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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 05-16-08, 08:42 AM   #1
AirBeagle1
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Should I Change to a Triple?

As I've started tackling areas with more and more hills to improve my climbing, I've started finding myself on relatively small 8-10% grade hills fairly regularly, where I'm in my easiest gear but still struggling fairly hard to keep myself moving up the hill -- I still make it up and haven't walked up a hill yet, but I definitely get the HR going pretty well and can usually feel the muscle fatigue. If it gets really rough, I've been switching to a higher gear, standing, and mashing my way up the hill, but am pretty sure this isn't the greatest habit to get into, especially with a knee that's been bothering me. Hence my question:

I currently have a compact double on my bike, 50/34 in front, and 12-25 in back, giving me a smallest gear of 34-25, for a gain ratio of 2.6 (Shimano FC-R600). Should this be sufficient and do I just need to improve my hill training, or should I be seriously contemplating an eventual conversion to a triple chainring? I'm not terribly worried about bike weight, and if this gearing should be sufficient, I can definitely 'HTFU,' as they say in the road forums, and keep working at it. But really I want to know if I'm doing something stupid by sticking with the compact double. Thanks for your expertise!
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Old 05-16-08, 09:07 AM   #2
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It's really up to you, but I would seriously consider a triple, but that will probably mean you would have to swap out a few other parts like the FD, front shifter and I am not sure what else. Another option could be a wider range cassette in the rear. Maybe a 12-27 or higher.

Good luck.
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Old 05-16-08, 10:59 AM   #3
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I'd recommend sticking with what you have. I looked at your blog, and the stats say you're a pretty strong rider for someone who has only been at it for such a short time. You will get stronger and the hills will become easier but it takes time. You could always switch to a triple later if you don't notice gradual improvement, but I predict that if you wait you won't switch.

I have a hybrid with a triple and easy gears, an old Motobecane (double) and a newer Bianchi (double) where the lowest gear ratios are 32/28, 42/32 and 39/28 respectively. Got the hybrid a couple of years ago thinking it would let me do hillier rides. Now there are hardly any hills where I would prefer the hybrid -- mainly mountain roads with insane 20%+ grades. All that bike does is let me ride slower more comfortably. To get the speeds I consider acceptable I would have to work as hard or harder on the hybrid. For riding with a group of normal club riders or on a century ride it would be useless.

Something I have discovered from riding with people slower than me is that hills can be much easier if you just slow down! (Strangely, I find this very difficult to do when riding alone.)

General observation from riding with a lot of other people is that triples are basically for people who either don't ride a lot or have serious health issues (severe overweight, emphysema, etc.)
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Old 05-16-08, 11:15 AM   #4
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If I were you, I would consider gettting a new 11/28, or 12/28 cassette, before switching the front to a triple. There is a good chance that you won't have to change anything else on the bike but the cassette.

My new bike has a 50/34 in the front and 11/28 in the back (tiagra front derailure, 105 short-cage rear derailure). The resistance feels VERY close to my wife's triple when it is on the 30 chainring in the front and the 25 cog in the rear.

It would be woth a try. You should make sure that your derailures will handle it, but most compact crank bikes are newer, and can take the range of gears.

Good luck!
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Old 05-16-08, 11:23 AM   #5
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people who either don't ride a lot or have serious health issues (severe overweight, emphysema, etc.)

Funny!



If you are just starting, then yes it gets better with time, much better! I'd say switch to a 27 if you really need it. A triple will cost much more to convert. Cranks, rear derailleur and shifters ($400?), that's big money. Cogsets can be $50'ish ?
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Old 05-16-08, 11:26 AM   #6
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If I were you, I would consider gettting a new 11/28, or 12/28 cassette, before switching the front to a triple. There is a good chance that you won't have to change anything else on the bike but the cassette.
+ 1

I ride a lot of hills, mostly long, moderate (7% - 10%) grades.
34/48 compact crank
11-32 9spd cassette

Going triple means a new FD, new BB, and new cranks if your current ones don't have a 2nd bolt circle.
Going big in back (really big; like MTB and touring big) means a new cassette and maybe RD. Much cheaper in the long run, and you can still get the crazy low gearing like my 34-32 combo.
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Old 05-16-08, 11:28 AM   #7
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It would be cheaper to switch to an 11-28 cassette. That said if your knees are having a rough time than I'd get the triple. I ride a double (50/36) w/ an 11-28 on the back (9-speed). I am getting faster on the hills for the same level of exertion. But to get there I just adjusted my thoughts the way the previous poster suggests and simpley slowed down a little. It still hurt but there wasn't a desire to get off the bike and stop for a minute (I refuse to walk unless I have a mechanical).
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Old 05-16-08, 11:37 AM   #8
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It's really up to you, but I would seriously consider a triple, but that will probably mean you would have to swap out a few other parts like the FD, front shifter and I am not sure what else. Another option could be a wider range cassette in the rear. Maybe a 12-27 or higher.
Keep in mind that a 27-tooth cog is the largest that many rear dérailleurs will handle. I made this mistake recently... It might pay to check the specs on the front dérailleur, though. Many will handle a 20 or 22-tooth difference between the large and small chain rings. So, in theory you could run a 50/30 or 50/28 combined with the 12-27 cassette. Obviously, a 50/30 compact double will give you the same set of low gears as a 50/39/30 triple.

