Have you ever owned a car that’s just plain fast? That would make you almost feel legitimate in saying “but officer, this car won’t go slower than 80 mph on an interstate”? I’ve had a couple that are close to that, notably a 1993 Audi 90 Quattro that is both my sister-in-law’s and my favorite car ever (I bought it from her). It cornered like a race car, and accelerated like a bat out of hell.
My mid-80’s vintage Bianchi Squadra racing road bike is the cycling equivalent of that. Fast out of the blocks, always ready to respond to revved-up pedaling, embodiment of the observation that on racing bikes brakes are meant to slow it down for an instant, not stop it on a dime. Too much momentum for that. This bike is all about simplicity and efficiency. It has a steel frame, straightforward wheels (the rear a generic replacement for a bent Wobler; the original Wobler still graces the front), downtube shifters, and a 7 x 2, (11-21 / 52/42) drivetrain.
that drivetrain is the joy and bane of my existence. My stepson Andrew, who built the bike from the frame up, describes the gearing diplomatically as “aggressive.” Meaning that the likes of me cannot climb steep hills with it. On the other hand, having a 14-speed bike is a bit like having a piano with a 2-octave range, white keys only. During the course of even a moderately interesting ride one ends up being in each and every one of those gears for at least a few seconds. You have to play them like a piano virtuoso, a veritable Evgeny Kissin of the drivetrain. When the bike screams “Go! Go! Go!” I have to be ready to stomp on the pedals in the right gear for quick takeoff. That 52 big gear really drives the bike. Get on top of it, and you can practically lay rubber when you take off. And the low-end 42 x 21 gearing is unusually responsive to my climbing needs, providing that i utilize momentum well and don’t get myself on upgrades that go steeply for a long time.
On Saturday I took a typical ‘water level route” for this bike, but the route is never uniformly level, and I knew where my challenges would be. I ended up with a ride to Shirlington, back past home and over the hill to Vienna, and back home for real. Over 23 miles, with some challenges for climbing, but not too many or too much. I averaged 16.65 mph, not blazing, but pretty good for a septuagenarian in early April. Thing is, that big-geared drive train just won’t take “slow” for an answer. This is not a touring bike, but a racer. And when the bike says”go,” I can’t very well just sit there, can I? “Full gas,” as they say on the continent.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.