Time to quit gronking

An article came out in Bike Radar a couple of days ago that reasserted what pros have known for a long time: quit gronking.

Gronking, of course, is the pedaling style of 99.9% of all bicycle riders everywhere, except for those who “super gronk.” I passed one of those dudes on the Donut Ride today, buried in the most intense super gronk I have seen in a long time — no helmet, rusted out MTB from 1989, and going up an 8% grade at the astounding gronk rate of about 20 rpm. I could count the hairs on his leg, he was pedaling so slowly.

Spin to win

We’ve all heard that stupid line. Has it helped? Hell, no. We keep gronking away, shoulders swaying so far from side to side on steep grades that they scrape the pavement, knee joints popping, IT bands snapping, and the only one who’s winning is the physical therapist.

So instead of “spin to win,” which plainly motivates no one, I’m urging you to “spin to beer.” The more you spin, the sooner you’ll get to the end of the ride and beer. You won’t win shit, and you won’t care.

The science of gronking vs. spinning

“Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is usually physics,” a wise woman once said.  With regard to cycling, everything happens due to physics and, of course, drugs, tainted beef, and volcano doping, but today we’ll just focus on the physics.

“There is an optimum torque for a given individual, much like there’s an optimal torque range in a car,” says Allen Lim. “Generally speaking, there is good research that shows that as power output goes up, the most efficient cadence for that power also goes up.” Lim, of course, is the former trainer of dopester Floyd Landis and employee of the now completely disgraced dopester team RadioShack during the Armstrong era.

If anyone should know about power output and the variables that affect it, it’s Lim, who’s now doing penance for his association with the dopesters by selling healthful nutrition for athletes.

But back to gronking …

What Lim is saying is that you, essentially, suck, and that in order to reduce your suckage coefficient you can either train harder and smarter (har!), volcano dope (not happenin’ with the kids’ orthodontia, etc.), or raise your cadence.

Why we gronk

Our terrible, inefficient, power sapping, esthetically unappealing cadences are a function of laziness. Intuitively, our bodies know that the faster we pedal the more tired we will get. This is the same body that tells us to have just one more for the road, to give crystal meth a try, and to invest in penny stocks.

In other words, our bodies and minds are clueless and delusional. Doubt me? Look at all the people who have purchased an Elliptigo. Or a unicycle. Or lottery tickets.

Your body, although generally stupid, is simply operating based on the data you provide it. When you were a little kid, you noticed that the faster you ran, the more exhausted you got. When you graduated to bicycling, you noticed that the faster you went, the more pain you felt in your legs. Your body then did the arithmetic and concluded that “the more pain you feel, the faster you’re going.”

Never mind that you are a slug, and never mind that external data contradict your internal arithmetic: even though you’re slow as shit, as long as you’re feeling discomfort as a result of mashing harder than a Tennessee bootlegger, your body concludes that you’re “going fast.”

So while your body is telling you to lapse into that laboring, soul-sapping gronk, physics is telling you to find an easier gear and spin. More importantly, fashion is telling you that  when you gronk and slog and mash and grind, you look like you’re giving rectal birth to a watermelon.

Technical solutions

For years, the compact crank has been regarded as the old man’s dying wheeze or the refuge of sissies. That’s still true. However, by replacing your current 56-47 chainring configuration with a more svelte 50-34 you will not only cease showering the bunch with the juice from your exploding knee joints, you will go faster.

To add even more kick to the likker, you can abandon your corncob and hit mountain bike ratios on your cassette. SRAM offers a 12-32, a 12-36, and, for those who are unreconstructed gronkers with a penchant for double IPA’s and cheeseburgers, SRAM also offers a 15-75.

So the next time I see you on the road, let’s quit gronking and “spin to beer.”


34 thoughts on “Time to quit gronking”

  1. One morning a couple years ago Kevin Phillips had a group of us (you may have been there) doing timed PVE repeats, and he would dictate the gear used. At one point he had us all spinning up the hill, and awkward as it felt, and winded as I was, I went faster in the lower gear.

    1. Every time I’ve done a workout with KP I have quietly resolved to give up racing. It’s like riding with an internal combustion engine.

  2. I am confused I was always told when your cadence gets below 80 you shift to an easier gear when it gets above 120 you shift to a harder gear.

    1. it’s the <70 cadence thats a killer… I am low at a 77 on climbs over 4-5% but then I qualify for the Clydesdale weight catagory…

      1. Oh..I am not confused. I Know that when I get back home I can drown my pain and cramps with 2 pieces of Pie and quart of Ice Cream… Yum!… drooling just thinking about my next hill climb.

  3. A 50/34 looks slow. As does a 12/32. When you see my bike before the Donut rolls out, it will look fast. That is WAY more important than ANY pedaling silliness.

  4. The best Meme and best cycling rally cry ever “Spin to Beer” I am stealing this Meme.

  5. “Generally speaking, there is good research that shows that as power output goes up, the most efficient cadence for that power also goes up.”
    Feel-good BS. What is Lim trying to optimize? Calories/mile? Stress on the knee? If you can turn out 300 Watts up a hill your time will be the same regardless of cadence.

    1. Higher cadence -> lower torque (force) for the same power output, which preferentially recruits more “slow twitch” (a misnomer) fibers in the quad and glute muscles.

      These Type I muscle fibers can do work *much* longer without fatigue, compared to the high-force Type II (fast twitch) fibers which tire easily.

      If the climb is longer than 8-10 minutes, for 2 cyclists having the same threshhold power, I’d bet my $ on the guy spinning @ 80-90 rpm, over a guy grinding up at 60-70 rpm.

      1. Higher cadence recruits more “fast twitch”. Lower cadence is for “slow twitch” and marathon endurance.

    2. He is trying to minimize the feeling that your head is going to explode into your butthole.

  6. They still won’t do it. They’re all around me, too, save a few that actually have IQs higher than my resting heart rate. Oh well

  7. Pingback: The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 3: How to Spin (not “Spoon”) | Cycling in the South Bay

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