Some people are supremely good at it, reducing complex situations into matters of simple black and white. This isn’t my particular area of expertise; I enjoy wading through the pools of ambiguity a bit too much to go about bludgeoning this beautiful world into absolutes. In fact, I would venture that delighting in nuance is part of what distinguishes La Vie Velominatus from the simple act of riding a bicycle.
I’ve spent the summer wrapping myself in the Rules handed down by the Apostle Museeuw during Keepers Tour 2012, with particular emphasis on Rule #90. Climbing Sur La Plaque is a cruel business, rising upwards under the crushing weight of physics as you fight to maintain your rhythm and momentum. At first, it’s a struggle to maintain speed on the smaller climbs as you learn how to change your pedaling action to compensate for changes in gradient. You focus on loading the pedals and forcing them around; the moment you lose the rhythm, gravity sinks her claws into your tires and tries to drag you back down the hill. On the other hand, if you maintain your cadence and power through the ramps, what is usually an intimidating slope will disappear under your wheels, making molehills of mountains.
If the Big Ring is a hammer, then not every climb is a nail. (I realize too late that referring to the road as a nail is sure to bring the Puncture Apocalypse on today’s ride.) The guns get more massive from the practice of Rule #90, but it comes at a hefty price: souplesse withers like a delicate flower as one seeks to conquer the art of mashing a huge gear. Indeed, one of the great pleasures in Cycling is to sense a certain fluidity of your stroke which belies the feeling of strength in your muscles as you continue to heap coals on the fire.
This requires an art altogether different from moving Sur La Plaque; it relies on turning the pedals at a higher cadence and shifting gear whenever the gradient changes. Rhythm holds court over everything else and is maintained at all costs. As the gradient steepens, the chain is slipped into the next smaller gear; as the gradient eases, it is droped back down. Not every climb suits this style of riding; the rear cluster must be matched perfectly to accomodate the changes in pitch such that maximum speed is maintained and the legs allowed to continue their relentless churn. When synchronized perfectly, it is the gateway to La Volupté; when not: disaster.
Such is the nuance of shifting gear, such is the nature of Cycling.