City living! Within two blocks of my house, I can find four restaurants, a whiskey bar, a shoe store, book store, coffee roaster, computer repair shop, two art galleries, a barbershop, theater, essential-oil emporium, and a bicycle shop named Gladys.
Given the many options, I took my bicycle to the bicycle shop named Gladys. “Just spiff it,” I said. “Do whatever it needs. I haven’t had it out of the basement in a few years.” I went home.
A couple hours later, Spiffer Miranda wrote me an email. Wanted permission to sell me a new wheel. “Also, your chain and freewheel have become very worn. I have a replacement that is compatible but it is a 6 speed instead of 7, and has a wider range of gears. Let me know how to proceed,” she wrote.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I might be getting with the new gear cassette. I started to type a message back with my questions and then thought: I could hit Miranda with a tennis ball from here if the buildings weren’t in the way. I’ll just walk over there.
A minute later I’m in the shop, which, even in this age, is a pretty zippy email response. “So,” I said, “this new gear thingy. Are you saying you want to sell me a granny gear?”
Words were not minced. “Yup,” she said.
A granny gear is a very low gear in which you can spin your pedals very fast whilst creeping up the hill like a big sissy. I’ve never had one. I’m not even sure they were available when I bought my first good bike in 1968. By the time a bike mechanic offered me a granny gear, I had too much pride for it. I preferred to muscle my way across the landscape in the highest gear I could. “That’s bad for your knees,” he told me. “Ideally, you should be spinning at 80 rpm.”
Poo on that. My knees are fine. What I had going for me–in the absence of lung power, quick reflexes, good balance, stamina, and athletic ability–was a massive set of quadriceps. At one time, the only wrinkle I had was just above my kneecap, below the bulge of glory that was my thigh muscle. I had to floss it regularly for road dust so seedlings wouldn’t take root. I was very proud of my thighs. It looked like porpoises were hanging out of my shorts.
Besides it just felt all wrong to me. I’d power my way up the hill like a big girl and pass some guy pedaling his fanny off, and sure, he could converse with his buddy the whole time, and probably eat a sandwich, but empires would rise and fall before he tootled to the top.
And more than once in heavy bicycle traffic I’ve been stuck behind someone on a hill centipeding along at a rate I had no gear for, and had to bail out of my pedals to keep from falling over. Screw the granny gear.
Miranda again. “Most bikes just come with this now,” she said, evenly.
“Bikes come with motors now,” I said back, and then suddenly realized that any kind of gear cluster would be manlier than a bike with a motor.
Miranda waited patiently for my decision. She was far too nice to point out the obvious. Or even glance down at my 68-year-old quadriceps, which have long since slumped past porpoise and into flounder territory. I looked at her open, friendly, competent face.
“Granny me, baby,” I said.
After all, I don’t have to use it.
I’m probably totally going to use it.