Life In The Big Ring

Photo c/o the wonderful Cassi Yost of

If you would have asked me at the beginning of this riding season to explain the type of cyclist I am, I would have said I’m a spinner who spends quite a bit of time in the small ring.  In fact, that is exactly what I told Victor from Bicycle Lab when he did the bike fit on me this spring.

But something has happened this year.  I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I honestly cannot remember the last time I shifted into my small ring.  I have been living in my big ring and loving it.

Windy days, inclines, whatever….I’m in the big ring and staying there.  Now, I am not exactly situated right now in the hilliest place on Earth. Yeah, Saskatchewan is not known for its mountains. Once I get back to Austin and some of the other locations I plan on cycling very soon, it might be a different story.  But for now I am feeling really strong and powering my big ring through whatever stands in my way.

There is just something so good about completing an entire ride in the big ring.  I’ve also found that my cadence is a whole lot more consistent while here as well, and I’m able to get into a nice groove.

So what’s changed this year?  Well, I can only think of three things to contribute it to:

  1. Diet: I’ve always had a pretty good diet, but about 10 months ago I cleaned it up even more.  The inclusion of homemade falafel, green smoothies, hemp hearts, steel cut oatmeal, and becoming 95% vegetarian….has made me feel like I’m firing on all cylinders.
  2. Bike Fit: As I mentioned, I had a bike fit done in April and I know that the alterations have done me good.
  3. Hard Work: I’ve been giving it all I have for days on end and my legs and lungs are delivering.

For any readers who aren’t sure what all this “big ring” talk is about, let me get technical for a second. First of all, when a pro rider talks about the Big Ring they likely mean the absolute top gears of the big ring (Chain on smallest sprocket in the back).  For me, I’m referring to the large front chainring on your bike (the Crank).  I could also get into the tooth set found within the ring, but we’ll leave that one for another post.

What ring do you spend most of your time?  How do feel the big ring compares to the small when riding?

  • John

    Just found your blog…when are you headed to Austin? Need help finding rides here?

    • John

      snafu…trimmed my reply -

      I was going to say we can promise to get you out of the 5X tooth crank and wishing for a 12-28 cassette :)

  • Cassi

    For the record, your falafel is THE BEST. I wish it would magically enable me to ride on the Big Ring all the time, but I have wimpy girl (old-lady?) legs and live in the hills…. thus, I am typically high cadence/lower gear. Thank you for making me an honorary member of your photography staff; an honor to be included here! :D

  • Clive Chapman

    I started using both rings on my road bike, small ring for the hills. Now, even on the hilliest route of my commute I’m solidly in the big ring. Get in there! :-)

    My MTB rides are obviously different, the off road terrain by me is pretty steep so unashamedly I take in the benefits of every ratio my Marin has to offer!

  • Andrew

    The past few months I have been hitting the big ring more solid as well. I focus mainly on keeping my cadence in certain ranges, but have noticed when I’m giving it my best effort hills that used to be the small cog are no longer! (we’ll leave the rear cassette alone!)

    • Darryl

      Yeah, we don’t have to talk about the rear cassette….hahahaha. It’s great to be in the big ring isn’t it?

  • JuanRCM

    It’s kinda funny how NOT big the 42 big ring is on a mountain triple crank after you’ve gotten used to a 50/34 compact crank

    • Darryl


  • Victor


    Its a sign you are becoming much more fit. The important thing is that you are still keeping that cadence high. The goal would be to “spin” that big ring-small cog at your high rpm.

    For me I spend a lot of time in the small ring. I shift gears a lot to stay in my rpm comfort zone.

    Great post

    • Darryl

      Thanks again for providing a great bike fit for me. It definitely has helped me become a stronger cyclist. I’m staying in the big ring, but also keeping my cadence where it was before.

  • Tony

    Go Big or go home, HA. I notice that I’m always in the big ring unless I’m climbing. Then I’ll drop down to the little ring. It seems when I’m in the little ring on flats that I seem to out spin, like I’m spinning fast but don’t seem to be getting anywhere very quickly. I typically sit at the big ring up front and somewhere in the middle on the back.

  • Bryan

    I used to have a problem with not being able to push the big ring all the time. It was like a measure of manhood. I also hated getting passed by other guys, chicks, and little old ladies who were simply churning slow circles on the big enchilada and were able to go faster than me (they still can). Some of my blog readers can attest to that as I wrote about it often.

    I’ve gotten out of that mindset though and now concentrate on keeping my cadence high instead of a slow push. Keeping the cadence high means I ride in the small ring all the time. Not until I lose more weight, and get more fit, will I be able to go back to the big ring and keep the cadence high.

    I still have dreams of smashing the 53T big boy in a sprint to the city limit sign. One day.

    • Darryl

      Yeah, I like keeping my cadence up there as well and it was why it took me until now to keep it full time in the big ring. Now I’m able to keep the cadence around 100 in the big ring. I love it.

  • Tim

    depends on what I’m doing

    1. if I’m on the city bike, just cycling around — small chainring, low cadence, lots of stops

    2. if I’m on the road bike it varies with terrain but lately I find myself in the big chainring – something about legs getting stronger and dropping weight

  • Sabinna

    One of the important things for me on a ride (when I can find the time these days!) is fat burning…I believe a high cadence by being more aerobic is efficient at that?