Unfortunately, none of this really helps. I've got an older triple (52/42/30) combined with an 11-28 cassette and steep climbs still hurt... The big advantage of the triple is that there's a lot of overlap in gearing from one chain ring to the next, so I don't have to do double shifts as frequently; a distinct advantage since I have bar-end shifters and older components.
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Old 05-16-08, 11:41 AM   #9
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I have a mtb range on the bike AND a triple - and there's a few hills that I'm really glad I have them (maxed out in the small ring - big gear combo 4 times in the last month). Since I'm still exploring they can also sneak up on me

Don't be scared from the cost - if you have a good bike shop that keeps a lot of spare parts around you could get a triple from a used parts bin (I did) for $20 though the bb will probably also need to be swapped (upgrade to sealed if not already) along with long armed rear deraileur. I'd do it all again in a heart beat - one day I may have a double but I doubt it. You may be able to skip the front deraileur and just kick the chain over when needed.
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Old 05-16-08, 11:42 AM   #10
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Can you also modify your standing technique to be less stressful on your knee? Standing to ride for hills is supposed to be good for maintaining bone density. I notice the more I stand, the more I tweak my rhythm to synchronize it with the bike's motion so it is more efficient, less tiring, and I am not lunging like a wild man.
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Old 05-16-08, 11:43 AM   #11
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Obviously, a 50/30 compact double will give you the same set of low gears as a 50/39/30 triple.
34t is the smallest ring (AFAIK) you can fit on a 110bcd compact crank unless it's also set up with a 74bcd inner for a triple. Then you've got to fart around with getting the FD to swing far enough, make sure your BB spindle is long enough to clear a 30t ring at the stays, and/or move your current outer ring to the inside (and get short bolts) to accomodate for the appropriate spacing between the chainrings.
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Old 05-16-08, 12:05 PM   #12
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Can you also modify your standing technique to be less stressful on your knee? Standing to ride for hills is supposed to be good for maintaining bone density. I notice the more I stand, the more I tweak my rhythm to synchronize it with the bike's motion so it is more efficient, less tiring, and I am not lunging like a wild man.
Hmm - I always heard that standing is really bad for hills because of the strain on your knees.
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Old 05-16-08, 12:07 PM   #13
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General observation from riding with a lot of other people is that triples are basically for people who either don't ride a lot or have serious health issues (severe overweight, emphysema, etc.)
guess you've never met anyone touring eh?
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Old 05-16-08, 12:14 PM   #14
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Thanks for all the advice. Makes a lot of sense, I hadn't considered switching the rear cassette.

Think I'll stick with my current setup for the present as walter231 recommends, just from the standpoint of being the easiest (laziest) thing to do -- but if it continues to be a problem as I progress through the season, will look at adjusting the rear cassette to give me one or two easier gearings. When I get in trouble on these hills, it feels like I really only need one more gear to be in better shape while remaining seated (then again, isn't that always the case?) :-) TRULY appreciate all the help, thanks!

Oh, twobikes -- As for standing rhythm, I think I'm doing pretty well there, and have found I can stand a LOT longer to climb than I could previously, but I definitely know what you're talking about. My issue with getting up the hill by standing isn't really strength -- I don't run out of "muscle energy," so to speak -- it's the knee pain. And I don't mind working through it to some extent, but the added wear on the knee is something I can't afford, given that I'm trying very hard to avoid a trip back to the orthopod.
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Old 05-16-08, 12:30 PM   #15
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My issue with getting up the hill by standing isn't really strength -- I don't run out of "muscle energy," so to speak -- it's the knee pain. And I don't mind working through it to some extent, but the added wear on the knee is something I can't afford, given that I'm trying very hard to avoid a trip back to the orthopod.
If that's the case (as it was for me) then I'd really think about going to a triple. I did it for that reason as well and I can spin very comfortably up some steep hills now without putting strain on my knees.
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Old 05-16-08, 12:55 PM   #16
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. My issue with getting up the hill by standing isn't really strength -- I don't run out of "muscle energy," so to speak -- it's the knee pain. And I don't mind working through it to some extent, but the added wear on the knee is something I can't afford, given that I'm trying very hard to avoid a trip back to the orthopod.
If you have a history of knee problems and it hurts your knee to stand to climb then I would strongly urge you to look at the triple. I'm guessing you'll be ok to keep with your current set up for a while to see if things improve. But, if I were in your shoes I'd go triple to take care of your knees given your desire to avoid surgery. Falls under the category of better safe than sorry in my book. That said, I ride a compact as I mentioned before.
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Old 05-16-08, 01:12 PM   #17
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guess you've never met anyone touring eh?
Only a couple of times. I also wouldn't want to do Mt. Washington without modifying my regular setup, and I'm sure there are other circumstances that call for a more extended range. I was thinking in terms of typical recreation/fitness riders who make up the great majority. Btw I was not intending to be funny or put down people with triple chainings. I often ride with people who do less than 1000 miles/year, I have a friend with emphysema and a triple chainring, and if I gain back the extra 30 lbs. I had two years ago I'm sure my hybrid will be back on the road more often. OP seems not like the type to need or even want a triple, as long as he doesn't over do it and trash his knee.
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Old 05-16-08, 01:40 PM   #18
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Thanks for all the advice. Makes a lot of sense, I hadn't considered switching the rear cassette.

