*GT Peace Single Speed Bicycle*
I've been riding bicycles for fitness, fun and transportation for most of my life and, about 18 years ago, started spending money for "higher end" bicycles. I've owned several good road bikes and at least as many mountain bikes. In addition to my own, I've outfitted the family with bicycles as well. Being a self-sufficient type, I learned early to perform all necessary maintenance on bicycles we owned, from replacing tubes to building new wheels and everything in between.
At the pinnacle, I was riding 300-400 miles a week during the summers, through the mountains east and north of Albuquerque, NM. Very few parts survive that kind of mileage for long and I went through many sets of wheels, brakes, cogs, chains, derailleurs, cables, cable housings, seat posts, handle bars, etc… When I left Albuquerque, I hung the bikes in the garage and only rode a couple times a year for the next couple years. I rode once in a while with my daughters, but seldom any significant distance, hills, or speed.
A new job a few years later provided an opportunity to ride with some new acquaintances in a moderately sized group. At the time, my bikes were dilapidated and mostly unserviceable, so it was time to start fresh with a new bike. I started out, when I was young, riding steel frames and I still really like them. While the bike industry has main-streamed aluminum bicycles, I don't like the way they ride as I find them too stiff and unforgiving. I've also ridden carbon fiber bicycles and find them to be less forgiving and comfortable than aluminum. I like the spring and snap that a good chro-moly steel frame provides, regardless of the slight increase in weight and decreased race performance (I'm too big to race, FNV).
In addition to preferring steel frames, I tired of constant maintenance on gears, and found that even the most expensive Shimano component group would only last 2-3k miles with routine adjustment and maintenance while propelling my body weight. I wanted something simpler that I could just hop on and ride, so started looking into single speed bicycles and bicycles with internally geared rear hubs. While the internally geared hubs are excellent for street and commuting, they're less than ideal for off-roading due to their weight and design.
One last option for me to ponder was wheel size. Single speed steel-framed bicycles are available with 24", 26", and 29" wheels. 24" wheels spin up quickly but don't do much to smooth out rough terrain or hold speed on flat/hard trails or roads. 26" wheels were the standard for mountain bikes for many years, and offer a good compromise of weight, handling and terrain-smoothing. 29" wheels are the new standard for mountain bikes and hold speed well while smoothing terrain. The drawback I see with 29" wheels is that they're not as maneuverable and parts aren't as readily available overseas.
After looking at websites and local bicycle stores I decided on the GT Peace Single bicycle and purchased through mail order for $500. The bicycle came equipped with good tires, seat and handlebars and cable-operated disc brakes. After brief assembly and adjustment, the bike was ready to ride. Yeehah!!! It felt like I was on a top-quality BMX bike I rode when I was a little younger. In its stock configuration, the bike is great, with a chro-moly fork as well, that's as springy and snappy as the frame. Wheelies and stoppies are easy given the springy frame and fork combined with excellent disc brakes. The bike accelerates quickly and holds its speed moderately well with the stock tires. The only component that really seemed to need upgrading out of the box was the pedals, which are cheap composite and have poor quality bearings.
When I started riding with the group from work, the bikes deficiencies became painfully apparent. With only 1 gear, it's never the right gear. On the up-hills, I had to pedal too hard, which slowed me down and hurt. On the down-hills I couldn't pedal fast enough to keep up. On the flats, I'd either spin out or tire of the grind depending on slight incline up or down. That said, riding with only 1 gear still beat adjusting derailleurs and dealing with them when sticks get stuck or other problems come up. Another advantage is when you pedal the single speed, it goes. No waiting for gears to shift. An additional problem I found with the bike was that I couldn't keep up on the down-hills with the solid fork, since the ride was too bumpy to maintain a decent speed.
To upgrade, I bought a good suspension fork from a friend who was parting out his $1500 bike that he didn't like. He sold me the fork for $50 while it was probably worth about 7 times as much. I also ordered clip-in/cleated pedals with shoes and cleats for another $100 through mail order. The clip pedals help with up-hills as they enable pulling on the up-stroke to enhance torque. They also enable smoother spinning on flats and down-hills, enabling a little faster top/average speed. The fork also helped significantly with bumps on the down-hill runs, enabling me to stay near the front of the pack for most of the rides. To maintain velocity equivalent with other riders I was with, I often have to dismount and walk/jog the up-hills, which isn't a problem. Walking is equally efficient to their low-gear pedaling up steep hills (although slightly less cool).
I've since moved, and am not riding with the same group I used to. But I still ride the GT as often as I can; it's just fun. It provides an extra challenge while requiring minimal maintenance. To me, it would also be ideal post-SHTF due to its simplicity and inherent reliability. Without the crowd that I felt compelled to keep up with, I don't see the need for the suspension fork or clip/cleated pedals. The only upgrade the bike would really need for a practical person looking for a fitness machine is better pedals.
If you don't think you'd enjoy riding a single speed bicycle, the GT Peace is also available in a 1x9 configuration with rear derailleur only, which lessens maintenance requirements. It also comes with 29" wheels, which will roll easier over bumps and logs while maintaining speed on roads and hard trails more effectively, which is highly beneficial.
If you're not a racer and are looking for a new bicycle, I couldn't give the GT Peace a higher recommendation. It's awesome and should make any owner very happy, given its comfortable ride and rugged simplicity.Morpheus
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