The Hail Mary Shift

Gino Bartali looking for a gear
Gino Bartali looking for a gear

The grade is long and I am climbing away. I’m not going to Pantani this: I am not out of the saddle, not in the drops and not leaving everyone in my wake. The climbing gear was engaged a long time ago. There is progress, but I am not dancing up this climb. A little more cadence would really help here. If I could just get this mother-lover spinning just a bit, I could get somewhere. Maybe I’m not in the  granny gear, yeah, maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I do have one more gear, the gear that will solve this whole thing.

The right middle finger drops to the shifter and pushes. No. Nothing, just the feel of the derailleur hitting the limiter screw. Idiot. You knew you didn’t have another gear didn’t you but you couldn’t resist, could you? Why do I even do it? I know the answer already but I still do it. Hope springs eternal when one is too big to climb. I did it with downtube shifters too; crank that shifter back hoping for a little more action.

I bet Gino did it when he only had three speeds and a hand lever running down the seat stay to manipulate. “Mamma Mia, sto fumando come moto di un Hippie. Ho solo bisogno di una marcia in più.” *

The only time I look down and am surprised at what gear I’m in is the rare occasion when I am in my climbing gear and crossed on the “big” chainring. And that would be the only justification for wondering what the hell is going on “down there”.

My mountain bike actually has gear indicators, which are embarrassing. What are we, three year olds? On that bike I just keep pushing levers until I can’t, or I just fall over. Maybe, in a few years, when we are all forced into electronic shifting, a soothing voice will emanate from the lever. “Really? You want an even easier gear? You don’t have one so get your fat ass off the saddle, get in the drops before I auto-shift you into the big chainring and leave you there. And you call yourself a Cyclist.” The possibilities are endless.

 

* Loosely translated- “FFS, I am smoking like a Hippie’s motorbike. I just need one more gear.”

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93 Replies to “The Hail Mary Shift”

  1. …unless you’re using doubletap. In which case that Hail Mary shift just became a curse equal to that of any Greek n’e’er-do-well. You are now doomed to hold that paddle inwards, for even the slightest release of pressure will see you dropping into second.
    And everyone will know what you did.

  2. The dead shift on the lever, when there are no more sprockets on the back, signals my effort — just focus on turning. I usually think of the scene from An Officer and A Gentleman — “I got nowhere else to go!”

  3. Great post, Gianni..as a fellow rider who is ‘too big to climb’  I read this with one of those ‘yeah, i’ve been there too’ grins..

  4. I would pay top dollar for the voice warning “You little P.O.S., forget about shifting to a smaller gear before I switch to the big ring”.
    Same system should have some sort of GPS and autoshift to 53×11 near townsigns.

  5. @Mike Stead (@tweetymike)

    …unless you’re using doubletap. In which case that Hail Mary shift just became a curse equal to that of any Greek n’e’er-do-well. You are now doomed to hold that paddle inwards, for even the slightest release of pressure will see you dropping into second.
    And everyone will know what you did.

    That is a very good point. Note to self, don’t get SRAM 11 speed Bro-Set.

  6. Great article. I feel your pain. Being affectionately known as a “Clyde”, gravity is not my friend unless I’m pointing down towards it.  I do always try to keep the biggest ring at the back free for bail out purposes.  Never. Ever. Happens. Of course, one never ever gets off and pushes….

  7. For some reason, in the back of my head, I curse myself if I ever have to get the big cog dirty. I feel like somehow I’ve failed myself, my bike, and god how the guys going the other way are laughing at me: “Ha, look at that fool, in his 25 on this little bump”. (I’ve never heard anyone say that, but I know, know they are.) And I still catch myself looking back at the rear cog to see if there might be one more on the real steep ones.

  8. After years of flat riding here in the fens, I finally climbed a mountain last week. Teide caldera rim (Tenerife), 2200m of nothing but up from sea level, averaging over 6%.

