"Sorry for your gears disability," Bill said as he pulled up on his bike in front of my office. "Would it be better if I only rode in one gear?"
I looked down at my newly singlespeed-converted Karate Monkey. "Well, it couldn't hurt," I said. "At least then there's a chance I'll keep up with you on the road."
Bill observed my cadence as we pedaled down the street, then shifted his gears to match mine - 32x20. "This is pretty low," he observed.
"Tell me about it," I said. "It's downright tedious on flat pavement." We spun and spun and spun, until we hit hills that suddenly seemed to throw the pedals backward. I stood and strained and grunted and sometimes I made it, but sometimes I didn't. The ride hadn't even started yet.
At the trailhead, I made a point to remark to the other Thursday Night riders that I was singlespeeding today - not because I've suddenly become one of those boorish one-gear sandbaggers (though I may have come off that way), but because I didn't have a clue what I was doing and needed to warn potential wheel-suckers in advance.
We started up the trail. I struggled to find my cadence amid a paceline of geared riders. Bill stayed up front, chugging away at the 32x20, although Bill is a much stronger rider than I am. I churned, then faltered, then churned again. The grade steepened. I stood up and wrestled with my handlebars like they were fighting back. I mashed the pedals until my abs burned. My abs! "This is a really good core workout," I said to the woman in front of me. She shifted into granny gear and suddenly I couldn't keep my own bike from tipping over. I set my foot down, and just like that I was walking. Other riders spun past and regarded me with quiet pity. It was a really easy hill.
I coasted the entire descent, except for when I forgot to coast and laid into my pedals until the egg-beater motion spun my legs out of control and spit my feet forward. After experiencing steep climbs and leg-throwing descents, I vowed to put clipless pedals on my singlespeed. I dislike clipless pedals and haven't used them for a year, but you basically can't get away with platforms when you only have one gear.
On the way home, Bill, Norman and I passed a speedometer. Bill and I frantically spun our tiny gear, legs pounding like overheated pistons, until we coaxed the radar to 25 mph. "Yeah, 25 mph!" I called out. I slowed my legs. That's when I realized that every muscle in my legs hurt, every single one, throbbing with an alien sensation that must arise when one's RPM rises above 200.
"What do you think of one gear?" I asked Bill as we ambled toward home.
"I like it," he said.
I smiled. "Me too."