Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shifting Gears

We've been doing lots of long distance rides this year - between various brevets, the fleche, Green Mountain Double and Rapha Gentlemen's Race. But last weekend, it was time to switch gears and do a short intense hill-climb race. Due to various conflicts, our first hill-climb event of the season was a biggie,  Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington! We had penciled in the race up Okemo for the weekend before Newton's, to at least get one pure hill-climb race in before climbing Mt Washington, but as the weekend drew near, we finally had to admit that we were pooped from all the travelling! So we decided to save some energy by not loading up the car and driving to some far-away event for once, meaning Newton's would be the first hill-climb of the year - way to ease oneself into these things, eh?

Fortunately, I did a little hill climb training in the early spring, but truth be told, neither of us has really done any specific training for pure hill-climbs this year.  Since the long events have been coming at us fast and furious every weekend since April, we can barely think about any event beyond whatever is happening in the next few days. So there we were last week, suddenly faced with a Date with the Rock Pile.

I had been planning to stick to my usual fixed gear bike, but at the last minute, decided to throw caution to the wind and try gears again. The first time I rode up Mt Washington solo, I did it with gears, and it was brutal. I was on the edge of cramping for the final two miles and it wasn't a pretty picture at the top.
not a pretty picture

The next three times, I rode fixed, and I felt much better at the top, as well as on the way up. So I sort of had a mental block about trying gears again. But John and others finally convinced me that my bad experience was much more due to it being my first go, rather than the gears, and I should try gears again!

that is a smile!

Of course I knew it wasn't like I would do much shifting anyway. What does the fixie pixie even know about shifting gears? For the climb up Mt Washington, I basically get into one really low gear and find a good rhythm and pace where I can breathe hard for an hour and a half and just stick to it. Gears just make the start easier. Only someone who has ridden a seriously low fixed gear or unicycle can truly appreciate the screaming downhill start of Mt Washington! OK, it's not really a screaming descent, but it is downhill enough to be very hard to start with such a low gear. Having some higher gears would make the first 2/10 of a mile a bit easier. After that I'd shift down to my lowest gear and stay there for 99% of the time, with an occasional upshift for a few seconds once or twice. 

My geared hill-climb bike is a Co-Motion Ristetto that we picked up back in 2004 while visiting the factory in Eugene. With all our bikes still making their way home from our overseas move, John borrowed it, and using a long seat post and long stem, taught it to climb Mt Washington.  It has made the journey up Mt Washington a few more times in various different configurations with me at the helm. I now have it set up with a teeny XX crank and front derailleur with 26/39 chain rings, but otherwise, it still sports the standard DuraAce equipment that it came with. It weighs a bit over 16 pounds, which for my bikes is quite light, but many hill-climbers bring machines that make this one look positively obese!

So last weekend, I put some super-skinny (for me) 23 mm tires on it, pointed it uphill and pedaled to the top of Mt Washington in 1:34:32 (a PR for me by almost 5 minutes, but just off the podium in my age group). The 50 mph winds did their best to blow me off the side of the mountain and push me back down to the start, but I managed to stay on the road the whole way up. Despite having such a great ride with gears, I am planning to come back in August on my Pixie Fixie bike - just because I am the Fixie Pixie!

smile or grimace?

approaching the finish line - barely visible through the fog

John had an even more fabulous ride at Newton's this year, despite his non-specific training.

He has been racing on the Ride Studio Cafe Endurance team for the past couple of years. He and his teammates picked a brutally long and mountainous course for their fleche and then did a screaming fast time to win and set a new record on Green Mountain Double, which is to say that he's done no real intense hill-climb training, but has plenty of long hard efforts in his legs for the year. Last year, he toured on his new Seven Axiom with rack and fenders, raced it on the dirt roads of the Green Mountain Double Century, then stripped it down for Newton's and had an amazing race, and proved how versatile one bike could be. He was able to get it pretty light, but the frame still has couplers and a longer wheel-base and such. I talked with Rob and Patria at Ride Studio Cafe about possibly loaning John a Seven Cycles 622 or Axiom SLX for Newton's this year. The demo 622 was set up with Campagnolo, and was just going to be too much trouble to change around to get a nice low gearing setup required for climbing Mt Washington. But they had a lovely light Seven Axiom SLX with SRAM Red components, including a compact (34/50) crank. Swapping in John's Zipp 202 (carbon tubular) wheels with a giant 32 tooth cog would give him ideal gearing and should work without any other major changes. So with the pressure to do well on a loaner bike, John powered it to the top in 1:04:44, good enough for 5th place overall and 1st in his age category! Thank you to Ride Studio Cafe and Seven Cycles.

loaner Seven Axiom SLX with SRAM Red

Not bad for suddenly switching from long distance to short, eh? We also managed to take 2nd place in the family category, where they need a super-computer to calculate the points. Results are posted here.

We're planning to shift back to some longer rides in coming weeks, with a trip out to the Finger Lakes for Quadzilla Staged, but then it will be back to hill-climbs later in the month - yep constantly shifting gears!


  1. Nice shoes. I believe they are Dromarti, right? Are they good in racing too?

  2. Are the Dromarti shoes distributed in the US or do you have to order them directly from the UK?

  3. Yes, they are Dromarti shoes. No US distributor. I ordered them directly - shipping is quite fast and inexpensive. I absolutely love them. They fit like a *glove*. The leather breathes/gives enough to handle hot conditions quite well. A little brown shoe polish and buffing keeps them looking great, even after I abuse them like in the gents race last month. I highly recommend them.

  4. I'm noticing the bar-end shifters. They came on our 1993 Co-Motion Java (purchased in 1999 from the factory for $1000) and as an effective alternative to brifters really fun. We've got bar-ends on our Bike Friday 'Q'Tandem and my Gravity Avenue B single.

  5. Ah yes, the bar end shifters did replace the brifters that originally came on the bike, mainly because you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and my hands expect shifters to be there!

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  7. Great PR on the climb - 5 mins off is staggering!
    I would love to read about you bettering that time on Pixie Fixie - after all a fixie is a climbing beast par excellence!
    Chapeau to you both on your riding - super as always :)))!!

    1. Well, I did indeed better the time on the pixie fixie in the August race, by 4 minutes... Report coming soon!