    I think I may have caught a bug. Despite being far too fat to climb. Dear merckx that was awesome. Actually took two attempts to get there though. The first time we bailed at Villafor (~1400m). You knkow how the pros go to Tenerife at the this time of year because the weather is reliably sunny and warm? Well, that day I reckon they were locked in their hotels up the mountain doing turbo pain sessions. The cloud base was low and it was a bit breezy when we set out, dressed for a nice day with minimal extra kit in pockets- arm warmers, windproof gilet for coming back down. Flandian best was a very long way north back in England… By Villaflor it was properly windy and raining, hard, down to below 5°C

    In the café, we found a group of Norwegians  and a group of Latvians. They were huddled round a patio heater that had been dragged in. Hot drinks, soup, burgers were the order of the day. Everyone was in agreement- the only sensible way was down. When the Scandinavians and the Baltic types are saying the weather is a bit too nasty, well, you kindof of go along with that.

    Descending was terrifying. Near zero visibility, on an unfamiliar hire bike, with hail having been added to the mix and the wind now strong enough to cause serious stability issues. Switchback road with a crash barrier just big enough to flip you clear of the slope, helping you fall further, if you were to lose it.

    Successfully climbing the mountain was far better. Sunshine, a bit of a cloud line for when the going really got tough to make it more comfortable. Saw lines from Cannondale, Astana and Katusha zip down the road as we slogged up, and a couple of Orica riders reaching the summit as we were in the viewpoint just down from it having got to the top. Back down again, with a feeling of accomplishment, was vastly more fun- a true education in why earning your turns is so satisfying.

    I’ll admit, mind, to barely considering any gears beyond the one I was in for most of the climb.

    So, mountains. Yes. I need to do more. Ventoux was discussed.

  9. The notion of electronic shifters giving little foul-mouthed Rule V pep-talks while grinding up a climb is fucking brilliant.  Make it so.

  10. RE:  The right middle finger drops to the shifter and pushes. No. Nothing, just the feel of the derailleur hitting the limiter screw. Idiot. 

    Is that a groupsan thing?  I ride gruppo and when the going gets tough I find I push the lever gently and if there is resistance I think “I’ve got at least 1 spare, hang in there don’t use it” but when the lever just limply moves it’s “Oh shit, no bailout left”.  Somehow feeling a firm response is so much better than a limp lever………..

  11. @Mike Stead (@tweetymike)

    …unless you’re using doubletap. In which case that Hail Mary shift just became a curse equal to that of any Greek n’e’er-do-well. You are now doomed to hold that paddle inwards, for even the slightest release of pressure will see you dropping into second.

    +1 I thought it was just me! I found that after a rew seconds the lever gives a reasuring click meaning it is safe to remove the finger.

    +

  12. Mounting a 13-26 for Assault on the Carolinas — to climb Ceasar’s Head this Saturday.

  13. @The Oracle

    The notion of electronic shifters giving little foul-mouthed Rule V pep-talks while grinding up a climb is fucking brilliant. Make it so.

    There might be a whole start up bidness right there. Choose your accent, degree of foulness, degree of haughtiness, it would be great.

  14. @Teocalli

    RE: The right middle finger drops to the shifter and pushes. No. Nothing, just the feel of the derailleur hitting the limiter screw. Idiot.

    Is that a groupsan thing? I ride Gruppo and when the going gets tough I find I push the lever gently and if there is resistance I think “I’ve got at least 1 spare, hang in there don’t use it” but when the lever just limply moves it’s “Oh shit, no bailout left”. Somehow feeling a firm response is so much better than a limp lever………..

    No, I’m gruppo too but you are right. It’s a very subtle difference that lets you know if you have another gear or you got nuttin’.

  15. @Gianni Could integrate system with a power meter and the temperature sensor to change the intensity of the trash talk accordingly ….  but also throw a random script in there occasionally to fuck with you

  16. @GogglesPizano

    @Gianni Could integrate system with a power meter and the temperature sensor to change the intensity of the trash talk accordingly …. but also throw a random script in there occasionally to fuck with you

    or just a scratchy “VENGA, VENGA, VENGA, VENGA ad nauseum…so many ways to ruin a ride.

