While many aspects of riding are intuitive and easy to understand, some are often very difficult or odd to explain. One thing that often causes confusion during conversation is the many ways cyclists describe the act of shifting gears. Based on feedback or occasional strange looks I get, I'd like to eliminate some confusion.
As we increase or decrease our speed on a bike, we are required to shift gears in order to continue pedaling comfortably. Describing that action to others has numerous variations. Let's see...is it shift up to a bigger gear? Harder gear? Smaller cog? Bigger chain ring? Easier gear? Do easier gears make it harder to go fast or easier to go slow? Is first gear the biggest or the smallest option. How many gears does this thing have? Argh! Now, I understand why people enjoy the simplicity of single-speed and fixed gear bikes.
Long ago, when bikes had just one gear we didn't have to worry about shifting. Bikes similar to what we have today, had one front chain ring and one rear cog. The combination of varying sized chain rings and cogs produced a unique, measurable gear. "Gear Inches" refers to the distance in inches that the bike travels during one full rotation of the crank.
Cyclists used gear inches to describe the gear they prefer or had chosen for a ride. The topic would often be discussed before, during, or after rides. "You're running 76 inches? You'll be spinning like a top during this flat ride!" Conversely, "110 inches? You'll likely need knee replacement surgery during the off-season!"
The term "gear inches" may be new to many and unfamiliar to most. Today, only track racing cyclists and single-speed mountain bikers use this terminology. Even among them, "Gear Inches" isn't often heard. More commonly, we describe gears as being bigger or smaller.
A bigger gear is one that has more gear inches or allows you to travel further per pedal stroke. When you are pedaling fast or accelerating down a hill, you shift to a bigger gear to continue pedaling. Conversely, when you find yourself struggling on a climb, you shift to a smaller gear that has fewer gear inches.
Try to avoid using the words, Hard or Easy when describing gears. They may mean the same as Bigger and Smaller but this is where the confusion begins. Let's all speak the same gear language and avoid confusion.
I use the phrases bigger and smaller gears in many of my workout descriptions. I may suggest shifting to a bigger gear to do a more strenuous pedaling exercise. I refer to Spin-Ups being done in an easier gear. Hopefully now, you have a better understanding of what I mean.
Now go correct all your riding buddies when they say all types of weird things to describe shifting. It's Bigger and Smaller and you have an understanding of Gear Inches to back it up.