The Hidden Gear

I am not sure when this bit of physical anomaly was revealed to me. Did I dream it? Was it whispered in my ear by a practitioner of cycling’s dark arts? Or was it an accident, a mis-shift leading to epiphany? Crazier still, why is it that it works sometimes, but not others?

Some of you will read what I am about to write and say, “Duh, everyone knows that.” Others of you will think, “No. That doesn’t really work.” And perhaps we are living in solipsistic multiverses in which you are both right. Alls I can say is, I’ve felt this thing. I’ve experienced it. And I think you can/should too.

Alright, here it is. Sometimes, when you’re somehow going as fast as you can, straining a bit against the pedals, but still going too slowly to feel like you’re getting anywhere, you can upshift, get on top of a higher gear, and cruise comfortably at a faster speed and possibly cadence.

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It’s as though there is a hidden gear both on the bike and in your legs, and when you access it, everything gets easier, speedier, and more comfortable.

Quite how this works, I don’t really know. It is possible, in those struggle-y moments, that we are below the bike’s rolling resistance equilibrium (that might also just be bike riding word salad I just made there). What I’m trying to express is that the bike and its rider have a stasis point where effort in matches incline and gearing perfectly, a natural velocity that meshes all the circumstances. And sometimes when you are below that point, it can feel as though you are dragging, pushing against a smaller gear and failing to overcome the bike’s inertia. Not only that, but it’s as though there is a hump you’ve got to get over, where you overcome that inertia, and come out the other side better in all the ways.

Not that you’re wondering, but I can confirm this also sometimes works when running. I can be stumbling along at a pretty discouraging pace, but then push my chest forward slightly and lean into the stride, whereupon I get both faster and more rhythmic. My breathing eases, and I begin to cruise.

There might be a clue about this phenomenon in the simple method of standing to climb. Once upon a very long time ago, a road racer taught me to shift up two gears to climb while standing, to get on top of that larger gear, and then sit again. It was Archimedes who said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I shall move the world.” Sometimes, it seems you just have to change your location relative to the fulcrum of effort. That’s just physics.

I’m curious about your experience. Have you found this hidden gear before? Do you know how it works? Or am I nuts? I realize those things are not mutually exclusive.

Join the conversation
  1. Antonio da Silva says

    Excellent as always.

  2. alanm9 says

    Not only have I felt it but its become how I routinely attack hills. Sometimes it fails miserably but when it works its sweet.

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