  17. @scaler911

    For some reason, in the back of my head, I curse myself if I ever have to get the big cog dirty. I feel like somehow I’ve failed myself, my bike, and god how the guys going the other way are laughing at me: “Ha, look at that fool, in his 25 on this little bump”. (I’ve never heard anyone say that, but I know, know they are.) And I still catch myself looking back at the rear cog to see if there might be one more on the real steep ones.

    That’s your subconscious, channelling Tim Krabbe:  “His twenty was as clean as a whistle.”

  18. Garmin’s upcoming device, the 1000, will know the gear you are in provided you’re running Shimano’s e-tube Di2 wireless transmitter. The device is set up to display the gear. So, you can choose to add that field to the screen.

    It’s only a matter of time before we have potential for fully automatic transmission using cadence, HR, power, etc as inputs. I’d really wonder, WTF? over the prospect but do I understand correctly that a Ferrari can no longer be purchased w/manual tranny?

    Anyways, hacking in to a new Garmin device and programming it to be, shall we say, colorfully motivating should be something a bright high school kid could manage.

    I happen to be big fan of Di2 and running 11 sp on two bikes. Today my FD stuck on little ring, yet RD was still shifting. That’s like your car indicator low fuel light popping on. Meant I waited a little too long between charges. A good mechanic now is capable of plugging in a bike  and running diagnostics. Technology marches on.

    BUT, Waterford and Richard Schwinn are making lugged frame Paramounts today !! I’d love to line up for a local race on one of those! Cheers all, RC

  19. @Gianni  Yeah, where are those grupetto pushing jokers when you need them?

    Of course they’d probably end up being those bikini clad Borat impersonators…

  20. @Gianni, you, sir, have struck a nerve.  I always feel like a failure when I push the lever to the stop with no resistance.  It’s like Archer losing count of his adversary’s bullets.

  21. My pre-loved n+1 came with a Group-San triple and, so far, the escape gear has only been deployed twice.

    A low-tech version of the Gianni 1000 would be to remove that little ring altogether so if I ever went for it again my bike would promptly stop to inform me that I am too weak, should better consider my life choices, and Rule #5… and put the chain back on.

  22. I quite like the double tap function of climbing up a gear when you attempt to find a lower granny. It’s like my bike telling me to HTFU, reminding me it’s now a 5 & dime situation. When it happens, I make myself push the bigger gear for a while as punnishment before going back to the granny.

    My bike came with a 11-28 which I have replaced with an 11-26. You know what… I don’t think I climb any slower. I reckon I used to drop into the 28, but not pick the cadence up to match. The 11-26 keeps me Rule #10 compliant. Maybe I should swap it out for the 11-25?

    PS. When is SRAM going to come up with a better range of 11 speed cassettes??????

  23. @DeKerr

    A low-tech version of the Gianni 1000 would be to remove that little ring altogether so if I ever went for it again my bike would promptly stop to inform me that I am too weak, should better consider my life choices, and Rule #5… and put the chain back on.

    Sounds like you are engineering a rest stop to me.

  24. @unversio

    Mounting a 13-26 for Assault on the Carolinas “” to climb Ceasar’s Head this Saturday.

    Dude, no offense, but the name “Caesar’s Head” could have me pissing myself if I thought about it too much.

    Again, no offense. I’m sure it’s a very large head and will give you… Shit. I’m sorry.

  25. @wilburrox

    Garmin’s upcoming device, the 1000, will know the gear you are in provided you’re running Shimano’s e-tube Di2 wireless transmitter. The device is set up to display the gear. So, you can choose to add that field to the screen.

    It’s only a matter of time before we have potential for fully automatic transmission using cadence, HR, power, etc as inputs. I’d really wonder, WTF? over the prospect but do I understand correctly that a Ferrari can no longer be purchased w/manual tranny?

