Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Small Ring

With so many bike rides and a triathlon this year, I have decided to spend more time with Roxanne and get out for some rides.  When the weather report came out for Wednesday, I knew it was going to be great temps for riding.  But I also saw that it there could be 15 to 20 mph winds!  Oh well, you can't always have the PERFECT day.

I got home from work and immediately changed into my gear.  I already had the route mapped out in my head, a quick, beautiful 25 mile route that follows along the Sangamon River north of town.  As soon as I started riding I knew the ride home was going to be tough because the wind started at my back and I was riding at some pretty good speeds. 

I had made a tactical error during the day.  I knew I was going for a ride Wednesday night, but I figured it was only 25 miles and I should probably stick to my normal workout routine, which consisted of an early morning leg workout with burpees, lunges, and squats, and followed that up with a lunch hour, 3 mile run!  I considered that my legs may be tired, but with the wind at my back I pushed even harder to take advantage of the increased speed.

At mile 6 or so, I got the first glimpse at my future as my path turned into the wind for about a quarter of a mile.  Just to keep my speed, I was forced to get up off the seat and do a little pounding on the pedals.  I was thankful to turn back to the north and out of the wind.  Otherwise, the first 13 miles went without incident.  It was a beautifully sunny day.  The trail takes me over the river in several locations and has several well-wooded areas, a relative oddity in Central Illinois.  While much shorter than I would have wanted, the ride would have been darn near perfect if I had stopped there.  However, I would have been far from home.

So, reluctantly I turned into the wind and headed for home.  Right off the bat, I knew it was going to be a tough ride.  The wind immediately smacked me in the face and my pace slowed significantly.  In order to compensate for the greater effort, I had dropped my gearing down a couple of notches.  When I got to the first "hill" (it is difficult to classify anything in central Illinois as a hill, but I struggle with them nonetheless), I dropped down a couple a couple of more gears and had to get up out of my seat to make it all the way.  I knew from that point it was going to be tough.  At the next hill, I downshifted a couple of gears again and half way up, rather than get out of my seat, I downshifted one more time.  When the hill continued to challenge me, I went to downshift again but when I hit the lever, nothing happened.  I hit the lever a couple of more times and then looked down at my drivetrain.  My chain was actually at the top of the cassette!  I had exhausted the downshifting capabilities of the my big, front ring!  I got out of my seat and pushed hard to get to the top of the hill.  I barely made it!

And that was when it hit me, I was going to have to move to the small ring!  I am sure that for many seasoned riders in varying part of the country, this would not be that big of a deal.  In the flatlands of Illinois, I took it as a sign of defeat.  Thankfully, I could blame the defeat on Mother Nature and her ferocious wind, and not at all at my inferior training and abilities!  Seriously, who can truly defeat Mother Nature?!

With the realization of moving to the small ring came some concern.  I didn't even know if it worked, or which lever to hit to get to it, but I definitely needed some practice before the next hill.  So, I impatiently presses the levers on my left hand (I still don't know which one actually made the chain move), and it took the front derailleur some time to come to life, but eventually my chain came down and I was riding the small ring.

I rode the remaining 6 or 7 miles home in the small ring.  There were times when I could have moved to the large ring again, but they were far outnumbered by the times I was happy to be riding in a little lower gear.  And I learned a valuable lesson in the process: Pride can be painful!  I had been riding in strictly the big ring out of a strange matter of pride, but the small ring was incredibly helpful and probably was the only reason I was able to make it home!  So, in the future I promise to forget my pride and embrace the small ring.  I will never judge others who may or may not be riding in their small ring.  I will continue to be impressed by single speed riders who fore go the luxury of gears.  But I will never ride in Granny gear!

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