The workhorse: Surly bicycles has long been a proponent of the single-speed movement, prioritizing simplicity over anything else. The Steamroller is their take on the single speed, a bare-bones, no frills, 4130 chromoly workhorse that will never let you down. I know guys who’ve ridden their steamrollers every day for longer than I’ve been riding bikes at all. Since it comes complete with a decent lineup of components, or as a frameset, you can either start riding today or have your local bike shop build you up something tailored to your likes.
Cinelli Mash Histogram
Best for serious riders: What started as a bunch of messengers in San Francisco bombing hills has turned into a worldwide movement of athletes taking fixed gear track bikes to the streets and pushing them to their limits. The Cinelli Mash Histogram frame is the embodiment of this unique urban sport subculture. Although technically a track bike, and thus a fixed-gear, the frame still has enough versatility to allow a single-speed setup with brakes. The bottom line: this bike, in either high- or mid-range build, is meant for speed. We only recommend it to those who enjoy bombing down their favorite bike lane to work or really make an extreme sport of barhopping.
Best single-speed from a big manufacturer: Large manufacturers don’t always get it right, but Trek really hit the nail on the head with the District. Though not exactly affordable, it’s filled out with everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s got a reasonable upright geometry, nice components, fender and rack mounts galore — and best of all, a carbon belt drive, which means no grease and no maintenance. It’s also backed by Trek, so you know you’re getting a reliable bicycle from a major manufacturer.
Best custom-built bike: Those riders who like to take their gear to the next level will be primed for any of the custom bikes from Ahearne Cycles in Portland, OR. They’ll build a tailor-made ride for you based on body measurements, riding style, accessory needs and aesthetic preferences. Want options for fenders on a rainy day? You got it. Want a built-in rack with a paint job inspired by your favorite pizza toppings? No problem, but it’s going to cost you. If you’re in the market, though, the price you pay is well worth it: you’ll get exactly the bike you want and a relationship with the maker who built it for you.
Best folding bike: Many people don’t consider folding bikes when shopping for single speeds. This is a mistake. Brompton cycles makes the best folding bikes on the market, and their S1E-X fulfills the single-speed niche. It has guaranteed construction from their UK factory and folds up so small so quickly you won’t believe that you ever owned a bike that didn’t. Taking it to dinner or easily stowing away in a car a perfectly reasonable activity. Some owners even take their Bromptons into the subway during rush hour. Although costly, you get what you pay for, and we’ve never heard a Brompton owner complain of component failure or frame issues. The small wheel size means you’re not gonna want to travel long distances, but for city riders it’s perfect, especially if you have a small apartment or or an office with limited storage space.