    Anyways, hacking in to a new Garmin device and programming it to be, shall we say, colorfully motivating should be something a bright high school kid could manage.

    I happen to be big fan of Di2 and running 11 sp on two bikes. Today my FD stuck on little ring, yet RD was still shifting. That’s like your car indicator low fuel light popping on. Meant I waited a little too long between charges. A good mechanic now is capable of plugging in a bike and running diagnostics. Technology marches on.

    BUT, Waterford and Richard Schwinn are making lugged frame Paramounts today !! I’d love to line up for a local race on one of those! Cheers all, RC

    I believe Shimano had something called Flight Deck which was a computer that displayed whatever gear you were in so, perhaps the disparagement is already capable with a Group-san.

    Re: Ferrari and other performance cars: the foot clutch has been eliminated by they’re not really automatic; the driver still controls the revs (cadence).

  26. @PeakInTwoYears

    @unversio

    Mounting a 13-26 for Assault on the Carolinas “” to climb Ceasar’s Head this Saturday.

    Dude, no offense, but the name “Caesar’s Head” could have me pissing myself if I thought about it too much.

    Again, no offense. I’m sure it’s a very large head and will give you… Shit. I’m sorry.

    Pathetic… now it is all behind us (Ooooooo)!

  27. @Mike Stead (@tweetymike)

    …unless you’re using doubletap. In which case that Hail Mary shift just became a curse equal to that of any Greek n’e’er-do-well. You are now doomed to hold that paddle inwards, for even the slightest release of pressure will see you dropping into second.
    And everyone will know what you did.

    I’m shocked to see so many responses without a correction. On the 11-speed Red and Force Bro-sets, and also the most recent 10-speed versions, there is a limit function preventing the dreaded accidental upshift. Attempting the unavailable downshift provides an extra click, but no derailleur action. It sounds terrible, but doesn’t drop the chain down the cassette causing you to rethink your drivetrain decisions.

  28. A Belgian Odyssey 2015- Excerpt of dialogue at next Keepers Tour:

    Gianni: Give me the climbing gear, Di2.

    Di2: I’m sorry, Gianni. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

    Gianni: What’s the problem?

    Di2: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

    Gianni: What are you talking about, Di2?

    Di2: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

    Gianni: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Di2.

    Di2: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

  29. I suffer from ” too much hill at the end of my cassette” syndrome.   Im light’ish, but not strong sadly.  Still enjoy them, but have found a little trash talk somehow motivates my sorry arse up and over.

    Im liking the sound of my Garmin telling me to change up , not down, and push !

  30. @Bespoke

    Re: Ferrari and other performance cars: the foot clutch has been eliminated by they’re not really automatic; the driver still controls the revs (cadence).

    It seem like that’s the only way its going to work on a bike. Automatic or not, you have to cut the power to the drivetrain at some point. Don’t you kinda have to do that yourself?

  31. Great article Gianni.

    This is my vote for the Di2 hail mary shift soundbite.

  32. @Bespoke

    @wilburrox

    Garmin’s upcoming device, the 1000, will know the gear you are in provided you’re running Shimano’s e-tube Di2 wireless transmitter. The device is set up to display the gear. So, you can choose to add that field to the screen.

    It’s only a matter of time before we have potential for fully automatic transmission using cadence, HR, power, etc as inputs. I’d really wonder, WTF? over the prospect but do I understand correctly that a Ferrari can no longer be purchased w/manual tranny?

    Anyways, hacking in to a new Garmin device and programming it to be, shall we say, colorfully motivating should be something a bright high school kid could manage.

    I happen to be big fan of Di2 and running 11 sp on two bikes. Today my FD stuck on little ring, yet RD was still shifting. That’s like your car indicator low fuel light popping on. Meant I waited a little too long between charges. A good mechanic now is capable of plugging in a bike and running diagnostics. Technology marches on.

