Advantages of Higher and Lower Gears?



E

Elisa Francesca

Guest
In trying to get myself used to my large and heavy Dutch
bike, Behemoth, I have taken to practising for half an hour
after lunch in the courtyard of my office complex. I have a
lot of difficulty starting Behemoth. With her great flop-
weight, she tends to keel over to the left before reaching
enough critical speed to stay upright. This problem is, of
course, exacerbated on uphill starts, including a
particularly nasty one at a traffic light on my way to work.

Since the area in the courtyard is flat, I have tried to
imitate the resistance of the uphill start by putting
Behemoth into the top three of her seven gears. Previously I
have only ever touched gears five to seven when rolling
downhill on long stints with plenty of inertia already
behind me.

To my surprise, Behemoth seems generally more comfortable in
those higher gears. As I am obliged to put more weight on
the seat and pedals, the tension can come out of my hands
and arms, and I get a more upright posture with less pain in
my wrists. The stiff downstroke lifts me slightly out of my
seat and adds suspension at knee level. I'm also pushed
farther back on the saddle so the distance to the pedal in
relation to the seat seems longer, one of my geometry
problems with Behemoth being that her pedal crank is too
high for my comfort. It is easier to see the starting stroke
as "step onto the right pedal and stand on it", a more
effective strategy than "push down on right pedal while
scooting forward with left toe", which doesn't work on a
gradient where the left toe quickly loses contact.

But in cycling forums such as this one, the advice usually
goes the other way, towards "spinning" in low gear. In lower
gears on Behemoth, I tend to lose my pedals altogether -
there is not enough friction in my feet to hold them and
they fly away behind me. She's also harder to steer. Tipped
more forward on the saddle, I get pains in crotch and wrist.

I'm thinking, perhaps a _heavy_ bike like this needs the
greater inertia of the higher gears? Your spinning
enthusiasts tend to be roadies on vehicles that only weigh 7
kg - Behemoth is easily thrice as heavy.

In real life, I'm still using the lower gears for the uphill
starts, but perhaps I should cruise in higher gears than I
am using currently?

Your thoughts. Why are "real" cyclists so keen on spinning?

EFR Ile de France
 
In article <[email protected]>,

...

> To my surprise, Behemoth seems generally more comfortable
> in those higher gears. As I am obliged to put more weight
> on the seat and pedals, the tension can come out of my
> hands and arms, and I get a more upright posture with less
> pain in my wrists. The stiff downstroke lifts me slightly
> out of my seat and adds suspension at knee level. I'm also
> pushed farther back on the saddle so the distance to the
> pedal in relation to the seat seems longer, one of my
> geometry problems with Behemoth being that her pedal crank
> is too high for my comfort. It is easier to see the
> starting stroke as "step onto the right pedal and stand on
> it", a more effective strategy than "push down on right
> pedal while scooting forward with left toe", which doesn't
> work on a gradient where the left toe quickly loses
> contact.
>
> But in cycling forums such as this one, the advice usually
> goes the other way, towards "spinning" in low gear. In
> lower gears on Behemoth, I

"Spinning" is for getting better speed and endurance over
long distances, which is not really a consideration for you,
and to reduce the chance of knee problems, which isn't your
main problem right now. If you find that the low gears make
it hard for you to control the bike when starting up, then
by all means use the higher ones. As you get more
comfortable handling the bike, you can then play with your
gearing to see what lets you ride longer distances while not
getting tired. If the pedal moves so easily that you can't
keep your foot securely on the pedal, you certainly need to
use higher gears.

I find that, like you, I often start out better in a
slightly higher gear to give me something to stand on, and
then when I'm up to speed I'll adjust the gears to give me
the pedaling cadence I want.

> tend to lose my pedals altogether - there is not enough
> friction in my feet to hold them and they fly away behind
> me. She's also harder to steer. Tipped more forward on the
> saddle, I get pains in crotch and wrist.
>
> I'm thinking, perhaps a _heavy_ bike like this needs the
> greater inertia of the higher gears? Your spinning
> enthusiasts tend to be roadies on vehicles that only weigh
> 7 kg - Behemoth is easily thrice as heavy.

