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December 15, 2017
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  • jules

    I consider myself a reasonably competent cyclist, in the amateur/club middle of the road cyclist sense. My take on gear selection is:
    a. for general riding, a compact and decent range cassette is ideal. you will eventually encounter a steep hill and thank yourself
    b. for racing, the above may catch you out in exceptional circumstances such as a fast descent leading into a climb where a compact can mean losing 50-100m if you spin out. that can end your race. or if you’re a sprinter. 53×11 is probably justified.

    the majority of bunch/weekend riders have little need for a 53×11

    • Ragtag

      You should try the 52/36.

      • jules

        am running that now. it’s good, a 50 is just a bit too restricted for racing sometimes

    • I still remember switching to 11sp and being pissed that Shimano only offered a 12 tooth with a decent range in Dura Ace. I gained an extra gear, and it was an 11 – one that I didn’t care for. The best move I made was to a 52/36 front (previously 53/39) as it gives rise to the utility of the 11.

  • I remember starting out with a 52×39, and 11-23—having no understanding of ratios or gears (my old mans bike). Loved to climb and yet was an absolute battle… trying to do Mt. Nebo & Mt. Glorious, or backside of Mt. Coot-tha was a struggle. Good strengthening but cadence was like 45rpm at times ha. Didn’t help it was an aluminum beast. Always felt the need “if only I had two more gears”.

    Eventially changed to 11×25 and that helped a little bit. The next bike after that went compact (50×34, and 11-28). No regrets! Definitely feel there isn’t much difference in some of the ratios (middle between big, n’ small cog), but have more than enough gears for climbing (pinches in particular).

    The dream bike on the way is 52×36, and 11-30. Wondering how that change will feel…

  • Karl

    Crank also has a small effect. Not so much on gearing per se, as mechanical efficiency can be compensated for, but you’ll notice different leverage or leg speed at very low or high cadences.

    • Wily_Quixote

      I replaced my 175+ mm cranks with 165mm a few months ago and simultaneously went from a standard to semi-compact gear range.

      it is not easy to determine, but it feels similar to what i had before; that is, the gearing gave me lower gears but the crank length gives me less leverage in each gear – someone with the right formula could work out the difference.

      I feel that changing crank length does make a tangible difference to gearing.

      • Calvin Cals Loi

        Definitly there is Wily , check out sheldonbrown’s gain ratio concept, I am on 153mm’s and was wondering why I’d always felt weak or slowed down on sudden changes of ascent momentarily; as though i hit the brakes, later on i found this was the issue. When you are on shorter your ratios might not reflect the normal crank tooth range. My 155’s were like having 56T and 42’s on semi’s. Fire away and have fun. Btw im on sub compacts now 48/33T. https://www.sheldonbrown.com/gain.html

  • Avuncular

    ” In time, road transmissions may progress to the point where intelligent shifting becomes a reality, stepping in to preserve the efficiency of the human engine rather than leaving the choice of gearing in the hands of an inexperienced rider. While this notion may offend the purists, there is the promise that it will free riders from the burden of operating the gears so they are better able to enjoy the activity. And at that stage, there will be no need for them to ponder the nuances of gear ratios.”
    While it may in future offer peace of mind to the gearing challenged, for now when I sometimes see a cyclist pushing a huge gear (53/11) in the mistaken belief that grinding is a good workout, they have no idea about what their gears are for. So if I use the analogy of a car and changing gears to start off in first then build up to 5th for highway speeds, they look blankly at me because they all drive automatics.
    Pity so many cassettes still start at 11 or at best 12 when I would readily dump them for a 14 and get more at the lower end. I’m a bit more careful descending these days being of a certain age to not need an 11.
    Re 29T limit for Campag, fwiw I can get a 11 speed 11-32 Shimano cassette to play well with a 2014 Record derailleur just by tweaking the B screw. Also I find a DA 50 /36 for mostly flat riding is my ideal chainset. Shimano say it won’t work or even advise against it but has been faultless in operation.