    BUT, Waterford and Richard Schwinn are making lugged frame Paramounts today !! I’d love to line up for a local race on one of those! Cheers all, RC

    I believe Shimano had something called Flight Deck which was a computer that displayed whatever gear you were in so, perhaps the disparagement is already capable with a Group-san.

    Re: Ferrari and other performance cars: the foot clutch has been eliminated by they’re not really automatic; the driver still controls the revs (cadence).

    Not just Shimano – Campy also had the ergobrain which told you what gear you were in – which it then used to calculate cadence based on speed. This was a pretty cool feature as it allowed for the removal of the unsightly pedal magnet-sensor combo. I loved mine – it is still in the house somewhere. I remember one f-stick friend of mine complaining about the cadence calculator because it showed you having a cadence even when coasting downhill. The stupidity of this fuckwit was breathtaking – he needed a computer to tell him when he wasn’t pedalling.

  33. @ChrissyOne

    @Bespoke

    Re: Ferrari and other performance cars: the foot clutch has been eliminated by they’re not really automatic; the driver still controls the revs (cadence).

    It seem like that’s the only way its going to work on a bike. Automatic or not, you have to cut the power to the drivetrain at some point. Don’t you kinda have to do that yourself?

    I always shift under load, there’s no clutch to engage so why pause the magnificent stroke?

  34. @freddy

    A Belgian Odyssey 2015- Excerpt of dialogue at next Keepers Tour:

    Gianni: Give me the climbing gear, Di2.

    Di2: I’m sorry, Gianni. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

    Gianni: What’s the problem?

    Di2: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

    Gianni: What are you talking about, Di2?

    Di2: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

    Gianni: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Di2.

    Di2: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

    Nice one!

  35. Great post, too-familiar story for myself, being way-too-big-to-climb. Brings back memories of climbing The Alp during an Dutch event (Alp d’Huzes) and looking at a bike store in Bourg the day before, where hundreds of people stood in line to mount a lighter Hail Mary gear on their bikes. Fabulous sight.

  36. You may only climb off your steed through lack of suitable ratios when a) your back wheel loses traction on the wet pave and you fall under the race commissar’s car or b) when your freehub explodes and brings your wedding tackle forcefully in to contact with the top tube.

    It is possible to avoid b) by riding a fixie and if your guns are that mighty then you should as the wait for the broom wagon is cold and embarrassing

  37. @the Engine

    You may only climb off your steed through lack of suitable ratios when a) your back wheel loses traction on the wet pave and you fall under the race commissar’s car or b) when your freehub explodes and brings your wedding tackle forcefully in to contact with the top tube.

    It is possible to avoid b) by riding a fixie and if your guns are that mighty then you should as the wait for the broom wagon is cold and embarrassing

    Is it permissible to climb off?  If you can climb off there is still some energy left or should it be that you have to do what a buddy of mine did a few years back on a longish, steepish climb (the ish being there is always a longer and steeper one out there somewhere).  He hung in with the other two of us until with a final grunt he simply keeled over sideways and lay panting in the road still clipped in and still holding the handlebars.

  38. @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    You may only climb off your steed through lack of suitable ratios when a) your back wheel loses traction on the wet pave and you fall under the race commissar’s car or b) when your freehub explodes and brings your wedding tackle forcefully in to contact with the top tube.

    It is possible to avoid b) by riding a fixie and if your guns are that mighty then you should as the wait for the broom wagon is cold and embarrassing

    Is it permissible to climb off? If you can climb off there is still some energy left or should it be that you have to do what a buddy of mine did a few years back on a longish, steepish climb (the ish being there is always a longer and steeper one out there somewhere). He hung in with the other two of us until with a final grunt he simply keeled over sideways and lay panting in the road still clipped in and still holding the handlebars.

    Surely it’s a bit like the saying that if you have to step down from your boat into your life raft it’s too early to be abandoning ship.

    Obviously, if you are going to go down with your bike you should ensure that your body that breaks the fall thus ensuring that the bike remains undamaged and can be passed on to a more deserving rider.

