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  1. #1
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    Doubles, Triples, and Shifting

    Let me start off by saying that Iím not looking to start a war here or anything, Iím just looking for some thoughts/opinions from other riders who arenít 130 lbs and saving half a gram by getting a slightly lighter component! For reference, I ride on the roads through the hills of central PA. I try to ride 10-15 miles 3-5 days during the week, and on weekends I try to get in one or two 20-25 mile rides. I just had arthroscopic knee surgery about two months ago and Iíve been back out on the bike for about week now. I'm 6'5, and as of yesterday morning I weighed 269. I ride a Giant FCR 2 and Iím starting to look into buying a new road bike either later this year or early next year. So, with that all out of the way, Iíll get started:

    About a year ago, when I was looking at bikes for the first time since being a child, I tried out two bikes at a shop. One was a Scott Speedster S30 with a 105 double on it, and the other was a Cannondale CAAD9-6 with a Tiagra triple on it. I wasnít very experienced and I only rode them around the block a few times, but the shifting on the Scott felt much smoother and just ďnicerĒ. Ultimately, I went to a different shopt that I'm much happier with.

    My question is this: was the reason for the smoother/nicer shifting due more to the better 105 setup, or due to the fact that it was a double?

    A few things have brought this up, but it comes down to the fact that the LBS that I use sells Giant bikes exclusively. With that being said, I was almost set on picking up a 2010 Giant Defy 1. I like the 105 setup and the fact that itís a triple. I spend the majority of my rides on the middle chainring, but I go up or down when I need to; whether itís to find a more suitable gear, or just to keep a straight chainline. Now Iím hearing that the 2010ís are getting scarce already and that the 2011ís should be hitting stores sometime in August. That means changes, and one thing that is rumored, is that the SRAM Apex will come with some entry-level road bikes. Iíve read about this a bit, but since itís a double with an extended cassette, and since I spend most of my current rides on the middle chainring, would this create the need to for much more shifting up front and therefore less smooth shifting and a more inconvenient ride?

    Maybe itís not going to be an issue and only time will tell what the 2011ís have, and I should just wait and see?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    A triple can shift as good as a double but they require a more skilled mechanic to do it and they tend to need more attention. I would bet that the triple you tried in the LBS wasn't set up optimally. The triple will give you a little wider range of gearing for the hills. If you need that then the triple is for you. If you don't a double or maybe a compact double would be the ticket. Personally, a little fussy shifting is worth having the right gear when I need it.
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  3. #3
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    Well, I'm really only looking to go to a compact double if it's what comes on the bike, and the thought is that it might be the SRAM Apex. From what I've heard about it, it gives a bit more range on both the top and bottom. The SRAM website mentions that it should be smoother because it's a double, but I guess they have to say that...haha.

    All in all, manufacturers are going to need to give their entry-level road bikes a good range of gears for those of us who want/need them...it's just a matter of whether they do it with a Shimano triple or a SRAM double with the extended range. I guess that's what I'm looking to figure out...which would be the better/smoother shifting option? Especially for someone who currently stays mostly on the middle chainring of a triple.

  4. #4
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    I can only speak from my own experience. one triple has a finicky front derailer alignment issue meaning if it is not dead on I have to finagle it to get what I want, the other triple is solid as a rock and is always flawless. go figure ...
    Last edited by rumrunn6; 06-02-10 at 11:38 AM.
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  5. #5
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    I had a triple on my first bike, a hybrid road bike. It was the Sora group, a flat bar bike. I was nervous about giving up the triple since everything around here is really hilly.

    I bought a Fuji road bike with SRAM Rival. I don't miss the triple at all. The triple's granny gear was 30-25, and the compact on my road bike is 34-25. The difference is not that noticable. If you are looking at SRAM Apex, I think you can get up to a 30 or so on the cassette, so with a compact crank (50/43) you should have plenty of gearing. A couple observations,

    -The triple doesn't really have that much more gear range, because a lot of the gears overlap. Meaning on the smallest ring, only the biggest 3 or so cogs on the back give you something you can't get with the middle ring. And on the big ring, only the smallest 2 or 3 cogs get you something you can't get on the middle ring.

    - My road bike shifts WAY crisper, more positive, etc. than my triple. Most of it is probably due to the increased quality of components.

    Again, I have no problem with a triple, when I started out it was perfect. 95% or more of my riding was in the middle ring, that was good from about 8 mph up to 25 or so mph. But I don't ever plan on going back to a triple. If I ever need more than what I have now, I'm going to buy an Apex rear der. and cassette.

  6. #6
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    I currently own a touring bike with a Shimano Ultegra Triple drivetrain and a road bike with a compact double SRAM Red drivetrain. I've ridden 105, Dura-Ace, Dura-Ace Di2, and quite a few of the mountain bike component groups. A few thoughts:

    1) SRAM does not shift smoothly when compared to Shimano. Their components have other virtues, but smoothness isn't one of them

    2) The Ultegra triple shifts as well as anything else I've ever used. As homeyba suggests, setting it up took a bit more time than a double. Maintenance is about the same as a double, from what I can tell; it rarely requires any adjustment

    3) The compact double requires a bit more front shifting than the triple for me. On the triple, I can get away with using the middle chainring for most stuff. With the compact, I'm more likely to have to shift between the big and small rings. Especially true since the SRAM shifters only have one "trim" position, unlike Shimano

    4) Anything I can climb with the triple (52/39/30+12-27 cassette), I can also climb with the compact double (50/34+11-28 cassette); the range of available gear ratios is really pretty similar

    If you value smooth shifts above anything else, you'll probably want to stick with Shimano components...

