Creeping into the Big Ring


There’s a lot of cyclists who strive for more time in the big ring.  For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, I mean to get out and ride in the big chainring (the set of chain rings affixed to your crank). The pedalling may be tougher in the big ring, but the speeds reached can be much higher.

Whether you have a compact or any other configuration of chainrings, there’s just something about grinding out a ride totally in the big ring.


Okay, before going any further with this….let me just go on record as saying that getting out on a bike is the most important thing of all.  It really doesn’t matter what chainring you’re riding in, as long as you’re getting out there and enjoying your ride.  But, for those who are fixated on life in the big ring…..this one’s for you.

When I lived in Canada, I was located in the city of Saskatoon….one of the flattest places on earth. Seriously.  I’d have to search very hard to find a hill greater than 6% grade.  So while we were living there, it was pretty easy to live life in the Big Ring.

Then we moved to Austin.  Still nothing compared to the hills and elevations found in Colorado and other mountainous areas….but for a guy who had just come from Saskatchewan, it was more than hilly enough for me.  Plus, we were living in west Austin and close to the hill country so my rides involved much more climbing than you’d find in other parts of the city.

When we first arrived, I was no longer able to live in the Big Ring.  I could be in it for parts of each ride, but never the whole thing.  I can’t remember exactly how long it took, but one day things clicked and I found myself riding an entire route in the big ring.  I think it also had something to do with a pep talk by my friend Ian, but all of a sudden I had found myself confident and strong enough to stay in the ring.

From that day, until we left Austin in November 2012 I consistently rode each ride totally in the big ring.

Then came Grenada.  Yes, a whole new terrain and a whole bunch more hills to climb.  All of a sudden, those climbs in the Austin hill country were looking pretty flat.  Once again, I found myself able to get into the Big Ring for certain portions of each ride but never even close to being there full time.

Then it happened…..again.  Last Friday, after being in Grenada for just about 3 months…..I completed a full ride in the big ring.  I had found myself spending more and more time there for the past few weeks, but this was the first time I had spent the whole ride there.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to live in the big ring here on this mountainous island, but I know I can do it in some segments and I know I’ll be spending more and more time there each ride.  It feels great.

So how about you?  Is this something you’ve been striving for?  If so, I say to just keep on pedalling and you’ll find yourself slowly creeping into more time in the big ring.   Build your strength and build your confidence….and before long you’ll find yourself there.

Note: After seeing a few of the comments from this post, I came to realize that I didn’t do a great job at explaining things very well this time.  Going into the big gears should only be done when you’re strong enough to no sacrifice technique or efficiency.  When I talk about spending time in the big ring, I was referring to effectively pedalling there.


Enjoy Your Ride

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17 Responses to “ Creeping into the Big Ring ”

  1. A Davis on February 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I’ve been trying to spend more time in the big ring as well. Thanks for your motivational post and now I feel inspired to keep it going. I hope one day it all clicks for me as well.

  2. Kerry on February 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I’m not sure i see where your going with this article. Your not achieving anything by stressing your legs and knees like that. I agree with Rob, practice and perfect good pedaling technique, learn to be efficient on the bike and go the distance. Do off the bike workouts for strength training. Hopefully I don’t come off as too much of a jerk with this post. Love the write ups, keep up the good work.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on February 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks for your input, Kerry. Maybe I didn’t make the article clear enough and thanks for pointing that out. When I say “time in the big ring” I only mean to be in there when you’re able to keep good technique and not stress your joints.

      • Kerry on February 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

        Gotcha… I know you know whats up

  3. G on February 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Years ago, I read an interview with the great Irish cyclist, Sean Kelly. In the article he mentioned
    when returning from his winter time off the bike, he would ride the first 400 miles in the small ring to acclimate himself and develop his form, cadence and spin on the road.

    I live in an area that often has colder temperatures with inclement weather in the winter. I cannot tolerate
    the colder temperatures as I could when younger. Therefore, I take some time off the road when it is colder. While I do ride an indoor trainer during my off season, Sean Kelly’s training guideline on the road may not be for all riders but it has worked for me all these years.

    I also know I am not a strong rider. As an older cyclist on medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol, I have learned to manage my expectations. Some years I am ready to move to the big ring before the 400 mile mark and some years I am not. Listen to you body and evaluate your condition. After progressing to riding in the big ring and when I begin to include more challenging hills, I often install a smaller inner ring to spin when climbing. Building strength, form, skills and confidence by alternating your distance, terrain and gearing are all part of the equation.

    Finally, I often use the small ring to ride with friends on rides that are based more in the conversation and journey than training. The small ring and low gears are just fine for some rides. Enjoy all the rings and
    cogs of cycling.

    • Kerry on February 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      Exactly! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on February 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Totally, G…..We’re all for Enjoying Your Ride over here at Loving the Bike. No matter what ring you’re in.

  4. Joe Johnson on February 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I think I am living more in the small ring, but compared to a year ago, I am living more in the saddle that the easy chair! That has been the huge improvement for me.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on February 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Cool, thanks for your comment Joe. Now that is the most important thing of all.

  5. Rob on February 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Climbing in the big ring does not always equate to climbing faster. I live in WV, if you force yourself to ride 100% big ring around here you’ll end up with bad knees in a hurry. Form, cadence and efficiency is the key.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on February 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Yeah, totally agree with you Rob. Form and Cadence should never be compromised.

  6. James on February 13, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Last summer I was able to build my strength and get to a point where I could climb some smaller hills in the big ring. Next summer I’m going to push thing farther and see where I can go.

  7. Tim Starry on February 13, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Dude, clean your chain



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