Friday, April 16, 2010

Climbing in the 24-inch gear


Cyclists of a certain mathematical persuasion obsess about bicycle gearing. Entire books have been written on the subject and the great Sheldon Brown has a wonderful page on the subject here. While Sheldon made the case for his mathematically pure gain ratios and I think people in metric-thinking countries have adopted development meters, American cycling nerds (myself included) still measure things in inches and miles. Just the other day a friend asked if I was mentally mapping the upcoming Tour Divide in miles or kilometers. Without a second's thought I replied the same way I'd imagine Yogi Berra would, "Miles, of course. It's way too far in kilometers."

Single speeders and fixed gear riders to a single gear combination. On my Monocog Flight, that gear of choice is calculated by taking the chainring (32 teeth) divided by the rear cog (18 teeth) and multiplying by the wheel size (29 inches) to get 51.6 gear inches. But experienced single speeders know there is another gear, the low gear you drop to when you need to. Some folks say "I've got two speeds: riding and walking." Others use the mathematical expression "dropping to the 24-inch gear." Twenty-four inches equals two feet. Sometimes, we get by with our own two feet.

Today I had plans to train, plans to ride the high passes and log a lot of miles in the saddle. Today I had plans, but the day had other plans. I made it to Rattlesnake Lake, a pretty bit of water under a pretty mountain that's an easy 25 miles from my home in Issaquah. The sun was shining on the bare ridge of rock 1175 feet above the lake and while I could ride up to passes I'd ridden before, I'd never been to the top of that ridge. It's not a biking trail, it's a hiking trail, so I parked the bike and dropped to the 24-inch gear.

The way to the summit is not a straight path. It winds and turns back on itself. It is impossible and unwise to only focus on the peak and the trail reminds me of this. I climb through a green world, one step at a time.

While the view from the summit is, of course, spectacular, it is the walking I remember. The green of the moss on the rocks and trees, my breath on the climb, the care that must be taken with every step.

Heading down, back to the lake and my bike, I meet up with this small fellow. He's not here to train, to stare down from a lofty height or take pictures for his blog. He's only here to live. This is his home.

On other days the maps and the clock and the race will tell me where I have to be. Today, I think I needed to be reminded of why I ride in quiet places. Today, the path drew me off the bicycle for a bit, to remind me of the things that move more slowly, at the pace of a 24-inch gear.



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