Choosing Appropriate Gearing for Cycling

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09/23/2005| 0 comments
by Travis Woodruff

Choosing Appropriate Gearing for Cycling

We?ve all seen Lance Armstrong spin his trademark high cadence up the mountains while his counterparts turn bigger gears.

an efficient climbing cadence.

So what gearing option is most suitable for your riding? There are a couple of important considerations. First, are most of your rides on flat roads, in the mountains, or somewhere in between? Second, what is your current fitness level? A Cat I racer will be able to use standard gears with an optimal cadence while riding up most climbs. In this situation there is little or no need for lower gearing. If you are very fit or ride mostly flat to gently rolling terrain, a standard double crankset with a standard rear cassette will likely work just fine. However, if you're a novice rider, someone who often does long rides, or a beginner racer, the lower gears of a triple or compact crank may be helpful. Riders and racers living in very hilly or mountainous areas, serious and novice alike, prefer the versatility of a compact crankset coupled with an 11-23 cassette. Touring or recreational riders may prefer the even smaller gear ratios that come with a triple chainring configuration. The smaller third ring typically will have 30 teeth, giving its rider a very low gearing option for the steepest of climbs.

Changing Out Your Gears

Now that you have an idea of what gearing to look for, you can confidently select the appropriate gearing for you. The following will provide a brief overview of what each conversion will require if you are looking to upgrade your current bike.

Switching to a compact crank setup is really quite simple. In most instances, the only necessary purchase is of the crankset itself. Once the new crank is installed you will have to reposition the front derailleur and properly shorten the chain to accommodate for the smaller chainrings. Standard front derailleurs are designed to work with a 14-tooth drop between rings. Even though a 50x34 setup has a 16-tooth drop, proper shifting can be achieved since the rings are smaller and the physical gap is nearly the same. Still, some people have had trouble using a standard front derailleur with their compact rings so companies are now producing foolproof compact specific front derailleurs. With these adjustments made you should have a smooth working setup. The price of a quality compact crank with chainrings will start at around $250.

Converting to a triple crank setup is a more expensive and mechanically involved process. You will need to purchase the crankset, bottom bracket, front derailleur, front shift/brake lever, chain, and a rear derailleur. A triple-compatible front derailleur will allow for the greater chain movement, while the triple-specific shift lever will have the extra detents necessary for the third chainring. The new bottom bracket will be wider so that the chainrings will be aligned properly with the frame. A long cage rear derailleur is necessary to accommodate for the increased chain wrap that the setup requires. The new chain will be longer than the original to fit the longer cage derailleur. This combination of parts will likely cost you anywhere from $350 on up.

Switching to a different rear cassette

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