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Riding in the "granny gear" or smaller chainring

Old 04-05-12, 07:24 PM
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Riding in the "granny gear" or smaller chainring

So, I figured I'd post here since I'd most likely get a friendlier and more detailed response here than in the "road cycling" section from my fellow so-cal bros!

But I just had a question because I'm having a hard time getting motivated to ride.
I've been cycling for about a year now and have put in about a total of about 4,000 miles in total on the bike.

I ride mostly for fitness, and I always have told myself that riding in the bigger chainring = more power = more kcals burned = stronger

But every single time I ride by guys on the 101 and various streets around the san marcos/escondido area, they are ALWAYS in the smaller chainring "spinning" at around 90-100 rpms and seem to be really getting a good workout in.. while I'm in the big chainring and I'm "Mashing" at around 90-100 rpms.

So, I guess my question/questions is..

- I plan on going riding this weekend, am I still going to get a good workout in if I'm in the smaller chain ring?
- When I'm IN the smaller chainring and I want to shift to the HARDEST gear (I ride a 10 speed SRAM apex) why does the bike take so damn long to actually SHIFT?


Thanks for reading the wall of text guys, I feel like a total noob and hope I don't get flamed. :/
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Old 04-05-12, 07:32 PM
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Actually riding in too hard of a gear, while being the "manly/tough" thing to do can actually be a lot harder on the knee and ankle joints. Reccomended cadence for early training(in fact later training) is to maintain 90-110 rpm. I seem to recall a certain Armstrong was also of the 100-120rpm philosophy. It has proven effective for me, even if it doesn't seem as powerful sometimes it can be better overall.
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Old 04-05-12, 07:36 PM
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If you're going similar speeds, then at 90-100rpms you're not "mashing" any more than the other guys who you say are "spinning" at 90-100rpms. As long as you aren't cross chaining, don't worry about if it's in the big or little front ring, put down the power you're gonna put down, and do it at 80-100 RPM.

I couldn't tell you what % I use my little and what % I use my big chain ring, because its totally irrelevant to anything. The gears are there for you to use, not to dictate your riding style.

As for being in the small chainring and going to the smallest rear cog...that's called cross chaining. Look at the chain, it's not usually very happy at that angle. Thats a good reason to shift to the big front gear and get back into the meat of the cassette in the rear.
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Old 04-05-12, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by mtbikerinpa
Actually riding in too hard of a gear, while being the "manly/tough" thing to do can actually be a lot harder on the knee and ankle joints.
He said he was still pedaling at 90-100 RPM though. Even if it's a tougher gear than he's used to, is it still bad when he's doing it at the recommended cadence? I thought "mashing" was high gear at a low cadence, and it was that that was caused the damage.
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Old 04-05-12, 07:45 PM
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Holy crap, I had NO clue about cross chaining.. I do, do that a lot. I'm assuming that's a bad thing? heh.
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Old 04-05-12, 08:11 PM
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I usually cruise happily at an average of 88 rpm. I only use the big ring on downhill or when I really want to go faster without spinning too much.
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Old 04-05-12, 09:36 PM
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Originally Posted by FujiKid
they are ALWAYS in the smaller chainring "spinning" at around 90-100 rpms and seem to be really getting a good workout in.. while I'm in the big chainring and I'm "Mashing" at around 90-100 rpms
Was there a typo here?
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Old 04-05-12, 09:46 PM
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Originally Posted by eugenek
Was there a typo here?
Sorry, by "mashing" I meant shelling out a lot of power, not really focusing on "spinning" or my pedal stroke.
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Old 04-05-12, 09:58 PM
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Originally Posted by FujiKid
Sorry, by "mashing" I meant shelling out a lot of power, not really focusing on "spinning" or my pedal stroke.
But if they are doing 90-100 rpms and you're also doing 90-100 rpms on the same terrain, how do you figure that you're mashing and they are spinning? Or are you implying that you ride faster than everyone you see?
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Old 04-05-12, 09:58 PM
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Use the highest RPM possible while staying in your target (optimum) heart rate. So you're getting a good aerobic workout, and you aren't putting too much stress on your joints.
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Old 04-05-12, 10:07 PM
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90 rpm <> mashing.

As long as you're not cross chaining and if you can keep your cadence up reasonably high (to me, that's > 80 rpm with 90-100 being ideal) then don't worry about which front chain ring you're in.

Now about your other question - what do you mean it takes forever to shift? which DR are you shifting? Front? Back? And describe forever?

My guess is that you need to adjust the barrel adjusters for your shifter cable - there's some verbiage on the SRAM site about that and probably a herd of youtube videos on how to do it too.
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Old 04-05-12, 10:17 PM
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Spinning above 90 rpm just does not feel natural too me. If I try to put in any degree of effort at that cadence, I get all "bouncy". I'm most comfortable around 85.
I've ordered a pair of custom 155mm cranks, let's see if that helps.
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Old 04-05-12, 10:25 PM
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Maybe your seat is too high? 155 would indicate you're pretty short, I imagine. I could do 120 fairly easily when I was younger, now 110 is a challenge.

But then again, everybody is a little different - do what works for you.
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Old 04-05-12, 10:31 PM
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Originally Posted by TrojanHorse
Maybe your seat is too high? 155 would indicate you're pretty short, I imagine. I could do 120 fairly easily when I was younger, now 110 is a challenge.
I'm 5'6" with [strike]30"[/strike] 29" inseam. My current cranks are 170mm.

