Of gears, panniers and fitness

October 5, 2009 at 22:41 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Well, as some of you may remember, a little while ago I bought a new bike. Here it is:

Other than feeding my addiction, I bought it because I wanted something more practical, something I could carry stuff around on and do longer rides. Oh, and I lusted after swishiness.

Well, the first thing to note is that if you want to bring about a global drought, go and buy a bike with mudguards. Since buying that bike, it has never rained when I’ve needed or wanted to go anywhere, except when I was on the wrong (mudguard-less) bike.

The second point is that gears make you soft. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it seems to be true. I’ve mainly been riding this bike, and I just have this impression that my fitness has dropped slightly. (Of course, that may not be the reason – I have also developed an addiction to Arnott’s Lemon Crisps; I’m not sure that consuming an entire packet at midnight prior to going to bed is exactly the nutrition of champions.) Hills on the fixie are brutal and short. On the new bike, they take longer, and I feel more spent at the top. Of course, the new bike is heavier. Sometimes much heavier, as I also have fallen victim to the First Rule of Panniers.

Yes, I also bought panniers. Why are panniers so expensive in Australia? I do make an effort to support my LBS, as I figure the service and convenience of a bike shop around the corner is worth paying a premium for. But when you can buy panniers from the UK and get them delivered to your door in less than a week for under half the cost of buying locally, well, something seems a bit wrong somewhere.

Anyway, the First Rule of Panniers, for those unfamiliar with it, states that whatever size of pannier you get, your stuff will only just fit in them; the corollary being that your stuff expands to fit the size of pannier that you buy. The panniers I have are thirty-eight litres, pretty standard for touring. People use them for things like round the world trips and moving house. However, for some reason my commute to work how seems to require me to fill them up, whereas previously I could fit my stuff into a small backpack. Almost every time I go out there is some reason why I have to take a load of stuff with me. It’s very mysterious. And heavy.

In the course of this, I also learned why tourers like such low gears. Getting out of the saddle when the bike is laden is very weird, unsteady and tiring. So you stay in the saddle and spin in a lower gear. Maybe that has affected my fitness. Or maybe I’m just more tired because I’m hauling an entirely unnecessary 10kg of extra weight around with me. I’ve also become much less tolerant of the SHB steps, as wheeling a heavy bike up and down them is much more difficult than slinging a lightweight one over your shoulder and jogging down.

Still, I do love my new bike. Lots of people ask me which one I prefer (well, not lots actually, most people can’t tell the difference, but a few have asked). So after some consideration, I have developed this analogy.
The fixie is like a mistress. It’s fast, racy and fun, but not always practical. And whilst it’s a blast now, there is a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this is not something I’ll be settling down with; it’s not going to be suitable for my old age.
The tourer is like a wife. Comfortable, practical, and unlikely to solicit as many gasps of admiration, but ultimately the one I’d choose if and when I have to start being sensible.

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