Look Pro, Part IV: Don’t Look Down

Shifting is perhaps the most pure expression of our art as Velominati. It is the conduit through which we control our cadence; it effects our power, our breathing, our heart rate. When those essential things come together with the rhythm of the road, we are cast in the spell of La Volupte. The more in-tune with our bodies we become, the more we rely on our shifting to keep our legs in perfect harmony with our bodies. Our shifts must be smooth, crisp, and precise, for any disruption to the rhythm may cause the spell to be broken.

The advent of index-shifting and contoured cogs have simplified the mechanics of the perfect shift, but they have not eliminated the artform. A finely-tuned drivetrain is essential, but is only one piece of the whole. Timing is critical: the shift must be delivered at the precise moment in the stroke when the chain is perfectly loaded to jump silently from one cog to the next. Shifting under too much pressure or at the wrong point can result in delayed, noisy, or rough shifts, disrupting our rhythm and ripping us from La Volupte.

We do not mediate on the shift and we do not look down at our gears; the shift is something we must feel. We must not be overly cerebral – instead, we read the signals from our body and the machine and sense the time to shift and react.  Over time, we also learn to sense when we are approaching the limits of the block and execute the double-shift to avoid crossing the chain. We do not look down.

These subtleties cannot be taught; they are artifacts of experience – evidence that the disciple has become one with the machine.

Disclaimer: The “Don’t Look Down” principle does not apply to Lando situations where we repeatedly push the right shifter while pedaling squares up some unholy gradient in the stubborn refusal to accept that we are indeed already in the lowest gear. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t hurt to give the gears a stern look in an effort to intimidate them into spawning a few more teeth on those biggest cogs.

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93 Replies to “Look Pro, Part IV: Don’t Look Down”

  1. @Brett
    Good to know you, your friends, and the baby came through it all in good shape. I’ll raise a glass of Chimay red label to you and all.

  2. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Cheers Jeff.

    Right, back to business. Indeed that photo is badass. Great examples of Casually Deliberate spectating going on; the guy with his arms folded coundn’t be any more casual. It looks like he’s telling The Badger that he’s a big soft pillow and he’d spit right in his face if he could be bothered making the effort, which he can’t.

    And where the hell is that road?

  3. This is the 1984 Tour, sometime before the 17th stage. Fignon’s wearing the French national champion jersey. He took the yellow on Stage 17 to L’Alpe d’Huez. Fignon ultimately beat 2nd placed Hinault by 10 minutes, 32 seconds.

    I can’t figure out what road this is. The awesome spectators are dressed like it’s cool outside, so it’s probably an early climb in a stage. All the pictures I can find of climbs from the ’84 Tour have barely dressed fans on sunny days with paved roads.

  4. Ron :

    Back when I was a very green road cyclist, maybe so early on in my development that I wasn’t even a nascent Velominati, I used to rarely shift. My form was awful. I’d push the same big gear all the time, standing too much, letting my tempo jump around all over the place. I’d either be flying on flats or dying on hills.

    Back in those days when I was much younger I generally rode my geared bike like it was a single speed. Find the gear that seemed to work best for the road and pedal as hard as I could. I was always gassed at the end of a ride. Now days w/ STI shifting I often find myself taking that turn away from the LBS and going after another 10 miles before calling it quits and looking for the post-ride refreshments.

  5. Jeff in PetroMetro :
    Have our Kiwis checked in yet (it’s morning in Texas)? I thought about y’all as soon as I heard the news from Christchurch. Good luck, and God bless.

    Aye, we are up and running, quite localised in Christchurch in the South island, but as a bit of a Velo hotspot i suspect many of our brethren will be affected, we are tough down here, dishing out the V to all that nature throws us.

  6. @Marko
    Merci. Mais, je ne comprends pas. Je suis un idiot americain.

    Oh, and I can say “merde”.

    That’s all I got.

  7. @Brett

    It looks like he’s telling The Badger that he’s a big soft pillow and he’d spit right in his face if he could be bothered making the effort, which he can’t.