As I said above, spinning really only applies once you're up
to speed. Use whatever works for you when you are starting
out from a stop.

>
> In real life, I'm still using the lower gears for the
> uphill starts, but perhaps I should cruise in higher gears
> than I am using currently?
>
> Your thoughts. Why are "real" cyclists so keen on
> spinning?

It's for better speed and endurance, and less knee soreness
over long distances, and it's all relative to an
individual's own physiology. For some people, "spinning" is
80 rpm, while for others it's 110. Use whatever pedaling
speed works for you until you are comfortable in pretty much
any situation on your bike. Once you get to that point you
can worry about the fine points like cadence; until then
ignore it.

--
Remove the ns_ from if replying by e-mail (but keep posts in
the newsgroups if possible).
 
On Wed, 31 Mar 2004 16:34:10 +0200, Elisa Francesca Roselli
<[email protected]> wrote:
>I'm thinking, perhaps a _heavy_ bike like this needs the
>greater inertia of the higher gears? Your spinning
>enthusiasts tend to be roadies on vehicles that only weigh
>7 kg - Behemoth is easily thrice as heavy.

It could be related to bicycle weight, but it's probably
more of a comfort issue. Balance isn't an issue for most
people here, even with heavily loaded bikes.

>In real life, I'm still using the lower gears for the
>uphill starts, but perhaps I should cruise in higher gears
>than I am using currently?

Absolutely. You should do what's most comfortable and
easiest for you. If a higher gear is easier because you can
balance better, then you've found an answer. If it helps
your comfort, too, that's great.

>Your thoughts. Why are "real" cyclists so keen on spinning?

Apparently, spinning fast works better for many/most. I
tried to do as everybody suggests for years, and randomly
tried pedalling slower in a higher gear one day; I suddenly
found I could go faster and longer and feel better. One size
(or cadence) does not fit all.
--
Rick Onanian
 
"Elisa Francesca Roselli" wrote ...

<snip excellent description of the relationship between
gearing, rider position, and biomechanics>

> I'm thinking, perhaps a _heavy_ bike like this needs the
> greater inertia of the higher gears? Your spinning
> enthusiasts tend to be roadies on vehicles that only weigh
> 7 kg - Behemoth is easily thrice as heavy.
>
> In real life, I'm still using the lower gears for the
> uphill starts, but perhaps I should cruise in higher gears
> than I am using currently?
>
> Your thoughts. Why are "real" cyclists so keen on
> spinning?
>
> EFR Ile de France
>
"Real" cyclists are keen on spinning because it lets them
ride long distances with a high level of energy output
without knee pain and without premature buildup of lactic
acid in the legs. A certain amount of training and
acclimatisation is required, however, before one can keep
one's legs spinning for long periods of time at 90-100 rpm,
which is why so many "real" cyclists monitor their pedaling
speed with the cadence function on their cycle computers.
More utilitarian cyclists, such as the legions of cycle
commuters thronging Dutch cities, tend to ride at a much
slower cadence, simply because they don't always ride the
long distances that "real" cyclists ride, and don't have the
inclination to train themselves to spin at 90-100 rpm. The
higher cadence of a "real" cyclist is much better suited to
the "bent over", biomechanically efficient riding position
of a "real" cyclist than it is to the "sit up & beg" riding
position of a commuter or utilitarian cyclist. The "sit up &
beg" position, on the other hand, makes it much easier to
watch for vehicle traffic, road signs, and pedestrians. It's
entirely possible that the builders of Behemoth expect her
rider to use a lower cadence and ride in a more upright
position, and designed her accordingly.

A utilitarian cyclist would argue that those clever folks
who designed Behemoth carefully considered the needs of the
urban cyclist, allowing her rider to sit in a comfortable,
normal position and turn the pedals at a sensible rate of
speed, instead of being bent over like a pretzel and
spinning the pedals like a hamster on a wheel. A "real"
cyclist would respond that "those freds who designed
behemoth have no clue about proper riding position and you
can't even get aerodynamic or spin properly on that bike".

