The Gear Junkie: Kona Paddy Wagon

The rear hub of the Kona Paddy Wagon lets you choose between a fixed gear and a freewheel.<br>  <strong>Photo courtesy of Kona bikes.</strong>

Single-speed bikes are the cycling trend from left field, the impossibly illogical populist fad that has in the past couple years put hundreds of thousands of people on bikes with just one steady, often slow, speed.

And I'm one of them.

The single-speed craze is not difficult to delineate: These bikes are efficient, lightweight, low maintenance, clean looking and often far less expensive than their gear-laden cousins. They do the job for the common biker tootleing around town. Spin the pedals, and go.

Single-speed bikes--and the urban bike-messenger crowd to which they're yoked--also have garnered a cool factor that's been compared to the zeitgeist of the surfing or skateboarding culture circa 1995. The little biker beanies, knickers, seatbelt-buckle-equipped messenger bags, and other subtle styles of the scene are, for better or worse, moving out beyond the indie world, toward a mainstream culture acceptance as valid and neat.

So what's an aspiring single-cog-cranker to do? I built my own single speed a couple years back, trimming a well-loved mountain bike down to a skeletal status, ditching chain rings and cogs, and leaving just one gear in back with the chain wrapped around a tensioner unit.

But bikes like the Kona Paddy Wagon (www.konaworld.com), a new model that sells for $649, now offer quick entrance into the single-speed scene.

Let me gush a little bit: This is a great bike, a clean and smooth ride, strong, simple, and fast enough. It's geared just appropriately perfect for speed and hill-conquering ability, something missing from other single-speed setups I've tested as of late.

Many single-speed bikes err on the side of easy pedaling, using gear/chain ring ratios that spin out once any kind of substantial speed is obtained. But the Paddy Wagon comes set with a 42-tooth chain ring and a 16-tooth freewheel in back, letting you power up past 20 miles-per-hour.

Bonus: The rear wheel of the Paddy Wagon has a fixed cog opposite its freewheel gear, letting you flip the wheel around to switch hit as a fixie rider. This fixed-gear configuration works like a unicycle or a child's tricycle, lacking freewheel spin, which is the component that allows the rear wheel to spin independent of the drive train while coasting.

With the fixed gear employed, as long as the wheels of the bike are turning, your feet are spinning around on the pedals. Coasting is not an option.

I find fixie bikes fun and challenging to ride. You get a great workout, as you physically can never stop pedaling. There's also a strange sense of being more connected to the bike when your body is locked to its motion. Kona was smart to add this option.

Other features of the Paddy Wagon are, well, few. But that's the whole point. Kona made this bike to be nimble and lightweight. It'll create very little in the way of drive train issues, as there isn't much to the drive train. Its cromoly frame comes in 49 cm, 52 cm, 54 cm, 56 cm, 58 cm and 60 cm iterations. At 6 foot, 1 inch tall, I took the 58 cm model, and the bike fits like a glove.


Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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