    Yeah, it’s like this guy I work with just said – “You get tougher the farther away from me you are.”

    And where the hell is that road?

    It’s the Cote d’Lafrey outside Vizille, which is a lovely little town. One of my favorite passes in the world, although I’ve only ever ridden it on paved roads. We were driving it a few years back and this little fawn came tearing down the road and we almost killed it, were it not for my mastery of the automobile.

    There’s a great account of that stage written by Robert Millar in Issue 13 of Rouleur, called “Into the Valley”. Spectacularly written, it really nails the combativeness between Hinault and Fingnon.

  8. Il est la mon cycliste
    arriver devant St Pierre
    a reviser son catechisme
    tout ca a cause
    d’un peu de bierre


  9. This is somewhat unrelated to the article, but the slogan of the site,”Keepers of the Cog” is nonsense.

    Other than with internal hub gears or planetary gears (which I’m sure the vast majority of you guys do not have on any of your bikes), bicycles do not use cogs! Cogs mesh with other cogs, SPROCKETS mesh with a chain!!!

    Still, it’s a nice sounding alliterative slogan…

  10. Sorry Steampunk and minion, that was kind of like a Tourette syndrome type outburst.

    Didn’t mean to irritate anyone, just thought that maybe you did use that vernacular in your part of the world (in from England).

  11. @MAS4T0
    Ah, I love it when people get literal, very strong work. I actually didn’t know that about cogs vs. gears, and without doing any research whatsoever to verify your credibility, I’ll assume you’re right.

    Of course, it goes without saying that the “Cog” in this case, is a metaphor, and as such we can call it whatever we want. Not to mention that erroneous as it may be, cog is commonly used to describe the sprockets on a bike, and that makes it almost the same as true.

  12. @MAS4T0
    When it comes to interpretation of the sacred text, ours is not a religion of fundamentalist literalism, but of symbolic fundamentalism.

    “The V-cog is the sign
    The bike is the tool
    Eddy is the prophet
    Obey the Rules”

  13. Excellent. I notice you don’t refute the accusation of being an engineer…(if you’re not unreserved apologies. Not something I’d accuse anyone of being without cause)

  14. @ Marko – Great video, thanks for the link! Liked the music, loved the training ride in a full track suit, enjoyed the Kevin Kline look-alike coach, and am always pleased to see the older fleur de lis style adidas symbol. (though, has it been brought back? They were using that modern triangle deal for awhile).

  15. @frank + @G’phant

    Thank you for that. Now that’s cleared up I am going to order some V team kit!

    I checked the rules for compliance, and only failed on rule, namely number 54. Is it acceptable to breach this one when in training for a mountain time trial?

  16. @ Steampunk – So you’re a historian, eh? Cool. I am as well, but I’ve kept it a big secret since so damn many of the Velominati know way, way more about the history of cycling than I have crammed into my head. Then again, I have to save space for the history I need to know to earn money to actual buy all the bicycles I have;)

    Cycling tales and history are put on my backup hard drive.

  17. Yep, been following the Grewal comeback. He’s an interesting fella for sure. Nice to have an athlete who goes beyond talking solely in cliches. His blog has some good reads, though I have to admit I don’t always follow him.

    Either way I wish him the best and will have an eye out for his results.

    His Trek 2100…it would be hard not to underestimate a guy showing up on that. He’d surely remind you mid-ride to not judge a cyclist by their steed. Especially if he had on his hiking boots!

  18. @Ron
    Sadly, historianing is not the best way to procure lots of funds for bikes. Or so I have discovered. But we’re not alone. There’s also an historian among the Keepers’ ranks.

  19. @Cyclops
    Yes. I’ve been following Grewal’s push to ride in the Tour of Colorado’s Toasted Sandwiches (Quizno’s Challenge?). I hope he makes it.

    More importantly, it’s great to see his local community and the cycling community come together for him. The dentist who’s fixing his teeth is a huge blessing. And he shaved. That picture of him with the Leopard frame shows he’s already got “the look”. Because of his age and his recent history off the bike, he’s definitely in the running for V-rider of the Year in my book.