If higher gears, a lower cadence, and a "sit up & beg"
riding position make your commute more pleasant and
comfortable, then by all means ride that way and stop
worrying about the details. If your knees start to hurt or
if you get the urge to ride longer distances at higher
speeds, consider a more technically correct, biomechanically
efficient "real" bike.

BTW, none of my bikes weigh 7 kg. The lightest is closer to
9kg, and the tourer is probably embarassingly close to
Behemoth's weight, by the time I install steel racks,
fenders, and big fat tires for dirt roads.
--
mark
 
Thanks, all, for the common-sensical replies, which bear out
my intuitions about my dear Behemoth. Yes, she was certainly
designed for commuting and for a "sit up and beg" posture. I
know that is not aerodynamic because when the wind blows I
take it like a great white clipper sail - yay, spotaneously
I bend forward over the handlebars. Transiting only 1.5 kms
to work at the moment, in problematic city traffic, my first
worries are neither speed nor knee pains, but it would be
nice to be able to hold a lane. ;°)

So I'm glad I don't have to spin until I feel ready. Even on
my exercycle in front of the TV I only manage around 87 rpm,
otherwise it gets too jiggly to see the screen.

Off to London on Saturday. Mayor Livingstone has been heard
to remark, in his usual gentle style, that it would be a
"miracle" if there were no major terrorist attacks on that
city in the next few weeks. Oh well...

EFR Ile de France
 
When pedalling at high cadence it is important to turn the
pedals as regularly as possible, accompanying them in their
whole circle. You can do this only up to a given cadence,
above which your legs have trouble following and start
"bouncing", and this doesn't help keep on a straight line.
If you want to pedal at higher cadences (like the 90 rpm you
say you get to on your trainer), you should start from the
one you are used to (say, 60 rpm) and increase cadence only
progressively, keeping in mind to describe nice smooth
circles with your feet. Spin as fast as you can maintain
that smooth movement, but no faster, and get used to it.
Then maybe you can start turning faster. Spinning is easier
when your feet are somehow attached to the pedals (less
bouncing). I don't suppose you will install clipless pedals
on Behemoth, but you might consider toe clips; keep them
very loose so you can get your foot out easily; even so,
they will help you keep your feet in place.

Jacques
 
On Wed, 31 Mar 2004 20:35:51 +0200, Jacques Moser wrote:

> When pedalling at high cadence it is important to turn the
> pedals as regularly as possible, accompanying them in
> their whole circle. You can do this only up to a given
> cadence, above which your legs have trouble following and
> start "bouncing", and this doesn't help keep on a straight
> line. If you want to pedal at higher cadences (like the 90
> rpm you say you get to on your trainer), you should start
> from the one you are used to (say, 60 rpm) and increase
> cadence only progressively, keeping in mind to describe
> nice smooth circles with your feet. Spin as fast as you
> can maintain that smooth movement, but no faster, and get
> used to it. Then maybe you can start turning faster.
> Spinning is easier when your feet are somehow attached to
> the pedals (less bouncing). I don't suppose you will
> install clipless pedals on Behemoth, but you might
> consider toe clips; keep them very loose so you can get
> your foot out easily; even so, they will help you keep
> your feet in place.
>
> Jacques

Happy coincidence: look at Luigi's answer in the "toe clips"
thread just below.
 
Hi Elisa, You really have to experiment to find which
gears work best for you. Does your bike just have seven
gears or a double or triple ring at the front and seven
speeds at the rear?

If you have a double or triple ring at the front to go the
fastest (but pedal the hardest) you'll want big ring at the
front and little ring at the back. When going uphill or
against the wind you'll usually want to pick an easier gear,
and a harder gear when going downhill or into the wind or
when you've gotten good momentum going on the flat ground.

Maybe a bike shop can help you with the geometry issues by
making some adjustments and possibly switching the stem.

By "spinning" this is when you pedal at a higher rpm in an
easier gear. But noone is suggesting this gear be easy
enough that your pedals are flying away on you. Some gears
are really only needed for very steep uphills. You don't
want to pedal at too slow of an rpm because it is a strain
on the knees.

Personally I have recently switched my typical cruising gear
to a harder one. With more leg strength I find I can pedal
it at almost the same rate I used to pedal the easier gear
in, hence my overall speed is higher. I have a rate that I
like to pedal at, so I don't find switching to an easier
gear and spinning faster to be effective. You'll probably
find your own natural preferred rate.

