Gear Combo Guru
Join Date: May 2007
Bikes: Spec' Tarmac (road), Ridley Fenix (commuter & fast tourer), Salsa Mamasita (MTB), CoMo Speedster (tandem), Surly Big Dummy (cargo), Airnimal (folder)
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I've made this change myself. I never liked the normal compact crank with 34-50 rings because there were no cruising, mid-range gears, that didn't require me to cross-chain and/or double-shift frequently, and the low gears were not that low (compared to a triple crank that I'm more used to). However, I recently decided to upgrade my crank and decided to go with a compact to supplement my triple, and now I switch between them depending on the riding I'm doing. The compact crank came with 34-50 rings, but I almost immediately bought some Stronglight CT2 33 and 48 tooth rings.
Some people might think this small change wouldn't make a difference, but I'm obsessed with gear combinations, ratios, and cadence, and so I can tell the difference. A 3% difference in my cadence in the lowest gear is noticeable to me, and I appreciate having it. I also find that the 48 tooth big ring is better than the 50 tooth because it allows me to stay in the big ring longer without cross-chaining as much, and so I don't need to do the double-shift down to the inner ring as often.
BTW, I also use a 12-28 cassette. I prefer a higher cadence, and I was recently able to put power into the pedals and accelerate up to 75 kph (over 45 mph) with the 48-12 gear, so I certainly don't need any more than that. It helps that my cranks are shorter than average (167.5mm). The 12-28 has FAR better gear spacing than the 11-28 cassettes.
BTW, inner rings don't normally have or need any pins or ramps - the chain just drops onto and gets lifted off. Some might have "gates" built in to help the chain get off the ring, but these aren't even very necessary. Inner rings are pretty simple things. It's the outer rings where all the fancy stuff matters. I've used a lot of TA rings, but I do notice that they wear faster than stock Shimano rings. I've been happy with the Stronglight CT2 rings so far, but haven't put enough distance on them yet (maybe only 3,000 km) to test their durability.
Fortunately, I was able to sell my 34-50 SRAM Red rings to a friend who only had FSA Gossamer rings. You should be able to get something for your old 34 tooth ring if you stick it on e-Bay.