A Single Minded Quest For Speed (and easy hills)

The past few months have seen me get acquainted with geared road bikes all over again. Sometimes it feels strange trying to find the right gear to match the mood I’m in when riding these geared machines. Frustration has been my worst enemy as I’ve been slowly getting used to the ‘thunk-thunk’ sound of yet another dropped chain or the gnarly crunches of the chain when the derailleur works its way through – all the while doing its best to annoy me even further down the lanes. 

Why ride geared anyway? 

Well, for me it’s a coupla reasons (1) where we live here in Bolsover, Derbyshire, the hills can be really annoying and very painful at 12%. Worse still, these Shires are butt cold n’ face numbin’ during winter at minus 3 degrees celsius. Also, a cold lick usually kicks in when I’ve only got 30 minutes left for school pickup, while lost on the ass-end-of-nowheres-hill (2) the second reason is simply the need for more speed.

The most I’ve managed to push on my fixed and single speed set-up of 80 GI is 52 miles per hour, and even then I thought I could have gone faster. However, the gearing choices that I have to go faster than 50 mph around these hills would mean mashing like a mad man on my current 80 GI set up. Either that, or simply raising the notch to cog above 85 GI so I could at least fly around 55 – 60 mph tops. 

Safa Brian makes catching winds at 65mph look easy.

In short, that would be (a) painful in the hills of Derbyshire, (b) destroy my knees and cut me down to crutches or a wheelchair before I’m even 50, and (c) mean buying a new chain or cogs for an upgrade which would be expensive – given the high cost of bike components these days. 

So my resolution to the speed dilema was to literally gear up with a road machine purchase. I call her Midnight Phantom or quite simply Dianne II to match my classic Raleigh, which shares the same name, albeit just Dianne. 

As mentioned previously, the early days on a geared rig were a complete nightmare.

At first, it felt like I was learning to ride a bike again after decades of cruising single speed and fixed. Crunching gears, loud chain drops and constant gear mis-calculations meant that I disassembled and packed away the geared bike into my storage area at least 3 times – and swore to sell it multiple times – before dragging the bike box out again after trying and failing to top above 52 mph on single speed Dianne. Shame son, shame.

Midnight Phantom currently sports rim brakes, but could a frame upgrade to discs and hydraulics make her faster? Video credit: GCN Tech

However, months of disassembly and reassembling of the geared machine meant that I slowly started getting used to the components and more importantly I started to appreciate how every unit worked in unison.

Everything from the derailleurs to trimming began to make sense and was fun. Onboard brake and shifter levers were in a dance with the derralieurs, and the twin sisters cocked back with an alluring lick that meant that 12% gradient hills were finally in symphony with my smiles.

The Microshift R8 mech is sharp and precise, even on hilly 20mph chicanes.

Then came this.
The speed gave me a hard-on that stayed hard. 30-40-50? Who’s counting when you’re close to spazzin’ silly on these road? It’s all gravy sweetie, and the geared machine speed is addictive.
Speed, chicca speed.

Road Runner speed is more addictive than crack, meth and DMT combined. (Merrie Melodies image ©Warner Bros.)

I applied my usual single speed gradient and wind calculation measurements to match the new multi-gear setup and day after day, every component started working better – and smoother. The crunchy gear sounds seem to have now dissipated. I’ve learnt to work the ratios based on surface gradient – just like I do on the single speed or fixed gear setups, and the motions are faultless. My pace from 0-30 mph in under 30 seconds has also improved and chain drops are now quite minimal (as compared to the earlier days).

Frankly, I’m starting to really enjoy multi-geared machines, and my quest to top 55 mph and above is slowly turning into a reality. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the rain and winter water spray on the A616, I would have been grazing at around 48mph already instead of the low 30’s that I cruise through for my Clumber Park TT. That said, it’s only January and the year has just begun.

Clumber Park (Worksop, Nottinghamshire) is always beautiful – even in winter.

My quest for speed is fun once more.

If I maintain winter fitness on these slippery 30 mph pootles, I can now realistically envision toppin’ 55 mph when warmer weather rolls in. Call it March, call it April, or heck even May cos’ everyone here knows that the British summer only lasts for two weeks in August. I just gotta find a good road to dance pretty for this newly smooth geared machine. 

A619, A616, heck maybe even the A580 to tail the A57 to Manchester? The roads are now open season, and I have the machine to prove it.

Dear reader, my single minded quest for speed is now back on track. 

A new SingleSpeedCC rises.

Dianne II (a.k.a Midnight Phantom) sitting pretty at Clumber Park and ready for her morning time-trial


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