View Full Version : 3 speeds are all you need.

12-04-2006, 05:54 PM
In many countries, bicycles are used for transportation, but in the US they're recreational devices. We ride them for sport, exercise, and fun and our ideas about them reflect that. Exhibit A: speed. Americans love going fast and this urge translates to bicycles, too. In a culture reluctant to accept bikes as practical transportation, it's no surprise that we prioritize speed and "performance" over practicalities. This is reflected in the bikes we choose to ride and the way we choose to ride them.

Specifically, we ride them fast and with very little patience (see: Broadway "Hotel Zone" discussion). We are reluctant to use fenders, racks, integrated lights, chainguards, and internally geared hubs...all pretty standard sights in bike shops in countries where folks get around by bike. We prefer, instead, to fashion ourselves after racers by riding bicycles that require us to wear special pants and lock them up inside so that their expensive, lightweight, quick-release components won't be ripped off. Our obsession with workplaces that offer bike storage is a symptom of this culture of fast, where bikes are fancy, not designed to be locked up outside, and valuable. The rainy bike-obsessed cities of Northern Europe are filled with outdoor bike parking for citizens whose workplaces feel no obligation to provide locked, covered, storage for their employees' ancient, rusty, 40 lb. beaters.

So we come to 3-speeds. An old school 3-speed offers about 75% of the gear range offered by a 70's 10-speed, the high performance "racing bike" of the recent past. As proven by people in mountainous British colonies all over the world, you can go anywhere with a 3-speed...even (gasp) those snow-capped West Hills of Portland, Oregon. You don't have to be an athlete to do it, either. You just have to accept a different pace; you won't get there as quickly.

So, is a 3-speed the ideal bike for a someone who frequently rides over the West Hills? Probably not. Is it adequate? Certainly. It's more an issue of attitude than equipment.

Don't even get me started on people who don't think they can ride up and down hills with a 7 or 8-speed hub... Just get it over with and buy a Ducati.

12-04-2006, 06:59 PM
First the Rummsfeld response, because I miss the bastard...
Do I need 21 speeds? Maybe not... Do I use my 21 speeds all the time? Yes, given the choice will I ride my lightweight touring bike over a 40lb beater if I am going up hill? Yes.

Did I replace most of my quick releases with locking nuts? why yes. Do i have fenders? yes.

Now reality:

Whatever gets you down the road brother. I wont bag your ride, dont bag mine. The reality for me was that when I bought a lighter bike (I had been using my mountain bike with slicks) My daily bike rides doubled in length... that is twice the range (for me) twice the fun. I say if you like to go fast go fast- I am not all that in to speed, but I don't really enjoy pushing metal uphill either.

YMM will most assuredly V

Greg Raisman
12-04-2006, 09:18 PM
My commuter is an 8 speed hub. No Ducati in my future, though. Lots of slower paced commuting is in front of me. I ride a long wheel base recumbent for long, faster, and hillier rides. I have to say that even though I have 8 speeds available on my commuter, I generally only ride in 3 of the 8.

I like the slower pace. With the relaxed, upright geometry and super convenient features, my commuter often feels like walking really fast. "Super convenient" are the things that make it so I could ride my bike in any clothes up to a suit (which I thankfully don't own). Fully enclosed chain. Coat guard. Step through frame. Platform pedals.

The other things nice about a commuting bike is the batteryless light, the no maintenance hub and rear lock (the only part that needs regular maintenance on the bike is the front brake). The rear wheel lock. The reflective sidewalls. Heck, I even like the erganomic hand grips.

I like it so much --- I guess I should marry it.

I'm still glad, though, that I have a secure place to lock it while I'm at work.

Bicycles are good.


12-05-2006, 06:28 AM
Who the hell cares what and how other people ride. People choose what is best for them - be that a three speed or lycra or fenders or whatever. Go spend your energy ranting about the fawkers driving their SUVs from Beaverton, alone.

12-05-2006, 07:41 AM
To clarify:
I don't care what people choose to ride. I'm only theorizing on American culture and how it influences what we choose to ride and what we consider practical or even possible on a bike. If you disagree, fine. I'd be happy to hear your take on why Americans, in general, deem 3-speeds inadequate.

I'm not out to convince people to ride one kind of bike over another, so don't get all defensive about your Orbea. That's cool. If you knew me, you'd know that I'll ride anything, happily.


