Well, I’m splitting like Tesla stock. Yes, after today, I’ll be moving the friction shifter of life into “family vacation mode.” And while I may pop in here now and again if I’ve got something pressing to share (e.g. a bear attacks me and I fight it off with my Rivendell) you won’t be hearing from me too much between now and the end of the month.

As for defending myself against ursine acts of aggression, my pedals could help:

Though they’re not, strictly speaking, bear traps:

I wanted those pedals so, so bad “back in the day:”

I never did get them, but I did have a sweet blue Hutch stem with the Potts modification just like this one:

I could, on a good day, pull off a tailwhip, thanks in part to the miracle of clever cable routing.

Funny how the brain works. I can’t remember how to do long division but I can remember every BMX bike part I ever had. My mental cache is basically 95% bike crap and Monty Python bits, and any new information beads right off me like water on waxed canvas.

Speaking of math, I’ve been thinking of gear inches and gradients recently. While my rides have been short, they’re not short on hills, and (according to Strava anyway) some of the roads I’ve been frequenting have sections that are over 20%. Fortunately, my Rivendell has a nice winch-like low gear of 24 (front) x 32 (rear), which according to Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator equates to something like 21 gear inches. (Or possibly less, since my exact tire size wasn’t in the pull-down menu.) This allows me to climb even the steepest pitches while remaining seated, and to find a rhythm, and to get to the top without feeling like I’m going to keel over.

However, when I first rode these hills, I did so on a road bike with a 34 (front) x 25 (rear) low gear, which is around 36 gear inches. I made it up okay, but when you hit a grade that steep, it’s totally unfamiliar, and you can’t see the end of it, you definitely have moments where you feel like you might lose all momentum and fall over like a Chewbacca action figure on an irregular surface. (Or at least I do; at this point in my life I don’t need to pretend I’m dancing up the climbs.) You’re out of the saddle, wrenching the bars, hoping your chain doesn’t snap or your freehub pawls don’t give up on you. Certainly as I pedal up on the Rivendell I’m surprised I made it up on the other bike as overgeared (at least for a rider of my meager abilities) as I was.

But I did make it up. Moreover, when I look at Strava, I did so much faster on the “overgeared” bike than I do on the bike with the lower gears. This surprises me, because I feel much more comfortable and much more fluid on the bike with lower gears, and it so seems logical that this would translate into greater efficiency, and ultimately, a faster time.

In fact, it’s the opposite. This isn’t because my road bike climbs inherently better than my Rivendell, or because I was in better shape last year, or because I was trying harder. It’s because gears are like money, and when the going gets tough, no matter how much or how little you have, you’re going to go through it all eventually. So if you don’t have much to begin with, then you’ve got no choice but to slug it out. Conversely, why get out of the saddle, wrestle with the bike, and pull with all your might on the cockpit when all you’ve got to do is downshift?

On the bike and in life, sometimes we’re flush, and sometimes we’re lean. Sometimes we’ve know we’ve got enough in reserve to reach the top, and sometimes we have no idea even where the top, is or if we’ll be able to keep turning over the pedals. But as long as we keep at it, we’ll get there.

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