I try not to get too worked up about things said on internet forums, but sometimes one particular post gets under my skin. A few years ago this particular offending comment thread went thusly:

Person A did a 12 mile test ride of their new-to-them three speed. Person B thought this was “gung-ho”. Person B doesn’t ride their three speed bicycles over five miles, preferring to use another bike for “distance”. And yes, Person B “knows” that you can ride a three speed over five miles, but has given up on that idea. All this took place on a forum about appreciating three speeds!

This isn’t an isolated case. To some, a three speed is a bike that you ride around the neighborhood, or to the nearest grocery store or bar, or a few miles on a bike path, or on your local Tweed Ride. It’s not meant for “real” rides. For a “real” ride, you need another bike, a “real” bike. While I expect folks who don’t ride or like three speeds to think this, it’s really disheartening to hear this thinking from those who do.

Of course, I strongly disagree with this! Three speeds are real bikes, meant for real rides. They have always been meant for real riding, not short pootles or twee(d) rides.

The Society of Three Speeds is all about promoting three speeds as real bikes, viable transportation. If you are like one commenter who think SoTS is just a vintage bike appreciation group, you’re missing the point. I’ve used my three speeds ass my daily commuter (up to 12 miles each day!), my fun bike, my go out for a long ride bike, and in a few instances, as a touring bike. It has worked well in all those capacities.

Is it always the best tool for the job? No. But sometimes we worry too much about having the “right tool” for any possible scenario we may face. This line of thinking translates into having a large stable of bikes, each one a very specialized steed. Hey, you need all these bikes because you might “need” that go-fast road bike, the downhill bike, the “gravel” bike, right? Nevermind the fact you go downhill mountain biking once a year, you haven’t raced since 1979, and the gravel you regularly see is a crushed limestone rail-trail.

For many a year, a three speed bicycle was the best tool for any job, because there were no other tools available! During the middle part of the 20th century in Britain, most people only owned one bike, a three speed. They used this bike for their day-to-day transportation, for fun rides, for touring, and even, and even for racing! And you know what? They had fun. Sure, if given a choice they may have opted for some lighter, faster, more geared bike. But they didn’t have that choice, and made do with what they had.

In the 21st century, it’s hard to just “make do” with what you have, because there is a dizzying array of options available, and even if you are poor you could still swing a fancier bike, somehow. (Easy credit!) Because of this, we spend too much time obsessing about the “right tool for the job”, spending many hours on the internet, asking every sort of esoteric question we can think of on esoteric bike forums. On one hand it’s great to be able to access all this free info. On the other hand, it can be debilitating, too much of a crutch. We spend too much time thinking about doing things than the actual doing of things. Choices are good, but too many can lead to analysis paralysis.

So, I ask three things of you, gentle reader:

  1. If you think three speeds are only capable of short rides, please reconsider.
  2. If you own a three speed but only use it for short rides, try it out on a longer, more “extreme” ride. See how it does.
  3. If someone tells you that a three speed is only capable of short rides, give ’em the business!

And most of all, don’t overthink it. Just go out there and ride!


6 thoughts on “Three Speeds: More than classy bar bikes!

  1. This year I am seriously thinking of taking one of my three speed bikes on the Bacoon Ride that starts in Waukee, Iowa. It will be 71 miles in a day. My wife and I rode it a couple years ago with new (multi-gear) bikes and since we were still ill prepared it took us 10+ hours to complete. This year I want to attempt it with either my ’51 Rudge Aero Clubman or 3 speed Frankenbike with 27×1-1/8 aluminum rims and road bars. I’m experimenting with gearing and am thinking 46×20, but I would be open to other better suggestions. I know the Rudge is actually pretty fast with it’s 46×17 gearing. I will be attempting to keep up with RAGBRAI riders with newer more expensive bikes. This will be on a mostly flat bike trail so, in the words of a famous actor, ‘I have that going for me’!

  2. I’m toying with the idea of riding the Santa Fe Century on one of my three speeds this May, but there is a lot of climbing – one mountain pass outside of Madrid, which I do not remember as being too bad, but it does go on for a while, and there is one 12% grade called “Heartbreak Hill.” I’m not too big on organized events like that, but I do ride the century every five years or so. I want to demonstrate that a three speed is fun and versatile – I also don’t want to demonstrate that a three-speed is a bad choice for a mountain pass, but I don’t know what it will be like unless and until I try it.

  3. Reblogged this on eatontkdacademy and commented:
    Recently purchased two 3 Speeds and am in the process of cleaning, correcting, and preserving both. My 1956 Hercules will be easy, the 1953 Rudge, not so much. Anyway, let the adventure begin!

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