Why is this? Why did I end the 200 mile ride on the singlespeed fresh?? Does not thinking of shifting have something to do with it? Does having only one gear condition the legs to work with that gear alone??? Is it easier to ride a singlespeed in long distances???
That is, why does riding singlespeed (or even fixed) over long distances often feel less tiring in the end than riding geared?
It’s true that riding without having to shift requires less mental effort. You just go forth and pedal. But it’s unlikely that this is the whole story, or even a major factor in reducing overall fatigue. In part, this is because any cyclist who rides as much as we do doesn’t really have to think about shifting very often, if at all. But mostly it’s because all of the other things that you still have to think about are the same. Where the next turn is, whether to eat the last mini-burrito now or save it for later, if there’s enough water left in your bottles, why your left pinky finger has gone numb again, that your ass hurts after 150 miles in the saddle. And on.
Here’s my theory for why I think singlespeeding is less fatiguing–at least in the right circumstances–than riding a geared rig. My body–and probably human bodies in general, since I’m not in any way unique–doesn’t groove on sameness, whether it’s the sameness of sitting in an office chair all day or the sameness of riding at roughly the same cadence, at roughly the same effort level, and in roughly the same position.
Riding geared lends itself to sameness, while riding singlespeed lends itself to difference. I reckon this is true in at least three key ways.
Cadence. When riding geared, I tend to use the gearing to keep my cadence relatively steady and within a relatively narrow band. On a singlespeed, my cadence varies by a much greater amount–perhaps 3-4 times as much. What’s more, it tends to shift back and forth much more frequently.
Effort. Riding geared, largely because the gearing is able to stabilize cadence and compensate for incline and wind resistance, tends to keep effort level within the same relatively narrow band that cadence does. On a singlespeed, the effort level tends not only to vary by a greater amount and more often, but also in how it stresses my body–that is, whether it’s primarily cardiovascular, primarily muscular, or both together.
Position. I tend to stay in the saddle much more when riding geared, often to the point where I have to remind myself to move around a bit to relieve bodily tension that arises from riding in a single position at a steady cadence with roughly the same level of effort. This just isn’t possible when riding singlespeed, because the changes in cadence and effort–especially when incline, wind resistance, or speed variations cause them–require me to ride out of the saddle or move back and forth on the saddle to change the angle of attack on the pedals. This not only gives my body a break from one position by moving into another, but it also actively engages more of my core and upper body, instead of leaving them static.
The bottom line: it’s about variety.
I’m much more likely to get more physical variety when riding a singlespeed than I am when riding geared. And I’m much more likely to need that variety, and benefit from that variety, when riding long distances on paved or gravel roads. My legs stay fresher because they are sometimes pedaling fast, sometimes slow, sometimes hard and sometimes easy. My entire body stays fresher because it develops less tension from remaining in the same position for too long.
Now, does this cause less fatigue, or is it merely less perceived fatigue? I have no idea. And thinking about it just makes me tired.