I’m having a bit of a chuckle at a pissing contest on the BV forums, between some boys regarding the size of the gear they rode at the weekend at the Club Teams and ABOC sprint series competitions. I call them boys because they are really comparing the size of their marbles (conkers mainly, so they are saying).
I am chuckling because I used to get asked a lot by some of my fellow competitors the same question: what gear are you riding? I learnt to reply with 104. But it doesn’t matter what gear I am riding, because I am a different rider to you, with a different physiology, temperament and riding style. And even if you and I ride the same gear, it doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same, because racing is more than gear size. It’s also about being strategic, thoughtful and opportunistic.
A better question to ask is not what gear someone is riding, but how their legs, lungs, heart and brain are feeling. But maybe the gear size question is just code for that much more detailed question? If you know someone usually rides Y gear and today they are riding Z gear, something’s up. But don’t ask the gear size question to get a feel for what you should be riding. You should already know. And if you don’t, then you are experimenting to find out, which is nothing to be hung up about.
But there is more to the gear size story than just this, of course. Going fast is about leg speed and strength (=power). Ideally gearing should match your “preferred” leg speed. And one of the best ways to get faster, is to improve your leg speed. I’ve learnt the hard way, speed doesn’t just come from “getting stronger” and being able to push out bigger and bigger gears. It's the common coach/athlete war chant: I/You need to get stronger! Sure pushing bigger and bigger gears will (eventually) make you stronger, but not necessarily faster. One of the quickest ways to kill speed is strength work: hill climbing, big gear efforts, squatting big weights. It’s a balancing act. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and over time, the cake comes out baked, iced and ready to eat. Focus too much for too long on any one aspect, and you end up being good at that one thing, but not a balanced, complete bike racer.
So, what gear are you racing on today? But please, don't tell me, tell them. I'm not really innerested, unless we are teams sprinting/pursuiting in the same team ;-)