  20. @MAS4T0
    Hehe, cool I should have mentioned I’m psychic. Wilkommen!
    The rules are a strict taskmaster and in a lot of ways breaking one or two reminds you of your imperfect status amongst the Velominati. To paraphrase Monty Python, hes not a velominatus he’s a very naughty boy.

  21. @MAS4T0

    Actually you’re mostly right, I am not an engineer, yet. I will be when I finish my degree…

    Figures, once you get your degree, you’ll stop saying things like this:

    Didn’t mean to irritate anyone, just thought that maybe you did use that vernacular in your part of the world (in from England).

    …and just get on with the job of being smarter than everyone.

    I was raised by an engineer, and my beloved dad would make the same comment. I was studying to become one when I realized that computers are mo’ bettah than rocks and metal. Engineering is too damn social.


  22. @MAS4T0


    Crap. Another smart fucking engineer who rides bikes. I’m surrounded by them, even on the interwebbietubes.

    @MAS4TO–don’t get into oil/gas/energy. You will be sucked into the black hole of the PetroMetro. Then you might gain 80kg and play golf. Just say no.

  23. I have really got to start logging in on a MUCH more regular basis. All of the attempts at wit that I have were used by other posts already. Shit stick.

  24. minion:To paraphrase Monty Python, hes not a velominatus he’s a very naughty boy.

    Jehovah Jehovah Jehovah… Funny shit!

    I was studying to be a historian when economics intervened… Now I sell stuff for a living and read history for fun. (BTW, early review of TourMen is quite positive)

  25. The article mentions Grewal crashed (on the new frame?) but it doesn’t really say what happened, beyond the frame took it worse than he did. And that’s awesome of a dentist to fix up his teeth. Good man!

    @ Steampunk. It ain’t so bad though. I’ve already picked up all my bikes just as a grad student. Hey, my clothes might be a few years old, but my kit and bikes are in fine shape! I know being a historian isn’t going to put me in the category of my brother, a banker, but I should be okay. I mean, I only need a bike with S&S couplers, a Ti bike, a cross bike, and a mtn. bike. Then I’m set.

    @ packfiller – Oh yeah, you can’t sleep on these guys. They’re sharp and quick. Gotta stay on top of things. They’ll deal you the short end of the shit stick if you ain’t careful.

    @ Jeff – Ha ha ha. I like golf as a sport, I hate it as a lifestyle sport. You know, the guy who is 80 kgs overweight, wears his swing jacket to mow the lawn and drive to the grocery, where he lets his wife do all the shopping. I get it, bud, you play golf.

  26. @Ron

    I only need a bike with S&S couplers, a Ti bike, a cross bike, and a mtn. bike. Then I’m set.

    Then you’ll decide the 26″ wheels you have a pretty good, but 29ers sound cool, too. You’ll have to get one of those. Yeah, and you have too much/little travel on the suspension, so you’ll have to get one with less/more. And your full sus is nice, but doesn’t climb so great, so you should really have a hardtail, too. But then lets not forget about carbon vs. alu. And, of course, it would be great to have an old-school chromo frame just for kicks.

    As for ‘cross, that bar-end shifter steel you’ve got is great for commuting, but now that you’re into racing ‘cross, you should upgrade to Alu with STI or Ergo. But that alu is a bit flexy, so add use that for training and get a carbon for racing.

    Don’t get me started on road bikes because whatever excuse you can think of to get another bike, you’ll need a similar version in dry/inclimate/wet conditions, so triple it at least.

    Yeah, right.

  27. @frank

    Don’t get me started on road bikes because whatever excuse you can think of to get another bike, you’ll need a similar version in dry/inclimate/wet conditions, so triple it at least.

    How about getting the exact same frame in BOTH available paint styles. And then there’s getting stuff for your significant other…

  28. @Cyclops

    Thanks for the link about Grewal, that was a good read. I’m certainly going to keep a look out for news on that guy’s return – he looks like a natural.

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I want to try and check out some Keirin races when I’m in Japan next, hopefully later this year. It would be nice to throw some money down on one of those events…

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