Thursday, July 2, 2009

Spinning | Mashing

A cyclist's natural cadence falls into one of two camps: 1) spinning (faster in a lower gear) or 2) mashing (slower in a higher gear).

Lately, the trend has favored spinning. Like many things related to cycling in the past decade, Lance Armstrong has something to do with it. Essentially, spinners peg a higher cadence to a particular heart rate zone, which has been derived from the cyclist's HR MAX. Following this method can produce a very efficient cardiovascular system tuned for intense racing.

There are also those who say that spinning is less taxing on the knees than mashing, as pushing a high gear puts tremendous stress on the patella and its surrounding tendons. Visualize the knee cap as a watermelon seed being pinched between the thumb and index finger.

While I prefer to spin, my friend Wes is a masher. With tree trunks for quads and softball-sized calf muscles, Wes is ideally suited for the long and strong cadence over spinning. So while time trialing on the flats, he's grinding. Climbing Ponca Hills? Yep, big ring. Icy winter rides on a franken-hybrid with aero bars? You got it: torquing the high gear. And tho it doesn't appear to have any effect on his apparently robotic knees, the same cannot be said about his chain ring. Once squared and flat, the ring's teeth are more likely to appear on the blade of a Black & Decker circular saw than as a bicycle component. And like any true masher, the smaller ring appears as blemish-free as the day it was forged.

Anyhow, I thought of Wes during last night's weekly Omaha Trek Store club ride. Near the end of the route, it has become a tradition to assault the last hill in the 53 x 11 gear. Why this has become the case, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's to mix-in strength work. It could also be the final chance to redeem a token of pride for those mashers who were dropped by spinners on previous climbs.

Whatever the reason, I made an initial attempt to ascend this hill in the biggie three weeks ago. I managed (barely). It wasn't too bad, actually. Yet before I could bask in my self-righteous hubris, Shim informed me that it didn't count because I was standing on the pedals. Jerk.

So I made a second go at it last week, climbing 3/4 of the hill before standing. Almost!

But let it be known that in the twilight sun of July 1st, 2009, I became a bad-ass masher who finally made it up the entire hill while remaining seated in 53x11. As I approached the crest, a rush of adrenalin swept over my quivering legs and through my soul, compelling me to shout out in a booming voice above the valley of Fort and 82nd Street, "LO, I HAVE BECOME WES JOHNSON!!"

There you go, Wes. This one's for you. Happy mashing, fella.


  1. Masher. My 1982 Trek 613 w/Reynolds 531 touring bike that I rode to Janesville Wisconsin and 10 days in the rockies I had specially outfitted with at 54 big ring in front. 60 RPM was the magic number back in the day.

    Semi-Spinner on long hills, but I'm also prone to shift to bigger gear AND STAND UP to mash/attack near the top.

    This is my patented Krush-KOC hill move and it works like a charm. He stands up and vainly mashes at the bottom, weaving side to side until the Sisyphusian gravity over-takes him and I rush by, accelerating as if on eagles wings to eat his liver. (Sorry, Prometheus and Sisyphus got concatenated there)


    My brother Brady needs some more meat on his bones before he can stand and mash. He probably sits on the potty when he pees... (not saying anything is wrong with that...)

  2. For the record: here's one from the archives of Murphini on his big ring Trek, c1982.

  3. Holy crap that big gear hill tradition is still going? Jon Randell, Kent, and I started that back in '05? It was a great way to train your legs to eek out that last bit of strength after a long ride. Jon and I would always meet at about 4pm and ride for a couple hours before the shop ride. So after 4-ish hours, a big gear climb was a pretty tall order.

    Oh the days of being in top shape. Someday it will happen again. Some day...

  4. Admit it, munson. There was one and only one thing I could beat both you and randell at. Every time. In fact, Jon once accused me of being in the wrong gear (we were doing 53X12's). "but these go to eleven," I explained as I pulled away with relative ease.

  5. Actually, here is a picure of the '83 Trek in August 1984 on top of Loveland Pass on day 9 of our trip. Notice the helmet? Bike Shoes? Pedals? Index Shifting? Hair?

  6. Fred, yes indeedy. Your power always trumped ours on those big gear climbs. Just like the Day You Dropped Randell, almost 2 years ago today.