4 inches of frantic fun

I’ve been riding the same three set ups for a year or more now: the Muni is a 26 with 150 mm cranks; the Coker also has 150s; and the 28 has 110s. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been riding the 28 more and more, finding the precision and delicacy of touch that it requires very much to my taste.

But if you keep doing the same old things, it gets boring. So today, I decided to swap the 110s on the 28 for 102s. I’d only ridden it briefly on 102s before, and I’d found it a bit of a handful - although I’d done many miles on a 24 with 102s. Somehow, I’d decided that 110s were “the right size” for the 28, and never experimented again.

Somewhat nervous of the lack of control I might have with the shorter cranks, I went to the Water Sports Centre, where I know there is a 5 km lap of the main lake on generally smooth and level tarmac.

To my relief, I freemounted first time, and within 20 metres, I started to feel at home on the 102s. This was just as well, as within 50 yards, I had to ride up a crushed ballast slope. I had no problems, but a little bit more caution than usual was required.

Once on the main lap of the lake, I decided to get my head down and go for it. The wind was blowing straight along the rowing course, so it was in my face all the way up the lake, and behind me all the way back. 102mm cranks are only 8 mm shorter than 110s - that’s about 7% difference - but they seemed to encourage me to spin much more than 7% faster.

There’s an element of psychology here, I’m sure, but I’d never really got into the habit of pedalling fast on the 28 with 110s, and here I was head down and positively bombing along on the 102s. I got into “time trials mode” in a way that I hadn’t since I was training hard on the Coker a few years ago. Every jogger ahead of me became a victim to be reeled in and overtaken. I passed a bicyclist going in the opposite direction, and it was a matter of pride to meet her at the opposite point of the circuit (i.e. match her speed) and to meet her again back at the first place - so I was lapping the lake at almost exactly the same speed as someone who was out for a “proper ride” on her bicycle. OK, so she wasn’t riding hard, and she was on a mountain bike, not a racer, but she wasn’t a porker poddling along towing a kid in a buggy.

I did two straight laps of the lake at this speed - that’s 10 kilometres without a break. I didn’t time myself, but it felt fast. My only problem - not exhaustion, but what is perhaps best described as “gentlemanly numbness” creeping in. I dismounted after I’d done about 10.5 k, and let the blood start to circulate again.

So, that was the first test of the 102s, and the results were remarkable. On the 110s, I need to make a conscious effort to keep pedalling fast. On the 102s, it’s an effort to slow down!

Stage two of the ride: I decided to divert away from the main lake and ride around the edges of the canoe slalom course. Soon, the demon whispered in my ear, and I found myself swooping up the mown grass slopes of the landscaping, and riding the skyline. The hills aren’t that high (only 2 - 4 metres, mostly) but they are steep enough and soft enough to be a challenge, especially on this skinny wheel. I had no big problems, and so I got more and more ambitious, eventually risking (and succeeding) the steepest and longest of the descents on my regular Coker route.

By this stage on a 28 with 102s, I’d ridden much of what I used to find challenging on the Coker with 150s!

On a second lap of the skyline, I did UPD, but only because of a loss of concentration. I was able to remount easily and continue. I’d already almost forgotten that the cranks were “only” 102 mm.

Then I found myself swooping down off one of the bigger humps and back onto the tarmac track around the main lake. I put on a sudden spurt of speed, got a bit too ambitious, and the uni suddenly started to overtake me… with very short cranks, sudden braking can be difficult. The pedals can flip past the point of no return… my worst fear is falling backwards from a unicycle, and it looked like it was going to happen… I pulled hard on the seat, locked my back leg and stopped the wheel, and my momentum was enough to carry me forwards, catapulting me from the uni. I hit the ground running, embarrassed, but relieved not to have fallen backwards.

From here, I did a slower lap of the main lake, watching the swans bobbing white against the grey water in the dusk. A heron flew low over the lake, then spread its wings wide, stalling and landing gracefully in the shallows. Flocks of geese flew noisily overhead, and hundreds of other geese congregated in the middle of the lake. Swallows swooped low over the water, feeding on insects. A couple of wild rabbits emerged timidly from the bushes and began to nibble at the grass. This was a pleasant warm down lap, and a chance to enjoy the scenery after the frantic first 10 k.

Having ridden hard and fast for the first 10k, and then done some quite difficult but short cross country sections, I now felt completely at home on the new set up, and the uni seemed to take care of itself, cruising along with minimal input from me. Almost back at the car, I took one last diversion, across an area of crushed ballast, and riding down and back up the zig zag path. This is the path that always used tobe a challenge on the MUni. Now I was sailing up it easily on a 28 with short cranks. Either I’m getting better, or the hills are getting smaller.

Was it Changing Links who asked why no one in this forum speaks up for the 700c? Well, right now, I’m starting to feel it’s becoming my firm favourite.

110m cranks

I can relate to moving to smaller crank size.
I switched to 110mm cranks on my Coker for 2months now.
I tried 170mm, 155mm, and even 89mm.
I luv my 110mm, it’s the perfect combination of control and speed for me! :slight_smile: