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The Top Five Gears

by Alan Benson

Here at VGG Labs, we set out to test, compare, and rate the five most common manual transmission gears. While we were generally pleased by all the gears' performances, there were some dramatic differences that shined a bright light on the differing travel philosophies of these gears.

(For this ranking, we omitted the controversial reverse. We admire the fun whine it makes while traveling at high speeds, but there was a basic lack of data — you just don't back up long enough to get a good feel for the gear.)

Second: Second on the stick, but tops in our ratings. Second is your go-to gear, the one that gets things done. Stuck in the mud? Go second. Snow halfway up your rims? Go second. And, unlike some gears we could mention, second is content with its place. No highfalutin' airs for this gear; second just hunkers down and does its job. I think we could all learn a thing or two from second gear.

Fifth: Aaah, the cruising gear, the smooth operator, the king. Top gear on the transmission, the long, strong gear that plugs into the electricity of a cross-country road trip. Get into it, set the cruise control, and let your eyes roll back in your head, 'cause fifth is the gear that gets you there.

Fourth: Often overlooked, fourth is so much more than a brief sojurn before fifth. Fourth is the power gear that backs up the high-flying fifth. It's not a gear you'd want to spend a lot of time with, but it's a steady, reliable gear that's there when you need it.

First: A lot of pundits expected first to walk away with this contest, but obviously these observers focused on surface matters (its name, its place at the top of the transmission) and forgot to look at the issues. First has a powerful role early on in a drive, but it's soon obsolete. And, unlike second, it can't help you when there's trouble afoot. First is the Aimee Mann of gears. It starts out useful, exciting, powerful, but before you can say "Voices Carry," it's outmoded, useless, a sanctimonious singer-songwriter in the gearbox of life.

Third: Of all the gears, third is the one most likely to inspire comments like "why is it there?," "who needs it?," and "the one I could do without." If gears were noted character actor Stephen Furst, second would be Stephen Furst in "Animal House" — well-nigh irreplaceable. Third would be Stephen Furst in "Saint Elsewhere" — he fills out the cast, adds the occasional comic relief, but really isn't necessary. A pity.

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