Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gearing for the mountains

I recently rode the Ride Studio Cafe's Highpoint ride (which was fabulous).  As part of the prep for the ride, I spoke with Rob and Patria regarding gearing.  Their suggestion was for a 30 tooth ring for my cassette, which Jeff, RSC's mechanic, agreed with.  This would give me a minimum gearing of 34/30, something that should, in principle, get me up anything without loaded panniers and be somewhat compatible with a short cage derailleur.  I have made it up the steep section of Hurricane Mountain Road with 34/25 gearing.  That road has a 1.8 mile stretch with 983 feet of elevation gain.  It's comparable to, but shorter than the steepest road on the Hightpoint route, Whitcomb Hill Road.   But I had to stand and grind my way up Hurricane Mountain Road, which I did in the middle of a 65 mile ride that included Bear Notch Road but was otherwise flat to rolling.  And after the Whitcomb climb, I then had to climb Mount Greylock, which was a long hard climb, though, in some ways, less difficult than Whitcomb.

With the new gearing I was able to make it up to Whitcomb's Summit and to climb Mount Greylock and I don't think I could have done so with the 34/25 gearing.  It was, in short, a good decision.  Whitcomb's was a bear - it was unrelentingly steep, including a 2 mile stretch with more than a 10% grade and peaking at a nearly 20% grade.  And Greylock was just long and hard.  Even with the easier gearing, I had to stop several times to let my heart rest.  I didn't have a monitor but given my reading of my pulse, I was near my maximum heart rate for much of the ascent and breaks, while short, were necessary.  Mercifully, the upper part of the climb was not nearly as steep as the lower part of the climb.  And I got to enjoy a great view of the summit.  It looks far away here but I was within two miles and 400 feet of the summit:

There were and are some issues.  When I first rode my bike with the new gearing, I managed to jam the chain by shifting into the 30 tooth ring while in the 50 tooth ring on the crank.  This produced disastrous results.  I didn't realize it at the time (though I certainly noticed the rough pedaling) but I had bent my derailleur.  I also put my my rear wheel out of true, considerably so.  I emailed Patria at RSC with an emergency repair request that evening and she advised me to drop my bike off in the morning, one day before the Highpoint ride.  I had a very busy day at work that day and could barely afforded the time but I wouldn't be using the IF unless I had it fixed.  Jeff didn't know all of the details but promised to do what he could.  Patria explained later that I couldn't use the 50/30 combination in any circumstances and if I did, I could expect big issues.  Jeff straightened the derailleur and trued the wheel (both look perfect, again) and installed a Campy chain, which he trusts more than the Connex Whipperman chain I was using.  It was buttery smooth and I was ready to ride.

It took some concentration to keep out of the 50/30 combination and in doing so, the derailleur works just fine.  I don't recommend this combination generally because you can get yourself caught in a jam far from home with one inappropriate shift.  But it worked for me.  I have the old rings, which are still in good shape, and may move back to the 12/25 set for the fall.

I did some riding in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend and, for various reasons, including 7 miles of dirt on each ride, I chose to take my Surly Cross Check, which has an even easier minimum gearing: 30/32.

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