Best Single Speed Bikes of 2018 & Buying Guide
You probably encounter single-speed bikes every day, but unless you actually ride one, you might not even notice them: BMX bikes, commuter bikes, and kids’ bikes are all bikes with just one speed. They can be fixed-gear, as well, but don’t have to be.
Single-speeds are increasing in popularity with commuters and casual riders alike, thanks to their simplicity of operation (no gears to switch!) and cleaner design. They aren’t ideal for hilly areas, but other than that, they can be the perfect bike for buyers who prefer the easiest ride possible.
Our buyer’s guide will look at some of the best single-speed options on today’s market, and answer common questions you might have when it comes to this bike type.
What’s the difference between single-speed and fixed-gear bikes?
A fixed-gear is a type of single-speed bike, but not all single-speeds are fixed-gears. The most notable difference is that you cannot coast on a fixed-gear (also called cruising/freewheeling) or stop pedaling if you want to keep moving, but you can on a single-speed, same as on multi-speeds.
Fixed-gears also have no braking (or a very limited braking system), and a steep learning curve, so few people ride them. They’ve become a trend in recent years, with some riders genuinely preferring them, and some just hopping on the fixie bandwagon.
Many single-speeds come with a flip-flop hub: you simply take off your rear tire, flip it over, and reinstall to use the bike as a fixed-gear, then switch it back to single-speed whenever you please.
This is useful if you plan on using your bike for both fast and casual riding, or if you want to learn how to ride a fixie…but would like the option to take a break, now and then.
Are there advantages to a single-speed? What are the disadvantages?
With fewer gears, single-speeds are simpler to ride. This is why children’s bikes usually have just one speed, so it’s easier for them to learn the rest of the riding process without feeling overwhelmed.
Many adults also prefer single-speeds for cruising or casual riding/commuting, or fixed-gears because they require constant pedaling (improving fitness/endurance), prevent theft (few thieves want to steal a fixed-gear), and go exactly as fast as you can pedal—bike messengers in busy cities often use them.
Single-speeds are lighter due to their no-frills design, which makes transporting or storing them easier, too. Generally, these bikes also need less maintenance, so they cost less over time.
The disadvantage of a single-speed becomes apparent the first time you encounter a hill: because you can’t shift to a higher gear, you’ll have to do all the legwork—literally. Likewise, you can’t downshift when going downhill/at high speeds. In other words, single-speeds are meant for level terrain. If you live in a hilly area, you might want to reconsider.
Do single-speeds require any special maintenance?
While single-speeds require less maintenance, it doesn’t mean they require no maintenance at all—but fortunately, it’s not any different from the work you’d have to do on any other bike.
First, keep your chain clean and oiled. Some warm water, a little soap (gentle dish soap or car-washing liquid is best), and a scrubbing brush or old toothbrush will work. Dry it well; train a fan on the area to get rid of the water as quickly as possible, which will help prevent rust. Finally, apply a chain lube and turn your pedals a few times to ensure the chain is thoroughly coated.
You’ll also need to clean your wheels, sprockets, brakes, frame…pretty much every part of your bike, but especially the moving parts.
Test your tire pressure regularly, and keep an air pump on hand. A small handheld one is useful for traveling, and a large standing one in the garage or shed (or wherever you store your bike) will come in handy for quick inflation.
And speaking of storage: if possible, store your bike somewhere indoors. Temperature control is ideal, but not a must if you can’t swing it: the most important issue is that your bike isn’t exposed to sun, wind, and rain while you aren’t riding.
Are single-speeds more expensive than multi-speed bikes?
Generally, no—if you find a single-speed that’s more expensive than a multi-speed, that should be because it has higher quality materials.
Between comparable models, the single-speed will always be cheaper, because it has fewer parts to manufacture and is cheaper to make.
Best Single Speed Bikes Reviews
1. Critical Cycles Harper Single-Speed/Fixed-Gear Urban Commuter Bike Review
The Harper Urban Commuter from Critical Cycles is affordable and stylish, which is reason to take notice. The reason to buy?
