The Big Chain Ring

A few years ago, on my second cycling trip to Italy our group had just finished an incredibly hard climb in the Dolomites when we met a local cyclist who brought to our attention the fact that he rode up the climb in the “big ring”.  For those of you not familiar with cycling, the big chain ring is harder to pedal and on some climbs would be practically impossible to pedal.  And while we looked in awe, our tour leader took me aside to tell me that the “Local guy” did not ride the climb in the big ring – he just shifted into it at the end of the ride and then flaunted his most recent accomplishment. And after that we all had a great laugh. Now, let’s be clear, anyone who rides up the big climbs in the Dolomites in any gear or chain ring is doing something amazing. No negative points here.  just opportunity to learn and to think differently. So, today when I was out on a good tough ride (in the big ring) I found myself thinking about my friend in Italy and it dawned on me that this was a good topic for the blog. 

Cycling for many people can be taken as an easy activity because the mechanical advantage that the bike provides is leveraged to the maximum advantage and as such the opportunity to make a ride “hard” is often avoided.  And for those who get out and just ride this is great.  But on the journey to THPL you need to think about how to push harder, to stretch your capabilities so that your body responds by building more capacity, so that the next time you go out you are ready for maximum exertion.  This process is how to get better and stronger. And yes, while this could be seen as quite a simplistic view, if we are to improve we need to be rather purposeful in our decision to push harder, to not stay in the comfort zone that the bike allows you to.  And so the next time you go out riding think about how you can use the “big ring” to challenge yourself.  See how long you can ride in the big ring, regardless of the size of the hill.  Stay there till the hill starts to win and then stay just a few pedal strokes longer.  There is no question that it will hurt – but that is what creates your “win”.  You conquer the mechanical advantage and you get stronger as a result.  It is there for the taking. 


We know that THPL requires being comfortable while uncomfortable, the big ring method is a great way to play in this arena.  Oh yea, if you do not ride, you can translate this into running hard up hill.  Or doing ten more push-ups – you can make it whatever you want.  The key is the mental push – the rest takes care of itself.

Loving life in the big ring