One of the common myths in cycling is that pedalling in a high gear gets you fitter and gets you places faster. But when you’re pushing hard to keep the pedals turning or bobbing up and down with the effort, you’re only wearing yourself out. It’s time to change gears.
The aim of gears is to let you maintain a comfortable rate of pedalling whatever the terrain. So what gear are you supposed to be using? Think of yourself as the motor of your vehicle – the bike.
If you start off in a high gear in your car, the motor labours and uses much more fuel. So you start off in a low gear and shift up as the car gathers speed. The motor doesn’t have to work so hard and you conserve fuel, which means you can go further. If you have a tacho in your car, you generally drive to keep the revs within a certain range.
It’s the same with your bicycle’s motor. You’re aiming to keep pedalling at a constant rate. When you start off, choose a low gear and as you gather speed shift up to keep those pedals spinning at the same rate. Pedalling more quickly actually uses less energy than pedalling slowly as you do when you “push a big gear” as we say. Just like the car, you’ll be able to go much further at higher revs.
Pedalling quickly gets the most out of your bike’s motor and conserves energy. It gets your breathing right – you’re not puffing and panting. Pedalling fast increases your heart rate and pumps oxygen-rich blood to your muscles more efficiently. Over time, your muscles increase in capacity and condition. Your motor becomes a more finely tuned source of power.
On that next hill, the right gear will let you keep pedalling at close to the same rate up and down the hill, or into a headwind or with a tailwind. Keep your revs in the same range. Pedalling quickly can take a while to get used to, but it’s more sustainable. And the less you tire yourself turning the pedals, the more alert you’ll be and the safer you’ll be.
Give your bike motor the sort of regular attention your car needs to keep it going. Eat well, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and you’ll keep your motor performing at its optimum.
See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 7 July 2006