The Angry Singlespeeder: The Swiss Army Knife of Bikes

Cyclocross 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.

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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Trail

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

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

All ride and no work makes prickly pear a happy cactus
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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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Johnny T

One of the greatest photos of all time – Long live Johnny Tomac.
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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  • THB says:

    Surly Cross Check. It’s build to be the multi-purpose bike: CX racer, commuter, bikepacker, touring bike, road bike, SS urban assault vehicle. Just swap a few components and it’s a different bike. Jack of all trades? YES.

    Lots of great examples in this thread of all of those above categories:
    http://forums.mtbr.com/surly/cross-check-pics-please-539505-26.html

  • Flavio Colker says:

    There are other bikes which are way more versatile than your carbon disc Ibis. BIkes that carry loads on racks and can be set as touring/ explorer machines.
    Otoh, your cx bike can go along the road ride but is no match for a proper road bike nor to a proper mountain bike on technical steep situations.
    we’ve heard all this before from Scot NIcol about the hakkalugi 12 yrs ago. the fact you are conected w/ Ibis on a pro level deal is just a coincidence, right?
    I like your writting but not the infomercial.

  • Ayyggss says:

    That’s not exactly a “fleet” there isn’t one bike with a rear shock in the whole bunch . Now I know what your gonna say , real men ride … Blah blah . But what about us that own everything from full blown 38lb DH bikes to 30lb 1×10 dropper post enduro machines to SS 9ers and A sub 20lb road bike . Now I know I’m not the “norm ” usually guys I rode the lift with will never ride road and guys I go on centuries with will never ride the lift . So what would be my “one ” do it all bike ? Because I can tell you as dope as a CX bike sounds . It isn’t gonna fit the bill where I ride .

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    Hey Flavio, if you the last two paragraphs, you’ll see what I think the ultimate do-all bike is. I didn’t say its the Hakka. I even said that any disc brake cyclocross bike with tubeless tires – not just the Hakka – can be extremely versatile. No, I am not on a pro level deal with Ibis. I am far from a pro level rider. I believe in their product and love the brand because of the quality and their approach to building a proper bike (who else takes five years of extensive R&D to release a frame design?). They are one of the oldest MTB brands in existence, therefore I buy their products. Is there a problem with that?

    Ayyggss – who says a fleet has to include a bike with a rear shock? I’ve had rear shocks before, but didn’t feel like dealing with added maintenance and hassle, so I got rid of my full suspension bikes. My fleet is always changing.

    Your ultimate do-all bike is naturally gonna be different than mine, I’ve just discovered that if you can have only one bike and you want to ride the widest cross-section of terrain, CX bikes are about the best you can get. Either that or an ultra-light 29er MTB with a rigid fork.

    • Ayyggss says:

      Apparently you ride mostly on the road . Although I log the most miles on my road bike I spend the most amount of time on my dh or trail bike . Both full suspension .

      You can drive a monster truck on the road but you can’t off road a car ;)

  • Tony says:

    Raleigh Furley. Although it’s not a road bike in the sense that most ride road bikes, but it’s fun.

    I like the posts up above that fail to notice that you gave just as much love to the “free” yard sale Bianchi as the Ibis carbon super crosser. Also, I’ve ridden with a former pro downhill rider… the guy could beat you down the hill on a tricycle, much less a hardtail… which he did often. (That would be a 26er hardtail.)

  • czrt says:

    Here are the two all rounders I have fixated on lately:
    1. Van Dessel WTF (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot),
    2. Spot Brand Mod

    Both cyclocross, but I have the additional criteria that I want a belt drive when it is setup as a SS rig. Great question to ponder though!

  • Tangnar says:

    Salsa Warbird Ti looks to fit your description, except it’s Titanium, not carbon.

  • Pk says:

    Something steel, something with parts that can be found anywhere. Nothing worse than being in W Nebraska and needing some dumb part available only thru QBP. Ever have a bike get knocked over and wait 3 days in a hotel for a brifter? If I cannot roll into a tiny mom/pop shop and find parts, it is a nogo.

  • Swamper says:

    Good and informative article.To each his own!Lots of haters out there.I’ve been a full time messenger mtber,single speed enduro racer,roadie,tourer, since 89 and ridden just about every brand ,flavor and configuration of two wheeled bike out there and to me they were all perfect two wheelers(with or without gears).It all boils down to what you get used to on a daily basis.

  • Span says:

    Fat bike. Winter. nuff’ said.

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