    • Bob

      Those beliefs are not always mistaken. Early season low cadence strength work on hills is a proven training strategy.

      • Avuncular

        True but not these folk.

    • winkybiker

      My son sometimes rides in a way-too-big gear. He asserts that it is to get a better workout. I tell him to just ride faster.

      Another reason inexperienced cyclists are often in a gear that is too high is that their shifters, derailleurs and gearing doesn’t really work. Once they find a gear that doesn’t skip or grind, and that they don’t spin out, they just leave it there.

    • Lewis Kinch

      “I would readily dump them for a 14 and get more at the lower end”
      Why not get an 11-21 and smaller chainrings? 53/14 would be the same as a 42/11

  • Spartacus

    Well I now know a lot more about this topic that I think I ever need :)

  • Sunny Ape

    One of the issues with Shimano now making their chainrings in matched pairs with the outer having chain guide ramps, it’s hard to ‘make up’ your preferred combination. For commuting, my new Tiagra compact cranks came with 34/50T, but I found the 34T waaayyy too low and put in a 36T inner ring. However, every now and then, when down-changing, the chain goes between the two chainrings for a couple of seconds while my legs spin around futily (or futiley for you in the USA).

    With the older, flat chainrings with just pickup pins, you could mix-n-match more easily. My club bike has a 5 bolt 110BCD crank that came with 34/50T. Too low for my intended use, so I swapped in 38/52T. Got an 11-28 cassette on my training wheels and my go fast wheels have an 11-25 cassette. Perfect for me.

    Getting those odd sizes is getting harder too.

    • jules

      the inner chainrings look bi-directional but they have a slightly different offset on each side. if you install it the wrong way, the inner ring sits just ever so slightly inboard enough for the chin to fall into the gap.

      • Sunny Ape

        Yeah, I checked that. It’s the mis-match with the outer ring that’s the cause. It guides the chain down, but the 36T ‘intercepts’ the chain a wee bit early on the ramp, before it’s in the perfect spot inboard. The issue only happens once every 50 or so down-changes, but it’s a wild surprise to have your legs going like a drake on cocaine until the chain gets picked up!

        Shimano have also pulled a little swifty with the new Tiagra 4800 cranks and chainrings. The crank arms are a bit wider than 105 and have no machined inset. If you try to put the 4800 chainrings on a 105 crank, they sit outboard slightly more and you definitely get all sorts of issues. Probably done to stop 105 owners from using the much, much cheaper 4800 chainrings, which, even though officially 10sp, work fine with 11sp.

        Shimano sure know how to guarantee their spare parts revenue, eh ;)

  • George Darroch

    The trend to compact and sub-compact chain and cassette combinations is making this worse, not better.

    I bought a 50-34/11-32 bike thinking it would make a good commuter, but changing from the big to the small ring means immediately going up or down several ratios to maintain any kind of cadence. I never had this experience on my old 52-39/11-25 setup.

    • Stewie Griffin

      I have the same feeling, 50/34 doesn’t work for me. A semi compact is much better, but the jump in 52 to 36 is still large (to me). I prefer my standard 53/39 and would switch to 53/38 with a 11-28 cassette in the back for mountainous terrain. 11-32 if needed for 8% + constant gradient. But I don’t really like the big jumps in the cassette at the back, there’s always a sweetspot of cadence you miss when shifting gears from 15 to 17 or from 17 to 19

    • winkybiker

      Yeah, I don’t like the compact gears for any other reason than it gives me a really low gear for steep climbs. That’s the only benefit. I don’t like the big jump at the front, I don’t like that I have to shift the front more often, and I don’t care at all that I get to “spend more time in the big chainring”.

    • Larry @CycleItalia

      Funny, I complained about the 52/39 setups for the same reason when they came out. Gimmee 52/42/32 or 30 please.

    • winkybiker

      I hope you’re not riding that stupid e-Tap where simultaneous shifts aren’t possible. I shift front and back together all the time when I’m on a compact.

