How can I build muscle on a single speed bicycle?
July 18, 2006 12:05 AM   Subscribe

48 x 16 single speed... have I topped out in muscle building?

First of all - NO - I don't ride fixed gear nor do I want to. I know it's a great way to build muscle but I feel like I'm too heavy for it. Plus I value my joints and general safety...

So, I'm 6'1" and 210lbs and I ride single speed around Chicago's flat streets during my daily commute (short - about 4 miles.)

I've been riding 48x16 for about... gezz... maybe two years? (has it been that long?) I feel like the ratio isn't doing anything for me anymore. I get out of the hole quick (especially when I stand...) but I feel like I top out quick and then just hammer with no real benefit.

My question is this: If I go up to say... 52x16 is this a good way to pump up or is there something else I should be doing (hammer harder, etc?)

My commute is not ideal for training - I'm on city streets for only about four miles each way, but I think it's a good time of day where I could get more of a quick workout. My goal is to continue to build muscle which will help me become faster on road bike rides.

Is it as simple as swapping a chain ring, or am I missing something?
posted by wfrgms to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you can comfortably ride a heavier gear, then it's not like adding/dropping teeth is going to do you any harm.
I rode 50x14 fixed in Oakland and San Francisco until an unrelated knee injury, and when I started riding again, at 50x18, my legs stayed noticably smaller.
Being able to push a tall gear versus being able to spin are two very different schools of thought, but my personal belief is that you should be comfortable, and spinning out is not my idea of comfort.
posted by gally99 at 12:55 AM on July 18, 2006

When you say "become faster on road bike rides", what sort of riding are you talking about? If you mean a typical club ride of 40-80 km (25 to 50 miles), then a 4 mile commute is not going to help much. Heck, you won't even be warmed up by the time you get to work. Just about the only thing that you'll improve is your ability to sprint with cold muscles, which isn't a smart thing to do in the first place.

If you want to become a fast road rider, you have to ride lots and ride smart. Hill sprints. Intervals. Tempo pacelines. Lots of spinning in Zone 2 on your Heart Rate Monitor. And if you want to challenge your legs in the right way, you definitely need more than one gear. I've never seen anyone win a race on a singlespeed except in very tight, technical criteriums at bike courier events.
posted by randomstriker at 3:31 AM on July 18, 2006

Yes, changing the gearing is as simple as swapping a chainring. Two things, though:

1. randomstriker is correct. The real way you should be "pumping up" is by doing lots of distance road riding.

2. your objections to riding fixed are nonsense, and if you do want your commute to be doing something for you, fixed (with its constant motion) will do a hell of a lot more than single speed. I'm a big guy too, 6'2" and about 200, and fixed is no problem. I have balky knees, so I use... a brake. And general safety? No different from any other bike.
posted by The Michael The at 5:32 AM on July 18, 2006

Oh, and you'd probably have to add links to the chain if you increase the size of the chainring.
posted by The Michael The at 6:13 AM on July 18, 2006

You really need to be riding the distance to build your muscles up, but you can still do good on the SS. Have you been spinning as fast as you can? If you can achieve a cadence of 120rpm with the 48-16 you'll be going a little faster than 25mph. That would bring a really nice, non-power component to your road game.
posted by jmgorman at 6:15 AM on July 18, 2006

If you want to build your muscles up, start doing high-intensity interval training. Go all out for a minute, then go easy for a minute. Repeat about 10 times per session.
posted by synecdoche at 6:32 AM on July 18, 2006

Depending on the type of rear dropouts you have, you may be able to just loosen the rear wheel and slide it forward a few mm's. Extra links may not be necessary.

If your dropouts are not horizontal and NOT vertical or diagonal though, ignore this advice and just buy a new chain. It's never a bad time for a new chain.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2006

Its the heart muscle that needs building, not the legs. That is the critical muscle in cycling. For that, distance, distance, distance. 4mi a day won't cut it.

That's why you top out quick and then no benefit.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:31 AM on July 18, 2006

Leave home earlier and take a much longer route to work. BTW, I am 6 foot, 270 lbs fixed with a front brake on a Surly Cross Check. No problemo.
posted by greedo at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2006

Another big guy riding fixie here: 48x14, (and I use a front brake as well) and I am 6'5" and 250lbs. Give it a try!
posted by wzcx at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2006

Fixed will give you a much better work out, as besides not being able to coast, youll get a good work out going down a hill, too. I know much bigger people than you who ride brakeless fixed gears and have no problems, and a few who have said riding fixed has helped them heal from knee injuries. Just throwing that out there.

That been said, if you feel like youre topping out and spinning too much, you should deffinately step it up. Regardless of your muscle building, you're not gearing properly for your commute. I never spin out in my city riding, only distance rides and at the velodrome.
posted by atom128 at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2006

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