Racing 4X with one gear?

Hi Lee, i was wondering if it’s possible to race 4X with a single speed bike and be successful with racing? Let me know what you think.
Thanks, Cameron

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Hey Cameron, what a fun question.

If it was still 2006, I’d say you can’t race 4X with a single speed. The 2006 NORBA Rulebook says:

“3D12. Bikes must have three working gears and two working brakes.”

Back in the day, these sorts of rules were made partly for safety, but mostly to prevent BMXers from stomping on mountain bikers.

The 2007 NORBA Rulebook makes no stipulations regarding 4X bikes. I’m not sure why they omitted the rule, but that means you can race 4X on a BMX cruiser if you like.

Can you be successful racing with one gear? It depends on the course, your skill and your competition. If you’re racing pro, forget it. If you’re racing a lower class, and the course is steep, and you have a strong start, and you can pump like a champ, you can probably compete just fine.

If anyone can win an expert 4X race with one gear, it’s Michael Ontiveros. I’ve seen this mathematical genius win 4Xs with just a few cranks out of the gate and the smoothest pump you’ve ever seen.

Get out there and see how it goes. If you decide you need gears, you know what to do.


— Lee

18 replies
  1. corey says:

    from what I was told, the NORBA singlespeed repeal was due to some diligent lobbying from Joe Mullaly (Neko’s dad) after some protests were filed against fast singlespeeders. It really was a silly rule anyway, one gear is never an advantage.

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Same as 4X.

    – DS courses tend to involve tighter, flatter turns and more acceleration. Gears would be be more helpful than in 4X.

    – The start is less important in DS. A tall single gear would be less of a handicap than in 4X.

    Depends on the course, your skill and the competition …

  3. zach says:

    I say rock the single speed bro. I have my shifter attached to my seat post so there would be no way that I would be able to shift during a race and I think I do alright. Just as Lee mentioned Pump, Flow, and Consistency will do you just fine. What do think Lee?

  4. Jonas says:

    Most 4X racers I know (me included) don’t shift on most courses while racing, and some of them race on world cup level. Getting out of the gate with 2:1 is no problem and unless it is a really fast course you won’t have problems to spin fast enough.
    You mentioned steep courses, that’s funny, because I think on steep courses shifting is a bigger advantage than on flat courses, you will get more problems to spin fast enough if you can gain speed by gravity.
    So for me single speed would work fine on most courses, 4X and DS.

  5. Stephen says:

    just for the sake of discussion, what about running a 24″ setup for ds/4x? Probably would not be a benefit on the world cup course with the burlier, more dh esque courses, but the extra quickness might be an asset on the local ds circuit.

  6. Jonas says:

    I think the main problem would be tire choice, you can have perfect tires for nearly any conditions in 26″, while there are only a few 24″ tires, most of them for dirt/street use.

  7. Bob Burnes says:

    Honestly, I think this is all a personal riding choice. I know a guy named Lee White who rocked his 24″ single speed equipped Yeti DJ through to every final in the nationals in the UK and I’ve seen the 26″ 9 speed “shift it if you’ve got it” riders take the nationals. When it comes to the question of single speed vs. multi-gears or 24″ vs. the 26″, this is going to depend entirely on your riding style and skills. As for me, I prefer the gears and I just can’t go wrong on the 26″ wheel.

    The best thing to do is give them all a try and see where you land.

  8. cmc says:

    i know that singlespeed mtb’ers like a 2:1 ratio for climbs on trails. but coming from my bmx background, i think that is too spinny for 4x.

    i run 34/16 on my DJ mtb.

    34 / 16 = 2.25. 2.25 X 26″ wheel = 55.25

    the clasic bmx gear was

    44 / 16 = 2.75. 2.75 X 20″ wheel = magic number 55.

    most bmx racers would bump up to a 45 / 16.

  9. ska todd says:

    The decision behind the repeal of the multi-gear rule was specifically to open up mtx/ds racing to more juniors and college age riders. Many of these riders have a street/park/dirt jump bike that came OEM equipped with only one gear. There is no advantage to running one gear. Two brakes are still required though.

    -ska todd

  10. leelikesbikes says:

    A rule that serves the riders. Awesome.

    Now let’s get racing into urban centers …

    Pump Track Worlds!!!

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