Last edited by eugenek; 04-05-12 at 11:17 PM.
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Old 04-05-12, 11:26 PM
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Originally Posted by eugenek
Spinning above 90 rpm just does not feel natural too me. If I try to put in any degree of effort at that cadence, I get all "bouncy". I'm most comfortable around 85.
I've ordered a pair of custom 155mm cranks, let's see if that helps.
A very good rider I know experimented with all different lengths of cranks (using adjustable length PowerCranks). His goal, more or less, was to get a large seat to bar drop for good aerodynamics. Not sure what length he eventually settled on but it definitely was less than 170mm and he's a tall guy. He had to tweak his gearing to account for less leverage with his shorter cranks (he's running a wide cassette with a mountain rear derailleur). The guy ia beast and an excellent climber, 3 time winner of the Mt. Laguna Classic, and placed very high in the Furnace Creek 508 last year.
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Old 04-06-12, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by eugenek
Spinning above 90 rpm just does not feel natural too me. If I try to put in any degree of effort at that cadence, I get all "bouncy". I'm most comfortable around 85.
I've ordered a pair of custom 155mm cranks, let's see if that helps.
I hate that "bouncy" feeling...I usually get it around 100, so I go to a longer gear and watch the speed dip and then climb back up.

My natural cadence is 80-95.
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Old 04-06-12, 02:02 PM
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Always remember cycling is suppose to be an aerobic sport. If you want to go anaerobic, go lift weights. Much more efficient and 'sides will build more muscle to aid in aerobic sports.

Efficiently in cycling is acheived through spinning. If you can maintain 80 - 90 rpms in a higher gear, more power to you. If you can do that over 20-30-40 miles even better. But mashing generally means you are grinding away, maybe doing 50-60 rpms in a high gear. Anytime you are over 80 rpms you are spinning. SS guys don't have the luxury of high or low gears - they have a gear. The one gear they choose is designed to suit all needs.
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Old 04-08-12, 12:34 PM
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"am I still going to get a good workout in if I'm in the smaller chain ring?"

Work = Force x Distance.

It doesn't matter which gear you use, if you ride the same distance you'll burn the same amount of calories.
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Old 04-15-12, 08:40 AM
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There's quite a lot that can be said but I'll keep it simple as there are lots of places to find info and books to read about it.

You tell yourself that "bigger chainring = more power = more calories burned = better workout"
Well, not necessarily if that's all you do is mash. (Each rider has their own physiology so there's that to consider).
If you're statement is based on mere "mine is bigger than yours" or that feeling your legs "go dead" and can't move anymore therefore you got a good workout then you're missing some crutial understandings of how your body works when riding.

IMO "Mashing" is typically considered cadences below 80rpm on the flats and even lower on the hills.
"Spinning" is typically 90-100 on the flats and 80-90 on the hills.
Cadence will slow on the hills compared to the flats, its natural.

Simplistically looking at things:
When you mash you use the anerobic system - muscle glycogen for fuel, or the fast twitch muscle fibers, that compress for heavy loads till the fuel stored from food is gone;
when you spin you use the aerobic system - oxygen synthesis for fuel or the slow twitch muscle fibers, that compress lighter loads for a long time since oxygen is supplied long term by heart and lungs.

Pretend you are on an incline and going the exact rate of speed in two scenarios:
1. 53x11 Mashing - Anerobic puts the load on the muscles so think of your legs feeling that heavy load like successive leg presses, and your feet can feel massive pressure as your feet flex the soles fo the shoe and quads/calves feel pumped up, burning, screaming, and over time lose their strength as the glycogen fuel is used up
2. 39x21 Spinning - Aerobic puts the load on the heart and lungs where the feet and quads don't "feel" heavy resistance but you're spinning the gears much faster to achieve the same speed so your heart rate spikes and your breathing is maxed as you try to maintain that effort.

Ideally you want to find that middle range between spinning at a good rate to let the aerobic system provide the long lasting energy from breathing and the anerobic system to take up the slack and let you muscle along as well. You'll then have reserves of each for an anerobic standing short sprint or an aerobic seated pull at the front of the paceline.

On long tough rides you can really start to feel this and you can transfer the effort load from one system to another with gear choices just as you can tranfer the load from one muscle group to another by slight adjustments in position.

As for calories burned, more aerobic effort tends to burn more calories as it slowly uses the fat reserves over a longer time.

No I'm not a doctor, no Im not a pro racer, but i have read a lot and ridden a lot. I welcome correction and explanation, however this was meant to be a very simple view of mash v spin.



Hope it helps
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Old 04-25-12, 04:53 PM
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Here's what worked for me. I'm relatively new to cycling. When I first started, anything over 80 felt awkward and I started bouncing at 100; however, I bought into the value of high cadence.

To learn how to do it, I just forced myself to ride at high cadence and ignored my temporary loss of speed. It only took me about 3 rides of less than 30 minutes apiece before I got it and regained (and surpassed) my old speed. Now I ride at about 90 and can spin up to 140 without bouncing.

The benefits are pretty apparent to me -- I've picked up about 1 mph, I can ride longer with less soreness, I slow down a lot less in headwinds, and most importantly, I've not bonked since then (I had three prior bonks). When I hit a hill towards the end of a ride, I still have gas in the tank.
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Old 04-26-12, 09:48 AM
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This thread is making want to go out and get a cadense sensor for my Garmin... Maybe $40 well spent.
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Old 04-26-12, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Genaro
This thread is making want to go out and get a cadense sensor for my Garmin... Maybe $40 well spent.
When I climb, all I watch is the cadence, never bother with speed. (hey, when you have bugs flying past you, that's pretty slow anyhow.)
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Old 04-27-12, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Genaro
This thread is making want to go out and get a cadense sensor for my Garmin... Maybe $40 well spent.
I know, Right?
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Old 04-27-12, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Genaro
This thread is making want to go out and get a cadense sensor for my Garmin... Maybe $40 well spent.
Or put that $$$ towards a powertap fund. It'll broadcast your cadence to the garmin as well. You know you want to!
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