With my mountain bike with slicks turned city commuter, I
find I almost never use the smallest ring at the front. I
also find that even on flat ground if there's a nice
tailwind I want to switch into a harder gear - but I'm
already at the max. Road bikes generally have bigger gear
ratios than mountain bikes.

Tanya

Elisa Francesca Roselli <Elisa.Francesca.Roselli@quadratec-
software.com> wrote in message news:<406AD6E2.C5ABF418@quadratec-
software.com>...
> In trying to get myself used to my large and heavy Dutch
> bike, Behemoth, I have taken to practising for half an
> hour after lunch in the courtyard of my office complex. I
> have a lot of difficulty starting Behemoth. With her great
> flop-weight, she tends to keel over to the left before
> reaching enough critical speed to stay upright. This
> problem is, of course, exacerbated on uphill starts,
> including a particularly nasty one at a traffic light on
> my way to work.
>
> Since the area in the courtyard is flat, I have tried to
> imitate the resistance of the uphill start by putting
> Behemoth into the top three of her seven gears. Previously
> I have only ever touched gears five to seven when rolling
> downhill on long stints with plenty of inertia already
> behind me.
>
> To my surprise, Behemoth seems generally more comfortable
> in those higher gears. As I am obliged to put more weight
> on the seat and pedals, the tension can come out of my
> hands and arms, and I get a more upright posture with less
> pain in my wrists. The stiff downstroke lifts me slightly
> out of my seat and adds suspension at knee level. I'm also
> pushed farther back on the saddle so the distance to the
> pedal in relation to the seat seems longer, one of my
> geometry problems with Behemoth being that her pedal crank
> is too high for my comfort. It is easier to see the
> starting stroke as "step onto the right pedal and stand on
> it", a more effective strategy than "push down on right
> pedal while scooting forward with left toe", which doesn't
> work on a gradient where the left toe quickly loses
> contact.
>
> But in cycling forums such as this one, the advice usually
> goes the other way, towards "spinning" in low gear. In
> lower gears on Behemoth, I tend to lose my pedals
> altogether - there is not enough friction in my feet to
> hold them and they fly away behind me. She's also harder
> to steer. Tipped more forward on the saddle, I get pains
> in crotch and wrist.
>
> I'm thinking, perhaps a _heavy_ bike like this needs the
> greater inertia of the higher gears? Your spinning
> enthusiasts tend to be roadies on vehicles that only weigh
> 7 kg - Behemoth is easily thrice as heavy.
>
> In real life, I'm still using the lower gears for the
> uphill starts, but perhaps I should cruise in higher gears
> than I am using currently?
>
> Your thoughts. Why are "real" cyclists so keen on
> spinning?
>
> EFR Ile de France
 
"Elisa Francesca Roselli" <[email protected]>
wrote in message news:[email protected]...
> It is easier to see the starting stroke as "step onto the
> right pedal and stand on it", a more effective strategy
> than "push down on right pedal while scooting forward with
> left toe",

I'm sure this observation brought a smile to dozens of faces
in this group familiar with your struggle. Indeed, this is
the best way to start.

Congrats, Matthew

Matthew
 
Elisa Francesca Roselli wrote:

> To my surprise, Behemoth seems generally more comfortable
> in those higher gears. As I am obliged to put more weight
> on the seat and pedals, the tension can come out of my
> hands and arms, and I get a more upright posture with less
> pain in my wrists. The stiff downstroke lifts me slightly
> out of my seat and adds suspension at knee level.

To maintain my comfort level pedaling, I try to maintain a
constant amount of pedaling force, rather than a constant
cadence. At slower speeds, whether I am tired or just
obliged to travel slowly for some reason, I am usually in a
higher gear than if I am moving quickly, all other things
being equal.