    • pedr09

      Started riding a compact 5 years ago and will never go back. It gives me so much comfort when climbing and I am yet to run out of gears when the pace is on with my bunch, and they go fast. I’ve been asked a few times by friends how fast they need to go to get rid of me and my pathetic compact and I reply, about 65 km/hr on the flat. Downhill, I can draft effectively to stay on. For racing, I’d go a mid or full size, but for general riding, a compact wins.

  • singlespeedscott

    I just wish the big players would offer a proper sub compact crankset, ie a 46/30. When they introduced their new bcd 4 arm cranks they had the perfect opertunity to do so but missed the boat.

    A 46 tooth chainring is all a commuter cyclist or gravel rider needs. It allows you to stay in the big ring with a good selection of close ratios on the lower end of the cassette. A bail out gear is just further up the cassette. When it really gets steep on loose gravel a 30 tooth is a god send when paired with a 32 cog at the top of the cassette.

    • winkybiker

      What you’re talking about is essentially a 1X with a bailout.

    • Carl Hoffman

      I’m pretty sure FSA is (or has already) releasing exactly what you are talking about.


      • singlespeedscott

        There are plenty of good options out there, my point is the big players chose to ignore this option when they had the opportunity to do so.

        • Larry @CycleItalia

          The big players are big players who don’t care about niche markets. If they can’t sell X of anything they don’t bother. I assume that’s why Campagnolo eventually dropped their triple options, the last one being Athena 3 X 11. As to “Q Factor” I can’t tell the difference when I ride a double crankset vs triple nor can I detect the other complaint I hear often – the supposed slower shifting in the rear blamed on the longer cage derailleur – but I’m not often sprinting against Kittel so it wouldn’t matter anyway.

          • reippuert

            Campy still has tripple – unfortunately only powertorque, and not ultratorque.
            Optimal for most would acually be 52/42/30 with an 11 speed 13,14,15,16,17,18,19,21,23,26,29 casette provideing a nice tight casette for both flat and rolling hills + a decent lowend for both long and realy steep climbs.

            I have never understood WHY shimano and SRAM finds it so hard to come up with decent tripple front shifting when Campy nailed it from day one with their microshift right hand levers and EPS chainrings. Decent fromt shifting isnt about the derailure, its about chainrings and shifter

            • Larry @CycleItalia

              PowerTorque is now gone, along with the triples. No triples are currently being produced by Campagnolo and none are shown on their current website though NOS may still be available. The Potenza groupset was briefly PowerTorque+ but now everything but the track crank features UltraTorque. Your gearing wish is the same as mine, which is why I currently ride an almost identical 10 speed setup on my personal bike in Italy.

    • Larry @CycleItalia

      Seems you’re not the only one who wants this, but I’ll stick to my 52/42/30 crankset and enjoy wide range + small gaps between ratios.

  • Larry @CycleItalia

    “At this point, it is worth noting that 3x transmissions can overcome much of this kind of compromise, extending the range of low gear ratios while preserving a modest rate of progression (though this will ultimately depend on the choice of rear sprockets). However, 3x transmissions have largely disappeared from the market, and for those products that still persist, they may not always be compatible with a contemporary road frame.”
    Sad but true – killed off by the stigma attached to a “granny gear”. Over the decades I’ve seen all kinds of bastardized double crank setups with gawdawful shifting progressions solely to avoid a third chainring. WTF? They’ll have to pry my Campagnolo triple road groupsets from my cold, dead legs!

    • Sunny Ape

      Nah, let triple cranks die. I had one for years and don’t miss it all. Modern 2x road groupsets can easily cope with 34 up front and 34 at the back, so you can get down to one-to-one; the granny’s granny gear. The limit is the rear derailleur’s design, which has moved ahead since the days of 3x

      • reippuert

        52/36 – cant see the point. Still has the weakness of 50/34 (16t jump)
        53/39 – doesnt really help. Still 14t jump.
        52/42 is quete a joy as jump is usefull for roling terrain.
        52/42/30 (or28) preserves the small jump for rolling terrain and gives you a usefull lowend for real climbing – and pair with a tight cassette compared to the wide range casettes of today (and the stupid idea of 1×11 for road use)

        • Sunny Ape

          Yes, but only if you don’t do anything with the rear cassette at the same time you change up front. If you simultaneously shift at the rear, everything evens out. With a 3x, you have lots more gear overlap than 2x, so there’s lots of wasted shifting. Plus the extra weight and the wider Q factor. All added together, it was a solution to a problem that modern derailleurs solved years ago.

