Single Speed Vs. Geared Mountain Bike

by Zach Lazzari
The single speed is ideal for fast downhill action.

The single speed is ideal for fast downhill action.

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Mountain bikes are constructed in a variety of specialized formats. Single-speed bikes are common for downhill racing and geared bikes are used for long races with fluctuating inclines. Both bikes have advantages and disadvantages based on the terrain, riding style and rider preference. The geared bike is the more common choice but the single speed is something to consider for beginning and advanced riders.


Both types of bikes perform well with an experienced and conditioned rider. The geared bike performs better than a single speed on rides with long climbs. The gears are adjusted to compensate for the incline and maintain a reasonable pace. The single speed does not provide any options and you must power through inclines. The single gear requires more energy and you may have to walk the bike through steep inclines. The single speed performs better on the downhill because the pedaling rhythm is not interrupted and the gears do not require shifting. It is a focused and streamlined effort. The geared bike performs well on the downhill but time is required to adjust gears after completing a hill. The single speed is also lighter and does not require technical calculations to determine the best gear. You pedal and ride at your most comfortable pace.


Both types of bikes are used in rough terrain and require regular cleaning and lubrication. The geared bike requires extra maintenance to ensure it shifts smoothly and does become jammed with mud and debris. The single speed requires less maintenance because the chain is on a single, set gear. The chain will not slip and interrupt a ride. The overall performance of the single speed is much smoother as a result of the low maintenance construction but the geared mountain bike is valuable for long rides.


The single-speed mountain bike is designed for fast-paced racing on constructed tracks. The biker uses an initial burst of energy to create inertia and speed. After the initial burst, the speed is maintained as the biker completes jumps, brakes on sharp corners and makes contact with other bikers. The short race is intense and shifting gears is futile. The geared mountain bike is better for distance racing and trail riding where miles are logged. The bike is capable of contact, jumps and sharp turns but it also must climb and shift based on the terrain.


The rider preference is an important factor in determining the best choice. Beginning riders may choose a single speed for riding flat and moderate terrain or focusing on downhill riding. The geared bike is the common choice because of the versatility. The geared bike rides on every level and although it requires more maintenance, it also provides more options.

Photo Credits

  • Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images