This does seem odd at first, but it works for me for all the
reasons you've mentioned. Pushing a taller gear at slow
speeds lets me put enough of my weight over the pedals to
save my butt from discomfort, without having to maintain a
high speed or energy output. Pushing a lower gear at high
speeds lets me spin a lot of energy into the pedals without
straining my knees. I don't know much about racing or
training, but IMHO I do go pretty fast :)

I am an everyday cyclist, I ride for transportation as well
as recreation, in all sorts of weather and on all sorts of
roads. My bikes are assembled mostly from parts I have
rescued from the trash, and have geometries as varied as the
conditions I ride in (unfortunately they're all heavy haha).
At any given time, I could be in just about any gear
pedaling at just about any cadence.
 
Jacques Moser wrote:

> Happy coincidence: look at Luigi's answer in the "toe
> clips" thread just below.

Yes, an enjoyable post and thread. There's also a long
thread in the UK forum from a lady who has just got into
spinning, which is what got me started on this track.

I'm well aware of the difference toe straps can make
because I have them on my exercycle. The higher my cadence,
the more I want the straps to fit tightly. I find myself
constantly moving my left foot back on the pedal so that
I'm pushing with the ball of the foot. Pedalling in big,
fuzzy slippers that make the straps fit tighter is more
efficient than pedalling in thin ballerinas that leave my
foot swimming about.

But I'm not yet confident enough of my balance to put
straps on Behemoth. I'm still so terrified of falling, and
still having trouble with critical maneuvres like starts
and stops which don't come at all naturally to me. Adding
another thing to think about would make this worse.
However, I certainly plan to consider straps if ever I
become a real cyclist.

EFR Ile de France
 
"Elisa Francesca Roselli" wrote

> But I'm not yet confident enough of my balance to put
> straps on Behemoth.
I'm
> still so terrified of falling, and still having trouble
> with critical
maneuvres
> like starts and stops which don't come at all naturally to
> me. Adding
another
> thing to think about would make this worse. However, I
> certainly plan to consider straps if ever I become a real
> cyclist.
>
> EFR Ile de France
>
>
Clipless pedals are nice this way, you can set them to an
extremely low setting where it's extremely easy to pull your
foot loose from the pedal (that's what I do when I want to
practice track stands). Shimano makes a pedal that accepts
regular shoes on one side, SPD on the other that is very
nice for multi-purpose bikes.

Another option is the Powerstrap offered by Rivendell
(www.rivendellbicycles.com).
--
mark
 
mark wrote:

> Clipless pedals are nice this way, you can set them to an
> extremely low setting where it's extremely easy to pull
> your foot loose from the pedal (that's what I do when I
> want to practice track stands). Shimano makes a pedal that
> accepts regular shoes on one side, SPD on the other that
> is very nice for multi-purpose bikes.
>
> Another option is the Powerstrap offered by Rivendell
> (www.rivendellbicycles.com). -

I see Edinburgh Bicycles stocks a strapless mini-clip:

http://www.edinburgh-
bicycle.co.uk/catalogue/detail.cfm?ID=2104

How do you think those would be?

I found the "Powergrips" on the Rivendell site but cannot
understand what they are or how they work. How do they
differ from other straps?

EFR Ile de France
 
"Elisa Francesca Roselli"
> I see Edinburgh Bicycles stocks a strapless mini-clip:
>
> http://www.edinburgh-
> bicycle.co.uk/catalogue/detail.cfm?ID=2104
>
> How do you think those would be?

These have been around for a while, they (theoretically)
position your feet on the pedals but don't offer any real
retention. They also don't keep your feet locked into the
pedal as you topple slowly (or quickly) to one side while
struggling to get your foot loose from the pedal. Back when
toe clips/straps were the norm, most people just installed
regular toe clips and rode around with the straps loose
until they became comfortable with reaching down to loosen
the strap at every stop. Some people never tightened the
straps and just used the toe clips as a positioning aid with
some nominal retention capability; others (racers) used
shoes with a slotted cleat to hold the foot firmly on the
pedal, and kept their straps extremely tight.
>
> I found the "Powergrips" on the Rivendell site but cannot
> understand what
they
> are or how they work. How do they differ from other
> straps?