12-05-2006, 08:35 AM
Alright, I didn't mean to come off so harsh. But you sure seemed to be taking a dig at the way a lot of Portlanders ride their bikes.

"In a culture reluctant to accept bikes as practical transportation, it's no surprise that we prioritize speed and "performance" over practicalities."

Ok, I'll agree that our culture (ie. those who do not ride) is reluctant to accept bikes as practical transportation. But I disagree that a priority of speed and performance necessarily follows from that. Those who do ride for transportation (quite a few in our fair city) understand practicality - I see geared bikes going over the West hills, single speeds downtown, fenders everywhere. Putting everyone on a 3 speed clunker will not change our culture. Getting people out of their cars will.

I don't have an Orbea or anything nearly that sweet.

12-05-2006, 02:05 PM
If you disagree, fine. I'd be happy to hear your take on why Americans, in general, deem 3-speeds inadequate.


I don't think Americans deem 3-speeds inadequate. As Americans we have choices, those choices allow us to choose between single speeds, fixed gears, internal hubs, your beloved three speeds, six speeds, 12 speeds, 18 speeds, and now even 20 speed bicycles. Who cares what people choose to ride, as long as it's bicycle i'm down with it.

As far as fenders, lycra, or whatever your on about. Who cares... If you want to stay comfortable and dry, then do, if not i don't care.

This is America were free to choose what we want, were the best. Thats what makes the bicycling culture and lifestyle so fun, we can choose to ride what we like. if you prefer the 40 pound heap of junk that cramps your legs when you ride, fantastic, i'm not going knock it. If you want to ride a $7,000 bike, sweet, let me take it for a spin.

12-06-2006, 10:45 AM
I don't think it's that 3-speeds are "inadequate." It's more a question of "Why bother?", especially if you're talking about making new ones. It's not like they're cheaper (than, say, a low-end 3x8 system), or more environmentally friendly, or whatever. I guess they're somewhat easier to maintain, but anyone with a toothbrush and some dish soap can maintain a rear derailleur pretty easily. Why not take advantage of whatever technology is available, if there's no reason not to? For me, it's just more pleasant and practical to have a light, fast bike with a wide gear range. A lot of people prefer to have some funky-looking 70's three-speed, and as a result these bicycles have gotten more expensive than, say, ugly mid-nineties mountain bikes. There's a lot of bike-punk-y "look at my beater" thinking involved, it seems to me.

12-07-2006, 08:30 AM
It is obvious from these posts that some folks will never enjoy a three speed, but for those who care to try them, they can be perfect for many things. One way to consider them is as the step between the single speed/fixie genre and the plethora of speeds derailleur style bike. They are the original form of effective index shifting, and the maintenance consists of adding a bit of oil once or twice a year. As for utility and effectiveness, I commuted from Seattle to Bellevue (12.5 miles one way) for two years on one, and enjoyed every bit of it. I have ridden the STP three times on three speeds (one day each time, 15.5 hours best time), and found that to be possible mainly because my Raleigh is one of the most comfortable bikes I have ever been on. It is incredible easy to get on, set a reasonable pace, and, if necessary, keep it up all day. It even feels good to get back on it the next day. It's not the fastest bike out there, but it is eminently practical. The particular style and charm of such a bike has a lot to do with it, too, but not all stylish and charming bikes are as useful. Definitely not for everyone, but many of us know how cool they can be. Sturmey-Archer lives!

12-12-2006, 10:44 AM
I have 2 bikes; one for commuting (14sp) and one for grocery getting (3sp). Both serve their purposes well. I'm looking to build up a ss/fg bike for toolin' around the neighborhood...

along with that, I have a few other project bikes that are aimed at going to the needy.

3 speeds work fine if you're not into riding faster or if you're more into comfort. In the end, it's one's own preference. I know that on my 18mi r/t commutes, I like to go as fast as the elements and circumstances will allow me to which warrants me riding my 14sp. Doesn't necessarily mean I go faster than everybody I encounter, nor am I treating bike riding as some sort of competition. If you feel it gets you where you need to go and it makes you happy, then so be it!

now here's to a healthy cardiovasuclar system and legs of steel ;)


01-14-2007, 08:22 AM
You already had to replace the hub? What went wrong with it?

I have a red band Nexus 8 on my bike and I love it. It's got enough range so that non-athletic me can cope with hills ok, but still have all the advantages of internal gearing.

Johnny X
01-19-2007, 07:05 PM
nay nay ,,, 8 !! :D