The Angry Singlespeeder: The Swiss Army Knife of Bikes

Cross Opinion

“If you could have one – and only one – bicycle, which would it be?”

All ride and no work makes prickly pear a happy cactus

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.This article originally appeared on Mtbr.com.

The other night I was faced with a quandary. It was one of the greatest quandaries of my entire life. A friend asked, “If you could have one – and only one – bicycle, which would it be?” I couldn’t immediately answer him, because, quite frankly it blew my mind. I’ve never even considered that kind of situation as a possible reality. One bike to rule all? Seriously? I didn’t think it was a fair question. Riding bikes is like eating chocolate chip cookies; you can never have just one.

I went home, opened the garage and stared at my collection of six bikes. Every one of them I ride, some more often than others, but they all get use. Otherwise, what’s the point in having them? I’ve got two Ibis Tranny mountain bikes (one geared, one singlespeed), an Ibis Hakkalugi Disc cyclocross bike, an early 1980s Columbus-tubed Bianchi touring/cyclocross bike, a Bridgestone RB-1 road bike set up as a singlespeed/fixie and my dad’s 1955 Miele Sport three-speed. Which one to keep?

Modern cross bikes are every bit as fast on the tarmac as most road bikes

Versatility would be paramount in this decision. It would have to be a bike that can do everything, because I’m a guy who likes to ride everything. Whether it’s a century on pavement, a week-long bikepacking trip, miles and miles of singletrack or dirt roads that stretch past the horizon, the perfect bike would have to be able to tackle it all with speed, agility and comfort.

Cyclocross bikes are the proverbial Swiss Army Knife of bikes. They can do anything and go anywhere, so my decision was immediately narrowed down to two bikes – the Hakkalugi Disc and the old Bianchi. Both bikes are incredibly versatile and feel at home both on the fastest stretches of pavement and on rocky, technical singletrack. But which one is better suited for do-all status?

Columbus-tubed Bianchi frame found for free at a garage sale

The Bianchi is near and dear to my heart because it’s a rusty old frame I picked up for free at a garage sale eight years ago. What I love about this bike besides the fact that it was free is its exceptional ride qualities, the original WTB/Specialized dirt drop handlebars, semi-horizontal dropouts for singlespeed use and eyelets for racks and fenders. What I don’t love is its 25 pound heft and its far too narrow 120mm rear hub spacing that limits rear tire width. And despite having Shimano M900 XTR cantilever brakes that work quite well, even the best cantilevers pale in comparison to hydraulic disc brakes.

Even with road slicks a cyclocross bike can explore off-road

For all-out, all-around performance, the Hakka Disc – or any disc brake cyclocross bike for that matter – is a hard bike to beat. Thanks to its 135mm rear hub spacing, not only can the Hakka accommodate 29er mountain bike wheels with tubeless tires as large as 38c, but it also has hydraulic Formula R1 disc brakes to help it conquer some of the most technical trails in San Diego with confident control. The recent advent of hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless tires on cyclocross bikes has only further solidified the cyclocross bike as the ultimate do-all machine.

With hydraulic discs, tubeless tires and a skilled pilot, a ‘cross bike can handle this trail

To prove its worthiness, I took the Hakka down a trail called Bowling Alley, a gnarly, rutted-out downhill in North County San Diego littered with rocks that knock you around like bowling pins. If it weren’t for the hydraulic discs and tubeless tires, there’s no way I would have made it down Bowling Alley without either double flatting or careening off the edge of a cliff with no brakes.

 
One of the greatest photos of all time – Long live Johnny Tomac

After conquering Bowling Alley, the next morning I slapped a set of 25c road wheels on the Hakka and did the Swami’s Saturday Ride, a super fast and painful road ride that sees uphill speeds approaching 30 mph. The Hakka felt nearly as fast as my old Madone, but with a lot more comfort and braking power. At 17.5 lbs with road wheels, the Hakka isn’t the lightest road bike you’ll ever own, but the Madone wouldn’t last 30 seconds in places that the Hakka thrives. It was hard to believe I was able to ride one of the most technical trails and one of the hardest group road rides in San Diego on the same bike.

So to answer the original question, if I had one bike to rule all, it would actually have to be a cyclocross bike that blended the best attributes of both the Ibis and the Bianchi. I guess you could call it what many consider a “monstercross” bike. It would have to be carbon, because it’s lighter and easily repairable. It would also have to be a disc brake frame with 135mm rear hub spacing, room for at least 38c tires, replaceable dropouts to run as either a geared bike or singlespeed, eyelets for racks or fenders, and oh yeah, it would have to be a breakaway bike so I can travel with it. Now that would be the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of bikes.

It’s a tall order for sure, but if I’m gonna have only one bike, it’s got to have everything. Now, does anybody know if such a beast exists? If so, let me know. I might have to add one to the collection just in case I’m ever forced to sell all my other bikes.

The Angry Singlespeeder: The Swiss Army Knife of Bikes Gallery
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Bianchi

Columbus-tubed Bianchi frame found for free at a garage sale
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Bianchi

Columbus-tubed Bianchi frame found for free at a garage sale
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Hakka Road

Modern cross bikes are every bit as fast on the tarmac as most road bikes
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Hakka Smile

All ride and no work makes prickly pear a happy cactus
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Hakka Trail

Even with road slicks a cyclocross bike can explore off-road
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Johnny T

One of the greatest photos of all time – Long live Johnny Tomac.
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Trail

With hydraulic discs, tubeless tires and a skilled pilot, a ‘cross bike can handle this trail.
About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Rob says:

    If you fit V brakes to your Bianchi You will have far superior braking to hydraulic disc brakes I fitted V brakes to an old Raleigh and it stops Quicker than my disc brake bike
    if Clearance is an Issue you can remove the brake pad spacer shims i run mine flat to the side of the brake arm with all spacers removed

  • Joe B says:

    Funny, the author says he can do one of the hardest group road ride then turns around and says he needs a new carbon bike. Talk about an illogical statement.

  • David V says:

    I have a Bianchi Axis as an only bike, if you can only have one. CX is the way to go.

  • Aaron says:

    @ Joe B….he never actually says he needs a new carbon bike. He says if he had to have only ONE bike, it would be a carbon disc cyclocross bike.

  • Hook says:

    You lost me when you suggested a carbon fiber bike because it’s “easily repairable”. Really? You’ve done this?
    I agree with most of your other sentiments. I think my personal “swiss army bike” would be a dingle-speed Cross Check.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Hook,

    Get with the times buddy, carbon is easily repairable. My buddy Joe Hendig and I started up CarbonFrameRepair.com nearly three years ago. Hundreds of frames repaired and not one has come back broken. Calfee has repaired thousands of carbon frames. They don’t throw away composite airplane wings when they’re damaged, so why would you throw away a bike frame?

    -ASS

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