They run diagonally across the pedals, you shove your foot
in at a slight angle (heel outward) and twist your foot back
to a straight ahead position to tighten them. Disengaging is
the reverse, relax your foot, twist the heel outward
slightly, and pull your foot out. No messing around with
reaching down to tighten toe straps, and if you don't want
to use them you just plant your foot on the pedal right on
top of the Powerstrap. These were offered in one of the US
discount catalogs a few years back but never did sell very
well; the folks at Rivendell seem to be part of a tiny
minority that still like them. A lot of stationary exercise
bicycles have a similar arrangement.

I would suggest either using toe clips with the straps loose
( so you can get your foot in and out without fiddling with
the buckles) or the Shimano two sided pedals with the SPD
side set to a very light retention level. The two sided
pedals would be nice in traffic, you could wear normal shoes
and have one less thing to worry about at every traffic
light. Or you could just use the pedals you have now, which
would be the simplest solution.
--
mark
 
Dear Elisa: Let me introduce my cooment below by admitting
that I am an over-educated, over-analytical ****. However, I
think generally that most physical actvities are best done
naturally and intuitively.

At the risk of appearing judgmental or harsh--none of
which I mean, truly!--let me say this: I think your
approach to cycling, not just as outlined in this thread,
but in virtually all your questions--is entirely too
analytical and fearful. To some extent, cycling is much
like any other physical activity: you can do it naturally
and without over-intellectualizing the process. I am only
conjecturing, of course, but it seems to me as if your
anxiety paralyzes you and prevents you from relaxing and
simply riding your bike in a comfortable, intuitive way.
Listen to your body as you ride and adjust things so that
you always feel as comfortable as possible. Do whatever
works and feels most natural.

I apologize if I come across as snide or insulting: I truly
do not mean to be anything but encouraging. I guess what I
am trying to say is just relax and have fun cycling: listen
more to your body and less to your mind, an odd thing for an
egghead like me to say. --Roy Zipris
 
Elisa Francesca Roselli wrote:

> But I'm not yet confident enough of my balance to put
> straps on Behemoth. I'm still so terrified of falling, and
> still having trouble with critical maneuvres like starts
> and stops which don't come at all naturally to me. Adding
> another thing to think about would make this worse.
> However, I certainly plan to consider straps if ever I
> become a real cyclist.

If you ride a bicycle, then you are a real cyclist, in my
opinion. Cyclists come in all sorts of different flavours. I
agree that it would be prudent to hold off on the straps
until you are more comfortable, though.

Don't be too concerned about cadence; whatever works for
you is fine.

--
Benjamin Lewis

"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then
suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night,
the ice weasels come." --Matt Groening
 
Elisa Francesca Roselli <Elisa.Francesca.Roselli@quadratec-
software.com> wrote in message 406C32CD.24442DAF@quadratec-
software.com

[...]

> I see Edinburgh Bicycles stocks a strapless mini-clip:
>
> http://www.edinburgh-
> bicycle.co.uk/catalogue/detail.cfm?ID=2104
>
> How do you think those would be?

The ones I use look more like http://www.edinburgh-
bicycle.co.uk/catalogue/detail.cfm?ID=14397. They're not
Zefal but they're close enough (hooray for Taiwan!). I just
don't use the straps around town. They're fine for casual
use, position your feet properly and prevent all but the
most violent slippage, yet are trivial to use and you won't
fall over because of them. And they're cheap enough that if
you hate them you can take them off and put it down to
experience.

--

A: Top-posters.
B: What is the most annoying thing on Usenet?
 
My grandson taught me this trick: toe clips with the strap
removed. Still hold your foot in place well enough, yet
extremely easy to get out off. --Roy Zipris
 
1 Apr 2004 17:51:18 -0800,
<[email protected]>,
[email protected] (Roy Zipris) wrote:

>My grandson taught me this trick: toe clips with the strap
>removed. Still hold your foot in place well enough, yet
>extremely easy to get out off. --Roy Zipris

There was a time when you could buy steel shorty clips that
were leather padded so's not to scuff your shiney shoes.
Probably still can if you're willing to hunt for 'em.
--
zk
 
Elisa Francesca Roselli wrote:

> I see Edinburgh Bicycles stocks a strapless mini-clip:

Only appropriate for Formal rides, of course :)

Bill "Mr. Manners" S.