          But if you’re adamant of their benefits, live long and prospect.

          • Morten Reippuert Knudsen

            with 53/39, 52/36, 50/34 you need to make 1 shifts on the rear every time you shift the front (and 2 rear shifts if you have wide castte)

    • singlespeedscott

      I don’t like the wider q factor associated with triples on a road bike. On the mountain bike the wider q doesn’t seem to bother me as much. I guess you spend a lot less time seated on the mountain bike versus the roadie.

      • PutMeBackonmyBike

        You should try my fat bike – it has Godzilla’s preferred Q factor. It is lovely going back to my road bike in March!

    • pervertt

      My first carbon bike – a 21 year old Giant CFR3 – had 46 36 26 triple chainrings that I was told was only suitable for ‘weak’ recreational riders. For years I considered changing this to something with a more manly chainring combination. Then I got my wish when I bought my second carbon bike, this time with proper 53 39 chainrings paired with a 11-23 cassette. I quickly found this combo to be murder on the knees as my house is near the top of a hill. Every ride finished with a torturous uphill grind. I somehow managed to put up with it for 5 years before flogging off bike no. 2. The beauty of the triple crankset is the smaller 10 tooth jump between the chainrings. The downside is the occasional mis-shift, dropping down from 46 to 26 when I was looking for the middle ring.

  • Fenton Crackshell

    I recently spec’d a 2X11 “do it all” drivetrain for my only drop bar bike, which needs to race cross and gravel, and keep up on fast group rides on the road. I settled on the new Ultegra 11-34 cassette and a Praxis Zayante 48-36 crankset. In the Bay area, gravity is all you need to descend so I rarely ever spin out in 48X11. I also a find a 36T chainring perfect for the majority of my climbing and the gaps on the 11-34 are very reasonable. For cross, the 12 tooth jump in chainrings in still manageable, and much quicker than having to sift through 4 gears on a 1X system. In short, I think you can cover the spectrum really well with closely space chainrings and these new wider cassettes. I wonder if we will see more options for 48-36 or 50-36 cranks.

    • Alex

      I live in the SF Bay Area as well and I disagree about the gravity bit. I have spun out my 52×11 going down a few descents, Hwy9 for example.

  • JRF

    To the last point about “intelligent shifting”, I don’t see that happening for a simple reason: everyone’s had the experience of driving an automatic transmission car up a long, steep hill and having it jump back and forth between gears. While that’s fine (if somewhat annoying) in the car, it would be miserable on a bike. Sequential manual shifting like Shimano now offers with Di2 makes a lot more sense to me. In my experience it’s the front shifting that really throws newbies for a loop, but they get the idea of easier->harder on the rear.

    Actually, just had a thought, which is that you could potentially tie in power data to an automatic transmission, so it wouldn’t shift unless below a specific power threshold. There are a lot of variables and situations you’d have to account for, but that’s the only way I could see it working. Sequential manual still makes more sense to me.

  • Michal Toman

    I can’t understand how the industry determined that people now want 52/36 rings, even on ‘enduro’ bikes. Sure, if you are a fit young male, who does lots of grouprides and/or races, it’s good. But vast majority of people I see are simply over-geared, especially the poor newcomers and women who were not given any real choice. No wonder that not many of them want to ride bikes uphill, if at all. I am reasonably fit young male, decent at climbing, and 48/34 is fine for me, and can even imagine 46/32 or something like that with a nice 11-26 cassete for close gears. Kudos to FSA for making these smaller chainrings.

  • Will Eigo

    This author is a genius in the combined sense he knows humans as cyclists, he understands sprocket/chain power transmission and he writes and exhibits it in the easiest of text.

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