Push those Big Gears Boy...

Apples don't fall far from trees, or so they say. As few as the opportunities presented themselves, there were a handful of days over the past summer when I was able to spend some riding time with my, now teenaged, son. What became rapidly evident during those rides was that he, like his father, has decided to worship at the altar of the big ring, that pushing that big gear is the only way to go. All the time, any time, where ever the road or path takes him.

It got to a point where during a ride along the San Gabriel River Trail (SGRT) one day, his bike suffered a mechanical malfunction of the absolute worst sort - he found himself unable to shift onto the big ring. His response to this calamity was that the ride was over, it was no use going on without the big ring. If calamity sounds like a big word when used in this instance, if its use makes you think that I may just be overstating things a wee bit, don't. Teenage can turn, what most of us would consider simple matters, into high drama.

You see, not being able to shift into the big ring, and thus push those biggest of gears, is not just about the pedaling, the cadence, the production of power. It is veritably an affront against ones very person; a way of being, not just doing. Consider this question, "is a ride worth riding without a big ring? Now, let me posit some similar yes/no questions to help illustrate the point: "Is life worth living without you?", "is morning possible without coffee?", "is it pasta without Ragu?", "would a woodchuck chuck wood if he could?" If you realize that the answers to these questions are all "no" than you can understand how the question "is a ride worth riding without the big ring?" fits into the same earth-shattering category. 

The only way I could save the day was to shift onto my own small ring, and convince him that, fair was fair, and we would both spin for the rest of the day. It was not a perfect solution, but it was enough; it worked. We both had to deal with the same constraint, and truth be known, neither of us suffered unduly. That last bit shocked us both, and I'm still coming to grips with the ramifications.

I don't know how many times I have advised him to learn to spin but, being both a teen and my own son, his response is always the same - "it's the way I ride, dad." No use arguing the point; if he sticks with cycling long enough, he will eventually get it. He will realize that spinning has a time and a place. Pushing a big gear may show some strength, but knowing when to spin shows some smarts.


  1. That's good insight. This summer I took a week trip to Canada and did a tour with some buddies. First day out of Vancouver I stood hard and snapped my chain. A little quick recovery and the rest of the week was small ring all the way. Didn't dampen the pleasure one bit. You ride what you got.

  2. You know, when I was getting serious about riding a bike, there was this guy named Lance who I read was a legendary spinner. I figured that if spinning was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. I immediately shifted down from the big ring on my triple to the middle ring, and that's where I left it, regardless of whether I was riding my single bike or the tandem.

    Years later, I made the decision on a new bike to get a compact double, not thinking about the fact that I've spent years spinning along on that 39 tooth middle ring. Turns out that I now find myself in no-man's land on that bike more often than I find myself with a comfortable cadence.

    That's a long winded way of saying I know the feeling, but in the opposite direction! Glad to hear you convinced him to come over from the dark side, even if it was just for a while!

  3. I would have removed the front der. Doesn't sound like he needs it. Plus, you can save 90 grams!

  4. Rudi, a week of only small ring riding, might just push me over the edge, yikes.
    Tracy, a very short while. We, of course, fixed it when we got back home, and I think it will be a good long while before his chain sees the small ring again.
    BoingBoing, I was going to say, "shouldn't you be riding down the coast about now", and I see that you are. Look forward to the report.


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