When I learned to ride a bike as a kid, cycling was simple. My bike had no hand brakes and no gears. In fact, soon after I learned to ride it the chain broke. It took my dad a few months to fix it. Cycling became even simpler: walk up the hills, ride down the hills and use my feet Fred Flintstone style to go faster or stop!
These days I am married to a cycling maniac. He’s cycled for Australia, he rides on and off road and he counts his weekly saddle kilometres in the hundreds. I have unlimited access to expertise, inspiration and bikes. Maintenance is not my responsibility. I just get on a bike and ride it.
And yet, cycling is so much more complicated. Why? One word: gears.
I hate gears. I am entirely perplexed by them. I understand why I need them, I know cycling would be harder without them but, for the life of me, I can’t work out how to use them.
Before I started working at Pedal Power, I thought I was alone with my gears-phobia. Everyone else seemed to operate their gears just fine. Not only that but, whenever my usually patient husband and I talked about gears, his voice would adopt that inevitable tone reserved for really stupid people and our five year old son who seems incapable of actually absorbing instructions.
I’ve been doing my research and talking to people who are new to cycling and others who have cycled all their lives. And guess what? I’m not the only one who can’t work out gears. It seems gears are the bane of many a cyclist’s life.
Well, I’ve set my mind to working gears out. No more embarrassing crunching and clunking as I search in vain for the right combination. No more burning thighs as I push hard up a hill in the wrong gear. No more confused glances between my legs as I look for some sort of correlation between what my fingers are doing and what’s happening on those infernal cogs.
First up, I’m going to remember that the left hand controls the front gears. Now, I know some bikes are reversed but I’m just going to ignore that. My bikes are left-front so I’m going with that. Rule two is: put the front gears in the middle gear and leave them there. I know, I know, some bikes have two gears but I’m ignoring that too. You guessed it: my bikes have three gears on the front. Finally, I’m going to only change the back gears with my right hand. Back right, back right.
From there I’m told it’s all about trying to maintain even pedal pressure. Choose a gear that feels comfortable and change gears so the pedaling rate doesn’t alter too much. Bigger hills may mean I run out of gears on the back and that’s when I might start playing with the front gears. Maybe next week!
As I sit here on my lounge, I’m still not sure which is big, which is small, which is faster, which is slower but, with my basic rules in place, I’m hoping that some experimentation will make it all clear and some switch in my head will just click in and I will become one of those bike riders I see who never crunch or clunk.
If that doesn’t work, I’m going back to a single-speed with no gears and I’m just going to walk up the hills!
Penni Lewer is Pedal Power’s new Communications Manager. She has a long history working in the not-for-profit sector but these days spends more time searching for lost school hats and lunch boxes. She is married to Paralympian and keen cyclist, Michael Milton. The best thing about that, she says, is not having to pair his socks when they come off the line.