I was out for a ride today on a loop close to home that I know well. Its a four-ish mile loop that runs alongside a river with wide shoulders on one side and fairly minimal traffic on the other. There's a small bridge crossing the river at each end, and both bridges are on fairly busy roads. So as you can imagine, this loops lends itself well to interval rides.
Today, it was 4 minute intervals. Ride up the North side, recover on the bridge, ride down the South side, recover on the bridge, repeat. As usual, the wind was blowing down river. Headwind on the first, tailwind on the second, and so fourth. Makes for an interesting interval workout, because its difficult to maintain a similar level of effort from one interval to the next.
The intervals on the North side were fun. Cruising along in the big ring, goin fast, the scenery is a blur; this is what riding a bike is all about.
The intervals on the South side were just hard. Spinning in the small ring at over 100 rpm, just trying to keep the pedals turning over, sweat blowing in my eyes, hunching my shoulders down to get them out of the wind; its the anthesis of the other side of the river.
Somewhere in the middle of a four-minute slogfest into the wind, I got to thinking about what what makes me stronger as a rider. The answer: the small ring. Its not entirely intuitive until you do a ride like today's, but its an inevitable truth.
The big ring is a luxury. When the conditions are nice and the road is flat, nothin beats the big ring. Its like driving a Porsche with the top down.
But lets face it, the small ring is the workhorse. When the going gets tough, you're gonna be in the small ring. Riding up a mountain? Small ring. Twenty-five mph headwind? Small ring. If you're facing adversity on the road, chances are you're in the small ring. Races are won in the small ring.
And you're not gonna be driving that Porsche in freezing rain.
So, Small Ring, here's a shout-out to you. Thanks for making me faster.