One night as my wife was heading out the door for some sanity shopping as I put the kids down to bed she announced I had a package sitting on the front step. Could it be my super secret bicycle weapon? Yes, I would need to get the kids to sleep first before getting started. Soon they were asleep and under the cover of darkness I stole to the garage to begin my dark labors. The patient was my roadbike. I hung her up by the ropes I use to work on her. I removed the back wheel and deftly removed the rear cassette. Making sure that no one was looking I installed something every roadie would look at with shock and horror.
If you have read my last few entries you will remember one particular hill that made me bow in abject humiliation. The hill that made me do the walk of shame and battered my thirsty soul. Since then I had been thinking of things I could do for vengeance. Losing weight was an option but not a complete solution (I am down about 10 pounds since my last brevet but I am still in the big guy class and not the puny little but fast climber class). No, we would need to attack this problem from two fronts, and so with the performance bike website up I found my deep dark secret and purchased it. A part that looked so innocent, yet, used in the wrong place could make road cyclists everywhere gasp in horror. Yes, on the backside of my bike, attached to the rear hub, was a Mountain Bike Cassette. It has an 11 tooth high gear, which is the same as your average road cassette, but the low gear is 32 teeth of hill eating fury! At first the idea seemed preposterous but having looked at Sheldon Brown's website I did see that people out there do offer cassettes with lower gears than your average road cassette, and a few posts on bikeforums.net mentioned that it might be possible to even go as high as 32 teeth on the rear with a 105 long cage derailleur(apparently Shimano's specs are very conservative). Let me tell you it is possible, albeit a bit uncouth in the fashion sensitive world of the road cyclist.
My first impressions are that the gears are a little farther apart but if I switch around between the big chainring and the middle one I can find the sweet spot usually. Using Sheldon Brown's gear calculator I only have 2 gears that kind of overlap which is better than your average road cassette on a triple. Best thing of all is the chain no longer skips (the old cassette was really old). So, I have been commuting on this thing and it has been good, but the whole purpose for this cassette is to allow me to tackle 10% + grades without driving the heartrate above 82% percent or so, so I don't go anaerobic. So, Friday morning an opportunity to take a hilly ride occured.
I would warm up on the long 4% grade up the front side of Usery Pass. I laughed at it's insolence. I smirked as I road the whole way up in my middle chainring with my heartrate in the lower end of my aerobic zone and me with the freedom to push it more without having to worry about shifting down. After the long descent down the backside I would then make my way over to a hill known as King Kong that used to be the coup d'etat of El Tour de Phoenix before they changed the route to go up the backside of usery pass which is a longer hill, but only a 4% grade over 4 miles. Kong is much shorter, yes much shorter, but it has a half mile section of 10% grade. Yes, fair readers, 10% grade, that type of hill which spanked me on the climb out of Winkelman and made me ride back to the car with my tale between my legs. I wondered how much of a help this new cassette would be when faced with such a foe. I arrived at the bottom of the hill and looked up the long and steep climb up to the Central Arizona Project canal high above me where the sump under the Salt River pushes the water up the inside of the mountain to emerge in the canal at the top. I would climb over 260 feet in the next mile and most of that would be in a steep half mile section of 10% grade.
Well, fair readers, I am pleased to say as I shifted down, down, down into that Franken Granny gear, my heartrate slowly began to rise. I climbed on, we were pushing to the middle of the aerobic range, and still it climbed. Around the middle I heard my heartrate alarm go off, but the heartrate seemed to peak at a beat or two over the conservative value I had assigned the alarm to. I was still climbing at a sustainable heartrate. That means, with this gear, I could climb 10% grades over a fairly long distance without going anaerobic and burning out. After topping out I found that I still had energy where I usually was gasping for breath and then relied on the downhill to get me home. I pedaled stongly forward and quickly sped home in time trial mode delighted at having so much energy at the end of this ride where before I had been weak. So, next time I see that hill behind Winkelman, he will not be so lucky. I shall stare him in the face and say- "Hallo...My name is Indigo Montoya, you made me walk, prepare to die!".