In the beginning, fixed-gear bicycles covered the land. People spent more on bikes than on almost anything else - so much so that other industries protested, attempting legislation that would require that every cyclist be required to purchase two hats. World's Fairs heralded "The Century of the Bicycle." The entire U.S. Senate went on cycling day trips together. Laborers received special grease allowances, and Wednesdays were Revulcanization Days until Prince Spaghetti bought out the franchise.
Your first bike was a fixed-gear. Wether ancient red tricycle or extruded styrene Big Wheel, you knew the drill. Penny-farthings and early "safety" (i.e. double-diamond) framed bikes were all fixed - note the front-brake-only and fold down footrests on the forks for coasting. Racers might have flip-flop hubs with additional gears, or a cog that could be shifted by manually repositioning the chain.
Finally, the freewheel. Samuel Elkins Host introduced the first one, at exactly the right time; tabloids screamed, "Host Boasts You Can Coast." Or well they might have. Well, good stuff, though the purists scoffed. Less fluid. All that stopping and starting is bad for the humors. But then these people smoked cigarettes before races in order to "open up" their lungs.
Stilll and all, the average racing safety frame weighed in at seventeen stone, at least for those hightly sought-after all-stone frames. Fact is they were all damn heavy, and to tackle disparate terrain, people wanted more gear options. Fred Sloane of Cincinatti built a multi-gear changer out of chicken wire one late night, but in a whiskey-fueled tantrum smashed it with a hydraulic press, leaving a Mr. Campagnolo to lay claim to the first "derailleur," and with a name like that it had to be good, if not easy to spell. All those extra gears and changing apparatus added weight, but the bloody things already weighed as much as a small horse and now at least you could go somewhere. A golden age was born. Bicycles so heavy they exerted their own gravitational pull could be moved about, at speeds in excess of 2 miles per hour, which when measured in hectares was not so shabby, thank you very much.
One-speeds remained of course; as toys for children, "cruisers" for the infirm or curmudgeonly, and of course fixed-gear bikes for use on special tracks made of wood or cheese.
And a funny thing happend. Slowly but surely, the technology of drawing light and strong tubes grew to meet the mechanical sophistication of derailleurs. But these advances in frame technology remained saddled with costly and portly drivechains. Truly, a paradox: the very technology developed to make heavy bikes more practical now made bikes heavier. The irony was strong enough to cause fainting spells amongst the sickly. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, as they will, and someone married light weight frames with simple, one-speed drivetrains. Who married them? Well, let's just say the wedding took place in Vegas and the pastor was wearing blue suede shoes.
Here's the bottom line. A reasonably light frame with garden variety parts set up as a single speed is dirt cheap; even if you had to buy a used bike to do it might cost you around $200 max. We're talking $45 alloy wheels, $15 28c tires... nothing special. This bike can easily weight under 20 pounds. Got your attention now? People spend thousands of dollars to hit that weight. And if you are properly geared for a given stretch of pavement you may as well be riding a Seven Odonata Carbon/Ti with full Record gruppo. If your tire pressures are matched you're the same. And if at that hill you can get out of the saddle and crank while that Seven is downshifting, you will kick their ass.
Ride a one speed and know what it is to be a god. Now, why aren't you hearing more about this? Yeah, Shimano wants you to buy less parts. Bike shops want you to spend less money. Sure, and the government wants more democracy. Wake the hell up! The same cabal that iced MLK and JFK and B.I.G. wants you spending big cash on the gears. Me, I just build frames. Single-speed frames are simpler and faster to make, and should be cheaper - yet some shops brag that they'll build you a single "at no extra cost." You mean you'll leave off derailleur hangers and at least 3 braze ons for free? Jeez, you guys are swell.
And it just keeps getting better. We all know what a pain it is to clean the guck off your bike after riding in rain or slush, but you know how that first 30 degree day in January with the roads looking dry, you just gots to get our there - but then the salt on the road gets all kicked up and your cables & chain rust as you watch? Well, take a second to clean up a single speed. No elaborate mechanisms down at splash level, no cables down there to rust... the job's a cinch. So, among all their other benefits, singles make great rain & slush & even snow bikes - just throw some cross tires on there for the winter and some cheapo light plastic fenders.
You know how much I love singles? I want you to have one, but I don't even want you to buy it from me. No, really. What you do is, buy a new road or cross bike from me and turn your old bike into a single - either by yourself or send it to me for our Courier Special. See? A totally unbiased recommendation. I can do that because my soul is pure.