  39. @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    You may only climb off your steed through lack of suitable ratios when a) your back wheel loses traction on the wet pave and you fall under the race commissar’s car or b) when your freehub explodes and brings your wedding tackle forcefully in to contact with the top tube.

    It is possible to avoid b) by riding a fixie and if your guns are that mighty then you should as the wait for the broom wagon is cold and embarrassing

    Is it permissible to climb off? If you can climb off there is still some energy left or should it be that you have to do what a buddy of mine did a few years back on a longish, steepish climb (the ish being there is always a longer and steeper one out there somewhere). He hung in with the other two of us until with a final grunt he simply keeled over sideways and lay panting in the road still clipped in and still holding the handlebars.

    Fuck that shit, if you can walk you can damn well cycle, you better have a damn good excuse! I have only come to a halt once on a hill, did I walk, did I fuck. Just took a few breaths and got on with the cycling. The rest of the world walk, we are cyclists.

  40. @Teocalli

    Is it permissible to climb off? If you can climb off there is still some energy left or should it be that you have to do what a buddy of mine did a few years back on a longish, steepish climb (the ish being there is always a longer and steeper one out there somewhere). He hung in with the other two of us until with a final grunt he simply keeled over sideways and lay panting in the road still clipped in and still holding the handlebars.

    I love this.  One thing, though: did you stop there or just go on and wait for him at the top?

  41. @G’rilla

    The exact amount of Racer 5 IPA left in this squealer. Merckx be praised.

    @Harminator

    Great article Gianni.

    This is my vote for the Di2 hail mary shift soundbite.

    Being 95kg on a good day, I’m in no need of external invective. I can do it all myself. Many a walker has been surprised by Rule Five exhortations as I pass by only slightly faster than they’re going. And when I can no longer swear,  my head drops to see Obey the Rules emblazoned on my headset cap. No getting away from it.

  42. @the-farmer

    @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    You may only climb off your steed through lack of suitable ratios when a) your back wheel loses traction on the wet pave and you fall under the race commissar’s car or b) when your freehub explodes and brings your wedding tackle forcefully in to contact with the top tube.

    It is possible to avoid b) by riding a fixie and if your guns are that mighty then you should as the wait for the broom wagon is cold and embarrassing

    Is it permissible to climb off? If you can climb off there is still some energy left or should it be that you have to do what a buddy of mine did a few years back on a longish, steepish climb (the ish being there is always a longer and steeper one out there somewhere). He hung in with the other two of us until with a final grunt he simply keeled over sideways and lay panting in the road still clipped in and still holding the handlebars.

    Fuck that shit, if you can walk you can damn well cycle, you better have a damn good excuse! I have only come to a halt once on a hill, did I walk, did I fuck. Just took a few breaths and got on with the cycling. The rest of the world walk, we are cyclists.

    Similar situation with a few friends of mine on a real puncher with a 25% grade: while zig zagging one got pinched between car and side rail of the road, lost his momentum and ended up falling over still clipped in. The other pedaled right past lest he befall the same fate. The arguement at the top between the two about who should have done what was completely priceless.

  43. Great article! As a not so built for the hills cyclist I often encounter this… I call it the Martha Reeves moment “Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide”. Time to engage Rule number five!!!

  44. @Mike Stead (@tweetymike)

    …unless you’re using doubletap. In which case that Hail Mary shift just became a curse equal to that of any Greek n’e’er-do-well. You are now doomed to hold that paddle inwards, for even the slightest release of pressure will see you dropping into second.
    And everyone will know what you did.

    Errrr …. nope. Mine just makes a hard click and stays where it is (on the 23). If it drops back to the 21 then you need to adjust either your limt screw (it’ll be a smidgen too tight) or your cable (it’ll be a smidgen too loose) or both. I had this problem when I first switched to SRAM but once you have it set up right you should be able to push that lever inwards, get a loud click (which is SRAM’s way of telling you and everyone else that you are riding with that you’ve run out of legs) but no upshift.

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