Think I'll stick with my current setup for the present as walter231 recommends, just from the standpoint of being the easiest (laziest) thing to do -- but if it continues to be a problem as I progress through the season, will look at adjusting the rear cassette to give me one or two easier gearings. When I get in trouble on these hills, it feels like I really only need one more gear to be in better shape while remaining seated (then again, isn't that always the case?) :-) TRULY appreciate all the help, thanks!

Oh, twobikes -- As for standing rhythm, I think I'm doing pretty well there, and have found I can stand a LOT longer to climb than I could previously, but I definitely know what you're talking about. My issue with getting up the hill by standing isn't really strength -- I don't run out of "muscle energy," so to speak -- it's the knee pain. And I don't mind working through it to some extent, but the added wear on the knee is something I can't afford, given that I'm trying very hard to avoid a trip back to the orthopod.
Reading this makes me think I should qualify my response. If knee pain is the main issue that's a whole 'nother thing. I'm not a physician, but, intuitively, stressing an injured joint into the pain zone seems like a bad idea. Possible alternatives: (1) Try taking the hill much slower from the start; (2) Stay off the tougher hills altogether for a while; (3) Bigger cog and/or smaller ring. Definitely DON'T feel knee pain on rides without a clear okay from a doctor who understands the problem and knows exactly what you are doing.
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Old 05-16-08, 01:47 PM   #19
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Given a choice between two identical bikes, the only difference being one has a triple and one has a double, I'd always pick the triple. Why not have access to the range a triple allows?? I do live in a hilly area, spend several weeks a year on tour, and ride daily.

Unless you're racing, or riding in flat areas only, get a triple if you have the choice. Why punish yourself? Riding is supposed to be fun.
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Old 05-16-08, 02:04 PM   #20
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I think I'd go to the 12-27 and save the 12-25 for when you get stronger and/or need a new cassette.
Some have recommended an 11-28, but if you currently don't use the 12, you'd have TWO cogs you don't use.
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Old 05-16-08, 02:28 PM   #21
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I went with a compac and a 12/27 cassette for the bike I bought at Christmas time and so far I'm very satisfied. I live in S.W. PA. right next to WV. we have lots of hills around here, so far I've been able to handle them. I haven't done all the steepest ones that I did last year with my triple ring hybrid last year but I feel I could. Unless your going to specialize in climbing the Blue Ridge parkway or Mount Washington I say stick with the Compac and a 12/27 cassette. JM.02
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Old 05-16-08, 03:42 PM   #22
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34t is the smallest ring (AFAIK) you can fit on a 110bcd compact crank unless it's also set up with a 74bcd inner for a triple.
Yeah, you're right. I just finished TIG welding my first mountain bike frame, so I've got triples on the brain... Looks like all of the Shimano road front dérailleurs only support a 16T difference between the large and small chain ring, with 50T being the smallest size supported for the large chain ring.
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Old 06-04-08, 06:25 AM   #23
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Well, based on all the input, and a repeat performance on some hills that tells me I need an easier gear to save the knee, I decided to change the rear cassette. Local Bike Shop that takes care of me can order either a Shimano 12-27 or an SRAM 11-28. Cost is pretty much the same, so I'm tending to lean toward the 11-28 (would hate to have bought a 12-27 cassette and found the 27 isn't QUITE enough). Thanks for the great advice -- I'll let you know how it works out!
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Old 06-04-08, 07:18 AM   #24
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You may want to also try an 11 or 12 x 32 (can get through Nashbar for $20 or so) if you need a little extra, though you'll probably need a few extra links in your chain (possibly the same for that 28 too).

Good luck!
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Old 06-04-08, 07:51 AM   #25
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probably cheaper to try a 12-27 first. you can get a 105 cassette on sale for a very reasonable price. sram has an 11-28 but, according to the specs, only a force short cage rd can handle it (when you run a std dbl). also, it's more pricey than the shimano. others have told me shimano and rival rd's are fine with a 28. with a compact dbl, you should be fine.

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