There's an old adage: "Not drinking in mountain biking is like doping." It's true, mountain bike riders love their beer. I'm going to give you 9 tips on single speed mountain biking, split into three categories: body, bike, and style. And I'm going to speak the language of the mountain biker: beer.
Your body: It's like going from a stick to an automatic - you just keep reaching for those shifters, but there's nothing there. Here's what to do to compensate for the lack of gears.
Standing Wave Pale Ale
Like sitting? Bad news, you're going to be standing a lot more than you do on your geared rig. The gear ratio you choose is some compromise between spinning like a top in the flats and grinding your knees ligaments to mush up the climbs. Standing up on the climbs will make them more manageable.
Strong Arm Ruby Red Ale
Got wimpy arms? That's about to change. You will be using your whole body to muscle your bike to the top of a climb. Your arms are the mast of your single speed ship and must hold the sails true. While you're rocking the bike back and forth on the climb, your arms are going to be keeping everything under control.
Dr's orders Iron Lung Black Imperial
Your Bike: In addition to different body movement, you'll be tuning your bike a little different form your XC bike.
Pressure Drop Pale Ale
Since a single speed is a hard tail endeavor, running lower tire pressure in the rear is common. This will smooth out bumps, and increase traction on hills and in corners. You might lose a little on the pavement, but you can't go that fast with a 32 / 16 on the road anyway.
Fat Tire Amber
Running a slightly larger tire on your single speed is going to make up for a lot. It will gain you more traction with a larger contact patch, and a smoother ride with more rubber between you and the ground. I prefer a tire with a lot of close together knobs. This means a good combination of climbing and cornering, all with little rolling resistance.
Double Wide IPA
As a monkey armed rider, I run pretty wide bars. If you're the kind of rider that likes a narrow bar, you may find yourself putting away the hacksaw with your single speed. In addition to your new muscly arms, you'll need a big lever to move that bike around with. Longer bars give you the control at low speeds to muscle your bike over the largest of obstacles.
Your Style: You got the bike, you got the body, now put it all together with these tips and conquer any trail!
Momentum Pale Ale (not currently bottled)
When it comes to climbing technical sections, keeping moving is key. Get those pedals spinning and don't stop! You can plow over a surprisingly difficult terrain with enough speed. Your front end is less likely to wander, and you'll be closer to the ideal power range of your gearing.
Practice makes improvement, and riding a single speed is no exception. Ride that trail until you can recall it's every turn and bump. Soon you'll be looking for a challenge and not bothering with trails that once caused you grief.
Vivant Hubris Quadrupel
Last but certainly not least: be prepared for defeat. Now I know you're all pros, and aren't used to getting passed like I am, but don't be ashamed to get off and walk. Single speed riding takes time, and you might have to work your way up to the difficult and prolonged climb. But keep at it! Nothing feels better than throwing your Popeye arms in the air as you successfully finish a climb on your wide barred, flat tired single speed.