it? Skilz my friend, it was da skilz! With the right amount of talent/teaching/practice, you too could be riding at an elevated level compared to most. Yes, even on a mart bike, if need be. While a better bike may enhance the chances of you reaching a higher level or have a better experience, it doesn't guarantee it. No my friend, you can't buy yourself into a great set of off roading skills, ya gots ta earn 'em the good ol' fashioned way.
Now having said all of that, I would agree that perhaps a simpler drivetrain, a rigid platform with super fatty tires, and 29 inch wheels would make the perfect begginer off road machine. Why? Well, it's like Gary Fisher explained to me once. The big wheels "..buy you grace...", the simpler drive train is easier to shift and maintain, (I'd suggest a 1 X 7, or 1 X 8 for longevity and ease of use), and the lack of suspension simplifies things further while enhancing the chances for real trail skills to develope. Sure, a single speed drivetrain might even be better from a simplicity/ ease of use standpoint, but as Tim duly notes in his Blue collar piece, how many folks would get frustrated at having to walk huge sections of single track just because they were relegated to one gear?
So, in the final analysis, I'd say single speeding is best left to us knuckleheads that have a screw or two loose. You know who you are!