Saturday, June 23, 2007
A Single Ambition: Q&A with Jerry Phelps
I remember the first brevet that Jerry Phelps did on his single speed. It was last year’s North Carolina 600K, which runs from Morrisville to Wilmington and back.
As we passed through Erwin and hit a hilly patch near Buies Creek, Jerry went shooting up one of the steeper rises. I recall thinking, “I wish he had some gears. Maybe it would slow him down.”
Not much has been slowing Jerry down this year -- it’s been full single-speed ahead. He completed the brevet series with one gear, and he’s decided to take his single speed to Paris Brest Paris, where he’ll likely be in good company among other riders who believe that one cog is plenty.
Jerry’s single-minded ambition does not stop with PBP. He’s decided to earn the R-5000 on it.
“Now I’m just three rides away from achieving that goal—a 1000km brevet, PBP, and a fleche,” he said in an e-mail Q&A. Following are his responses.
With so many gears available, why just one? Pretty simple really—I try to follow the KISS rule—Keep It Simple, Stupid. Actually, my single speed is my most comfortable bike, and it is a joy to ride. It reminds me of my first bike as a child—just climb on and ride—nothing to fidget with. Hmmm, maybe my development stopped at childhood?
Your bike? Specialized Langster—highly modified with a Forte carbon fork, Mavic Open Pro rims with a Phil Wood hub in back and Shimano 105 in front, Ultegra rear brake, and a Specialized carbon seat post. It’s a mixed-up mess, kind of like me. Jennifer Wise says the Buckhorn bars I had are classified as aero bars so I had to change those back to classic drops.
The set-up? (gearing, in particular) As of now, I have three gearing choices. The chain ring is 48. I have a White Industries 16- and 18-tooth double free wheel on one side and a 17-tooth on the other.
Have you done a full SR series on it? I rode the full series on the bike in 2007. 48:16 for the 200, 48:17 for the 300 and 400, and 48:16 for the 600.
Are you taking it to PBP? Yes—once I had ridden the 400, I decided to take it to Paris. I will probably switch to a 45 tooth chain ring just to make the hills a little easier.
The advantages of a single speed? As I mentioned earlier, the simplicity of the bike is the biggest advantage--there just isn’t much to go wrong with it. The whole bike only has one cable. I can replace spokes without removing the free wheel. It also weighs about 2 pounds less because of all the missing parts.
Any disadvantages? Sure—when I’m tired, shifting gears is a real problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve instinctively grabbed for the lever and tried to shift. The other problem is my speed tops out on the flats at about 25 mph. After that I have to spin too fast to keep up. That’s why I can never ride with Wes!! Yeah that’s the ticket . . . . .
Will you ever move on to a fixed gear? I tried it fixed and almost threw myself off the bike 5 times in the space of 3 miles. I like to coast too much evidently.
What motivated you to contemplate riding the full series on the Langster? Last year at BMB, I saw Emily O’Brien riding fixed. I was very impressed! I started thinking about riding PBP on the single-speed. That led to contemplating earning the R-5000 on it. Now I’m just three rides away from achieving that goal—a 1000km brevet, PBP, and a fleche.
What’s the fastest ride you’ve ever done on it? A 4:40 century (including a 10-minute stop) at the MS-150 last September. That’s only 10 minutes slower than my record on my geared bike.
Will you ride it again on the series next year? Probably not! In this case, once IS enough. Next Fall, I hope to get a new “plastic fantastic” bike, to borrow your term, or a custom made titanium randonneuring bike.