Today’s lesson is “Love your granny.” No, not your mom’s mom, the granny gear which is that little metal disk on your crankset with ever so few teeth (probably as few as your actual granny). What, you say you don’t have one of those, then today’s lesson is “get one.” Now I’m hearing a chorus of “No, I don’t have one and I wouldn’t be caught dead with one because only sniveling rat face wimps would need a granny” Well, there was a day when I was of similar mind, but I’ve become more enlightened.
When I started out your basic “racing bike” differentiated itself from the three speed, which is all I had prior experience with, by its dropped handlebars and ten speeds. This seemed like an awful lot of gears at the time, and I couldn’t imagine wanting any more. The five speed sprocket was usually a 14x28 tooth affair, which is a pretty wide range (although with massive jumps between gears compared to your corn cob racer type cluster).
My introduction to the granny gear was on my touring bike. There was no shame in having a granny when touring, since the assumption is that you will be carrying twice your weight of stuff, like an ant, and will actually need it.
My first inkling that maybe a triple wasn’t such a bad idea was when I was touring in Spain. I was climbing up this hill grinding away in my granny when I came across the local cycling club. At the time, they had an all male constituency, and they all knew the meaning of the word “macho” (no, it’s not something you eat with salsa). So no red blooded Spaniard would ever be caught dead with a triple or even a reasonable selection of gears in the back. So they were all struggling up the hill with gearing suitable for Miguel Indurain, “in difficulty” as Phil Liggett would say, and there I was tooling along comfortably on my pannier laden touring bike and granny.
But that was my only granny, and the racing bikes all had doubles, because that was the way it was meant to be. My early education was from hanging around with the racing crowd where the conversation goes something like “I’m going to climb Mount Washington today, I may need the 21”.
The turning point was when I bought my new bike, somewhere around Y2K. It was a Cannondale racing bike which already had more gears than most of my other bikes combined, but when I was offered the option of a triple for not much money, I reasoned that I wasn’t getting any younger and it might be nice to have in emergencies.
I started out mostly ignoring it and maybe using it on an occasional steep climb just to make it feel good. Then one day I found myself on Hurricane Mountain Road in granny, wondering when I was going to fall over and hoping I would land softly. I did manage to squeak through that, but shortly thereafter decided that a 27 tooth cog in the back wouldn’t be all that bad, and granny became a welcome member of my gear repertoire.
Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of my granny with only the slightest provocation. It makes life a lot easier than standing and huffing and puffing up the hills. In the old days I would finish a hilly century pretty close to death, while with judicious use of the granny I get there a bit slower but a lot happier.