Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Patience is the virtue of the singlespeeder

Singlespeeders may only have one gear on their bike, but based on my limited experience, I've theorized that they more than make up for it in "cerebral gears." There's the glazed-over boredom of coasting gradual downhills, the frantic hamster-wheel spinning on the flats, the happy forgetfulness of that small grade range the bike is actually geared for, and of course the leg-ripping, lung-busting, handlebar-wrestling, "it hurts to look down" battle of the steep ascent. That last cerebral gear is the one I believe most singlespeeders strive to reach. At least, that's they way it is for me. As a lowly geared rider, I am too often guilty of shifting down to the granny and breathing with only moderate pain as my speed drops below 5 mph. Singlespeed, on the other hand, yanks my heart rate up to 180, drops my cadence to something only slightly faster than the minute hand on a mechanical clock, creates some kind of extreme electromagnetic force field beneath my knees and laughs at my pain as my overall speed continues to register in that 5 mph range. To think all this time I've been doing it the easy way. It makes me realize the importance of leg strength. I've been coasting uphill for far too long, thanks to the enabling efficiency of bicycle technology.

But I'm enjoying my singlespeed all the same, because it's a challenge, and because it forces me to spend time in the red zone that I might otherwise shift away from. The singlespeed also teaches me patience — as soon as I max out from trying to maintain my usual cadence on a steep climb, singlespeed forces me to slow my cadence and appreciate the long burn. I also had nearly forgotten how much I love rolling the big wheels downhill. I feel more natural and comfortable on my Karate Monkey than any other bike I've ever ridden — perhaps because we've been through so much together. We had a great day out.

And damn if I didn't ride that Steven's Creek loop faster than I usually do on my Rocky Mountain Element, even with breaks to take pictures of coyotes and that annoyingly spun-out crawl along the last seven miles of pavement. Maybe if I strive to become more in tune with One Gear Zen, singlespeed will show me its one true speed: Fast.