As a youngster the bicycle was my chosen mode of transportation. I loved to ride bikes. Any kind of bike. My personal bike never had more than one gear. A ride from the Gulch to Warfield was a challenge. I dreamed of owning a ten speed bike. My dream eventually came true. A brand new BRC ten speed.
Ten gears. Who could want any more? The Gulch to Warfield was no longer a chore. Rossland was even now a relatively easy pursuit. Syringa Creek a day trip. Aren’t gears marvelous?
Yes; mechanical advantage. Climb mountains with limited power. I used all ten of those gears religiously.
At the time of ten speed bikes automobiles of the day had no more than 4 manually operated gears. The automatic transmission had 3 gears. Why would you need any more?
Extra gears just meant extra complexity. More things to break. Big powerful gas guzzling engines can overcome a lack of gears with pure horsepower. Did I ever dream of owning a ten speed car? Not likely.
Fast forward to 2017. The Ford F150 has a ten speed automatic transmission! Chevy and Honda are using ten speeds in various cars as well with many more models cued up.
If you are a cyclist you have experienced the need for all those gear ratios. There is a sweet spot for pedaling cadence (the revolutions per minute of your pedaling (60 – 100 rpm)) that gives the human the most efficient ride. This cadence strikes a balance between the demand on your muscular system and your cardiovascular system.
An automobile powertrain has a sweet spot as well. That sweet spot is also a revolution per minute cadence of your vehicle’s engine. One rpm value produces the most power (think higher rpm) and another rpm value produces the highest fuel economy (think lower rpm). Those ten ratios allow your vehicle to run in its sweet spot at all speeds.
The drive for higher fuel economy has forced engineers to push transmission technology. The automatic transmission is winning the battle much to the chagrin of those of us who still love our manual transmissions. A ten speed automatic takes up no more space than a five or six speed. Automatics now shift the fastest and smoothest while providing the best fuel economy and to top it all off the quickest acceleration.
I recently experienced a passenger seat perspective of the F150 ten speed on a trip to the BC coast. The shifting was nearly imperceptible. The fuel mileage, for a full size 375 horsepower pickup was very impressive. On a few occasions the wrong gear was chosen, nothing the software engineer couldn’t take care of with a little update.
Fixing ten speeds now has a whole new meaning. Bike mechanic turned auto mechanic.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: email@example.com