Gearing down

Do we really need 28 gears? Why don't we just have five speed MTBs? Or, better still (or worse stil

Do we really need 28 gears? Why don't we just have five speed MTBs? Or, better still (or worse stil
Do we really need 28 gears? Why don't we just have five speed MTBs? Or, better still (or worse still if you're not the fittest but the fattest) three speed?

This is what I was thinking about the other day when my dear old, J reg knockabout VW Polo started playing silly buggers and left me to drive her around with just 2nd and 4th gear. Interestingly, for the few days I drove around hoping that the clanging noise and the remaining gears would âsort themselves outâ (ever the optimist), I realised you can drive perfectly well with just two gears. With creative clutch use I could pull away fine in the second, give her some revs, then slot it back into fourth around 30mph and cruise all the way up the heady speeds of 60mph (65mph with wind assistance). Easy. No problem. (Ignoring the occasional clanging and slipping of clutch, and grawinching when I forgot and tried to get first gear).

So, it got me thinking when I was next in the saddle, why donât we just have five speed MTBs, or even three speed little rippers? Thereâs less to go wrong in the muddy winter months and all the other benefits of having a single ring up front such as cost, weight saving and âit looks right cool and minimalistâ type of bonuses.

Of course I know why we donât, cos thatâs the appeal of mountain bikes, they have lots of gears to help you bike up mountains. You âneedâ 28 gears for your bike to look the part, to fit in, and for confidence in choice of gear selection come the really steep ups and downs. Obviously we also all need 28 gears to give us blokes something else to faff about with as the rest of the bikeâs efficient technology means we donât have to waste time aligning V-brakes or tightening up loose spokes or whatever.

But how many times have you skipped gears to reach the granny ring for a scary climb after pedaling along in somewhere-near-top gear on the flat? Or, as your favourite trail starts heading down, do you skip three gears, and another three, just to get into top so you can put the power down quicker rather than spinning. We all do it, so doesnât that mean we could get by just fine with five gears? Itâs less shifting to piss about with when riding, and less to fix when cables stretch or after crashing, which means you can get on with railing the singletrack, honing your technique and grinding up that never-ending hill. Or, simply, just potter along and enjoy being out in the great outdoors and enjoy the view instead of staring down and worrying should you be in 11th or 14th gear.

Er, I will no doubt regret this five speed biking lark as I look for non-existent gears when my tired legs refuse to get me up a climb in my granny ring (thatâs actually third gear).

For those of you concerned about my little Polo, you might like to know that, thanks to a mechanic mate of mine, it was just a simple matter of fitting two bolts to an engine mount, and she was back on track. All of my gears returned and â perhaps not surprisingly â worked smoother than ever. For old timeâs sake I still shift from second to fourth sometimes. If Iâm feeling clever, and driving downhill, I might even shift from second to fifth. I know, Iâm out of control, but thatâs the kind of guy I am.


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