Stuck in the Middle



OK.  I give.  I can’t do it.

When I got my first road bike years ago, I read an article talking about some guy named Lance’s techniques.  It basically said that the secret to his success was his use of fast cadence and lower gears to “spin” as opposed to “mashing” bigger gears (yeah, right…).  I figured there must be something to that, so I set out to learn to spin.  Over that first summer, I mastered the technique, and have blissfully spun my through thousands of miles.

What that really meant is that on the two road bikes prior to this one, I rode in the middle chain ring (they were triple’s) 99.996% of the time.  That’s where I was comfortable, I could ride relatively fast and efficiently, and life was good.  When we got the tandem, that continued to be the case.

Then, two summers ago, I won that bike from Fatty.  I decided to go with a compact double instead of a triple.  After all, I am a decently strong rider and climber, I never used granny gear up front, and rarely used the big ring.  Besides…all the “serious” cyclists ride compact doubles.

Well, let me tell you, I almost regretted that decision.  It took me a heck of a long time to get comfortable with that compact double crank.  The little ring was too small, and the big one was too big.  I was so relieved when I finally got it figured out and figured out how to spin comfortably without having to constantly think about it.  Life was good again.

The problem is…I get myself into trouble by thinking.  Last fall, I decided our average speed was dropping.  I don’t know why, but it just felt like it.  I decided to try riding in the big ring more, and gave it a try on a ride we did out to Strafford.  It was kind of awkward, and seemed to cause my legs to burn a little more than normally, but I figured I could get used to it.  Interestingly, as I look at the average speed from that day, it wasn’t actually much faster than we normally ride on the tandem, but I thought I was on to something.

As we’ve been getting the tandem out more the past month or so, I’ve continued my efforts to acclimate to the big ring, but the results have been horrible.  I feel like I’m wearing myself out on hills and rides that were a piece of cake in the past.  It’s not been fun at all.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came Monday evening on the way home from our first tandem commute during Bike to Work Week.  We had a little head-wind, but were riding across the flatness of our fair city and I was dying again.  About half-way home, I gave up and shifted to the middle ring.  It only took me a few minutes to start berating myself for being so stupid and hard-headed.  That ride home started feeling nice almost immediately.  Needless to say, I’ve been “stuck in the middle” most of the time since then.

I guess the good thing to come out of the experiment is that I’m now a lot more conscious about knowing when it makes sense to jump into that big ring for a few minutes instead of just blindly spinning along in the middle ring.

God bless…


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4 Comments on “Stuck in the Middle”

  1. welshcyclist Says:

    I’m nowhere near the accomplished rider you are, but I too am “stuck in the middle”. I began cycling convinced that to go faster I had to be in the big ring of my triple, then I went through a phase of singlespeed on the hardest gear of my triple, then I tried spinning which I’m hopeless at, and now I’m stuck in the middle and change gear alot, depending how I’m feeling on my commute. Last evening on my 20 mile return home I was pooped and made use of all my gears on the middle ring. Every now and then I try to utilize spin, but just can’t get the hang of it. I’m not cycling for speed, I just enjoy being out on my bike, it makes me feel great, even after riding pooped. But it would be nice not to be passed by everyone else, and I mean everyone including little old ladies!

  2. bgddyjim Says:

    I ride in the middle ring solo and the big ring (except for the bigger hills) in group rides. I’m tempted to try out my Cannondale for one – it’s got a full double, just to we what it’s like. The last time I was in the small ring was last summer in the mountains. I too have though about a C-D on my next bike (or if I rebuild my 5200 and get it painted). I see a lot of guys in our group have them and I’m a touch envious of the fact that they can get to the easy gears in the big ring for the climbs. I gutted a big hill out in 52/19 last week and it almost did me in. I do like the big ring riding with others though… I can spin pretty easy as long as we keep it above 21.

  3. Michael Says:

    Timely post, I’m back on a double (from riding triples) for the first time in about forever. So far, I’ve found myself slowing down, spinning in the smaller ring, and enjoying the view a lot.

  4. After changing out the 50t on my double to a 46t, I find I use alot more of the rear cogs. I know mathmatically that would be half way between a true middle but it does feel “spinnier”. It’s just the ticket on my lugged steel frame.

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