It might be the flip flop hub—which allows riders to switch between single-speed or fixed-gear use just by flipping the rear tire—or the thoughtfully designed, hand-built frame, featuring bar-spin clearance and no toe overlap, so commuters and casual riders alike can achieve smooth speeds and stress-free operability.
While the Harper sells well for its “fixie” function, we recommend this to any riders in need of a simple single-speed design, as well. Some buyers might enjoy the option to learn on a fixed-gear in their own time, but use the single-speed function for the bulk of their rides in the meantime. It’s also great for commuters who want a fixed-gear for their daily grind, but would rather have a single-speed for casual weekend rides. After all, why buy two bikes if you don’t have to?
2. Firmstrong Urban Man Beach Cruiser Bicycle Review
Beach cruisers are one category where single-speeds abound (though 3-, 5-, or even 7-speed options do exist, nowadays). This is because cruisers are meant for slower, more casual cycling on very level surfaces—such as the easygoing beach streets where they garnered their fame—so they don’t need the additional gears you’d require elsewhere.
The Urban Man Beach Cruiser from Firmstrong boasts a stylish yet modest design, and allows for ultra-comfortable cycling with swept-back handlebars, balloon tires, and a dual-spring seat post.
Though very different from the commuter options you’ll also find in this buyer’s guide, the Firmstrong Urban Man Cruiser operates on the same basic notion of any single-speed: that fewer gears is simpler to ride, and that—for some riders—simpler is always better. Whether you’re cruising along the beach, running errands, or just enjoying a few spins around the block, this bike will deliver comfort, ease of use, and a classic design guaranteed to turn heads.
3. Huffy Nel Lusso Women’s Cruiser Bike Review
With an oh-so-chic vintage design, the Nel Lusso will attract even more compliments than the Firmstrong Man Beach Cruiser! This bike from popular brand Huffy is affordable (a perk of mass-production brands), but also very smartly created.
It has cream-colored tires to hide dirt longer—but still stand out in the crowd—a cup holder, front basket and rear carrier rack, and much more.
All this luxury must come at a price, yes? Nope—the Nel Lusso is one of the most affordable bikes on the market, which is impressive enough without considering all the extra features you get with it. Huffy has thought of everything a woman could possibly need in a cruiser (so much so, in fact, it might make the men a little jealous!).
4. Giordano Rapido Single-Speed Bike Review
If cruising the beach (or pretending to, anyway) just isn’t your style, consider the ultra-urban Rapido.
Featuring the now-ubiquitous flip-flop hub so many city cyclists prefer, this bike also includes drop-style handlebars for comfortable control, even when tearing through the streets to beat traffic.
The Rapido from Giordano is a great choice for city commuters. It’s lightweight, versatile, and comes at a reasonable price mid-level budgets can handle. We think it was designed to function best as a fixed-gear, however, and riders who plan on using only the single-speed option might enjoy a different bike.
5. Vilano Women’s Classic Urban Commuter Single-Speed Bike Review
With attractive geometry and minimalist design overall, we’re tempted to call this commuter from Vilano a bare-bones bike—but it’s anything but.
The company has still designed it with care and purpose, and the extra touches (a trendy mint color, faux-leather accents, and comfortable grips on the mustache handlebars) prove great things really do come in small packages.
Marketed as a hybrid, the Vilano single-speed bicycle promises both function and a comfortable ride (though users who prefer very upright positions, such as on cruisers, might not enjoy the slightly athletic position this model demands). It ditches the bells and whistles you don’t want, and swaps out the usual features for ones aimed at elegance and ease of use. We recommend it to any commuter in need of a bike that looks as great as it feels—and performs.
Single-speed bikes are surprisingly adaptable; in fact, the only thing you won’t want to use them for is pedaling uphill (unless you’re really looking for a leg workout). Cruisers, commuters, hybrids: all these and more come in this setup, and with good reason. Single-speeds are cheaper, easier to maintain, and downright simpler to ride. And that is, after all, the reason so many of us ride bicycles in the first place.
We hope our buyer’s guide has been informative and useful in your hunt for a single-speed bike. Whether you want a casual option to coast around town, or a fixed-gear to tear up the streets during rush hour, the right single-speed is out there.