There’s a pretty good chance that a ’90s or Double Ought hardtail is collecting dust somewhere within your circle of friends. Given that, I’m sure that the relic has heard an exchange or two about rejuvenating it into a singlespeed. After all, it’s just sitting there, so it’d be fun to try something new. It’s easy, right? Just strip the redundant parts and go for a ride — done and done! In actuality, there’s a reason that the bike is sitting, and not just because it’s been ridden hard and put away wet. It’s due to the immense changes in the last two decades, leaving much of that bike behind the times. Not just technology, but geometry and industry standards, too.
First off, 29ers and singlespeeds go hand-in-hand. The increased traction is desirable when tractoring up loose terrain, while the enhanced momentum keeps speed over rough terrain — essential when turning one gear. Also, the plushness of larger-volume tires is appreciated when you take a break from standing on pedals and settle down on the saddle.
In today’s hardtail market, 26-inch bikes are redundant unless standover is a priority. It’s worth noting that this holds true for singlespeed 27.5-inch bikes, too. With gears, a hardtail mid-wheel has some merit, but full-suspension applications and smaller frames fit this wheel size best. Size is just one industry standard, though. The other significant features are thru-axles and tapered head tubes, which have forever changed the mountain bike for the better through both stiffness and strength.
Now, let’s talk about geometry. The 2000s were a volatile time for 29ers, with numbers reflecting everything from glorified cyclocross bikes to butchered traditional hardtail geometries with toe overlap galore. It’s taken a decade, but the modern 29er has turned into quite the beast that’s capable of devouring miles while simultaneously delivering a spritely ride. Add a 29er hardtail to the quiver this year, and it’ll still be competitive years from now — you couldn’t say that ten years ago. However, let’s return to the grand idea of converting an old bike to SS.
You’ll need a chain tensioner (chances are that the bike you’re converting doesn’t have sliding dropouts) a cog, a chainring, and a new chain. Let’s say that it’d be about $300 for these parts, as use isn’t worth the knee-against-the-stem pain. Your labor is free, but if you need to have the parts installed, we’re talking $100 and up for shop labor. That puts you at a conservative $400 to an easy $600 with expenses out the door.
This is assuming that everything else is good to go, which it isn’t, because this is an old mountain bike. Worn headsets, sloppy fork bushings, spongy brakes, smoked wheel bearings, and crunchy bottom brackets will not only detract from a quality experience, but they’ll shake you down for your cash, too. Ultimately, this scenario pushes costs of an old/new singlespeed well into the triple digits.
Moving on, it admittedly may seem tactless for an internet retailer to be pitching a new bike, but hear me out. The Santa Cruz Highball is a perfect example. Hovering around $1700, it’s a turnkey, modern 29er with a full drivetrain and warranty. And for $50, you can pick up sliding drops.
Therefore, for theoretically $700 more, you not only get an up-to date mountain bike, but also drivetrain components that can be used to keep your full-suspension 26-inch going until it’s time to make a leap onto that dreamy 27.5-inch all-mountain ride. Can you say win-win? Or, worse case scenario, a singlespeed isn’t a fit for you, and you end up with a geared XC 29er.
Seriously, consider recent advancements before stripping a proud relic of its dignity, only to find out that you’re ten years behind the curve. If you want to go all out, the steel Niner SIR9 is a $1k carpet that’s waiting for SS magic, while the Pivot Les and Niner One 9 RDO are your no-holds-bar carbon options.
What’s your take? Oakley blades, cut-off jean shorts, and V-brakes for the SSCW win, or is a modern 29er SS the way to go? Let us know in the comments.