Yesterday A.M. the rain broke and it was time to get on the bike again, after four days of recuperation following the ALC Day on the Ride, in which I experimented, some would say foolishly, with pushing an 82-inchgear over a total of 90 miles of rolling terrain, as a test run for the ALC week to come in June. My quads were battered, my back was torqued, and most alarmingly, as the other isses were predicted and this was not, my bottom bracket was in shambles. One cup had unscrewed, the whole thing creaked like hell, and the BB was sliding around in there, which is a terrible thing. I took care of that matter, and you can read what followed, here… but let’s talk gearing.
The 82-inchgear, while disturbing some that I’ve met ont he road, isn’t THAT dramatic. I heard a story from the Team Hype guys of a young guy pushing a 105-inchgear… and when you get right down to it, it’s not the inchgear itself that’s the issue: it’s the terrain, and the bike’s inability, by it’s very fixie nature, to compensate. An 82-inchgear, in Crook’s case, was not far off from your big ring in front and three or four back, depending on your cassette, on a modern road bike. For long flats and modest rollers, most roadies are in the big ring. And though I spent a few years exclusively in the 39 to amp up my spinning ability, as a rule, you want that bigger gear to go faster and more comfortably at speed. This was the logic behind Villain: to bomb flats more easily. I figured hell, if I have this many bikes, why not have more gearing options? The issue with the big gear on a fixie, unlike on your road bike, is that you’re theoretically stuck with it: once the climbs start, you’re in more pain and spending more energy, that a lower geared bike. Same with starting from stops. Same with controlling descents. That said, like any fixie, the inverse is also true: the big gear makes lomng-distance flats and rollers easier and faster. It’s a trade-off. I’ve ridden the big gear for a long time now. It wasn’t a question of doability, it was a question of efficiency on Lifecycle.
The challenge was always going to be energy consumption more than knee strain: I planned on gearing down for climb days and major sections anyway, just like the MASH guys did in the renegade Tour of California they ran. But it was more about the attrition of dailr rollers, and all those stop signs. As Day on the Ride proved, the stops took their toll on energy levels, and the modest climbs proved the seond experiment: big gears up even modest hills sucked energy that long-term would be needed. I exclude the major climbs of the day because they were ridiculous on this gearing, and had I BROUGHT another cog, I’d have cogged up already by that point, just couldn’t. But more importantly, the intermediate climbs: I’d watch Lung shoot ahead of me as I wound down, down, down into this slow mash. When I didn’t NEED to. And I got over them. Like I said early on, I’ve dragged this gearing over the rides here in Marin successfully… it was the imopact on a longer ride I wondered about, and Day on the Ride proved that by mile 70, those hilld had taken their toll. Again, I exclude the bigger climbs, which also battered me, and far worse. I just knew THOSE would.
Anyway, now the question became not whether or not the 82-inchgear would work, because I decided about 2 hours in that Saturday that it wouldn’t… but rather, would a lower gearing work for ME, given my knee issues which haven’t flared up for a few years but I did feel some of by the end of the day. Worst-case, I can still take a road bike, but keeping with the plan to take Crook, what to do? What gearing to use? I decided that, rather than gear to the mid-point (17t cog, dropping to mid 70s-inchgear) I’d go whole hog the opposite direction, and use the 18t. This cog system only offered me 16-18t (cassette lockring system) so what the hell. So, off went the 16t, on went the 18t, and I was good to go.
In the last few days I’ve put approximately 45 miles in on the resulting 72.5-inchgear, and while I admit it took some getting used to (only one of my fixies is this low, WrongBike, and I haven’t been riding any others other than Crook as a rule in warming up for ALC) I soon became accustomed to the relatively high cadence. Again, this is all relative: Lung has pushed low to mid-70s near-exclusively, if I recall, in his city bikes, and until Villain and Crook, so did I. It’s just on THIS bike, after what, 500 miles or so cumulative on the 82-inchgear, it’s quite a change.
But yesterday, I took a necessary trip over the hill to the Apple Store as an excuse to enjoy this fabulous post-storm weather, and did an afternoon Paradise Loop. I felt like I was FLYING. It was refreshing, after the weekend experience, which I sort of mentally associate with struggle, to ride Crook and feel fast, beyond the flats as I did before.
So I’m optimistic that this will be a suitable low-impact gearing for ALC…