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    Thanks for that post sstorkel, I'm giving some thought to double vs triple for my next bike.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sstorkel View Post
    3) The compact double requires a bit more front shifting than the triple for me. On the triple, I can get away with using the middle chainring for most stuff. With the compact, I'm more likely to have to shift between the big and small rings. Especially true since the SRAM shifters only have one "trim" position, unlike Shimano

    4) Anything I can climb with the triple (52/39/30+12-27 cassette), I can also climb with the compact double (50/34+11-28 cassette); the range of available gear ratios is really pretty similar
    These are two good points. I did test ride the compact double enough to know I was comforatable doing most of my riding in the 50T. And I agree a compact double has very similar gear ratios available compared to a triple.

    As far as the SRAM/Shimano debate, I will agree to disagree

  9. #9
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    Great points...thanks! I guess a compact double doesn't sound like it would be that much of a major difference.

    Now, not to start a Shimano/SRAM war...I'm honestly just trying to understand; I've read that SRAM doesn't shift as smooth as Shimano, but I've also read about a majority preferring SRAM. What is the reason for this?

    I guess coming from a lower level of Shimano components, either would be an upgrade for me! Oh, and the SRAM Apex coming on the 2011 bikes is purely speculation at this point...of course I need to wait and see. I guess my worry is that if I specifically want a 105 triple on this bike, then I would need to buy it now since they're getting so scarce...especially in my size.

  10. #10
    Downtown Spanky Brown bautieri's Avatar
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    It is a rare occurrence that a thread develops into a flame war in the Clyde/Athena forum, ask any questions you may have

    The points I wanted to make about the double v. Triple have already been made. I wouldn't think too much about it, buy the bike that you like best whether it is a triple or a double.

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    SRAM/Shimano

    I rode 105 and Rival, because those were the two in the price range of bikes I was considering. I did not find much, if any difference in smoothness or functionality. The big difference is the way you shift. Go test ride a bike with each and see what you like. I personally like that the brake levers do not move side to side on the SRAM.

    I chose Rival because the carbon levers are cool, isn't that enough?

    I was new to the road bike game, and went for the Rival. No complaints. IMO, if you are at 105 or higher Shimano, or any SRAM, you are going to be happy. Keep either one clean and maintained, and they will work great.

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    Oh, and SRAM both cables are routed under the bar tape, making the front end look cleaner. I liked that as well, but I think Shimano is starting to do more of this as well.

  13. #13
    29er Rider MNRon's Avatar
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    I agree, get the bike you like as the gearing can be changed. I changed my wife's Tiagra triple setup to a Tiagra compact crankset and Deore RD with 11-34 (from 12-26?). We call this the Shimano Apex setup, and she is very happy with it. (She wanted different crankarm lengths, so this was a good time to try it.)
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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    You're a big guy and you've just had knee surgery. I've no idea what the terrain around Lewisburg PA is like, but if it is remotely hilly, then if I were you I'd be inclined to go for the combo that has the bigger range of gears: almost certainly the triple. And the Defy is a nice bike. But as others have said, don't buy a bike you like less just because it has a triple - you can always stick a nice big sprocket on the back to even things up.

  15. #15
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    Mashing up hills on a 50t chainring is not going to be good for your knees. I have a triple simply because I need that 30t for climbing anything of substance (around here that means if its over a mile of 6% grade or greater, for me), although my middle (42t) is fine for short standing climbs, light rollers, and flats (if I wanted to go over about 23-24 mph, I would have to use the 50t to do it without chainrub or being unnecessarily hard on the chain from the bend it has to do to make the smallest cogs). My knees need protecting, and even with a 30-32 lowest gear, I still can get pain on long climbs (over 3 miles continuous is something I would consider a long climb).

  16. #16
    Senior Member DoubleTap's Avatar
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    When I bought my road bike, I was able to demo SRAM Rival and Shimano Ultegra components. I ended up with the SRAM Rival, mainly because I prefer the shifting mechanism on the SRAM. I have big hands with meaty fingers, and I had a hard time with the Shimano shifters, because my fingers kept hitting the wrong lever. Trying to hit that smaller shift lever inside the brake on the Shimano was a problem, especially with full fingered gloves on. With the SRAM, it's all one lever; how far you push it determines up or down shifting. In my inexperience, I ddn't notice much other difference between the two systems.

    Now that I've been riding the SRAM 50/34 and 11/26 cassette, I ended up switching the cassette to an Ultegra 11/28, so I got a little smoother shifting in the rear but still have my preferred SRAM brake/shifter levers.

    I love the SRAM system and have become accustomed to the compact double in front, even being an uber clyde in a state with a lot of climbing. I wouldn't be scared away from the double in front if you like the rest of the bike and components. My commuter bike has a Shimano triple, and I don't prefer it over the double.

  17. #17
    The cat says Merry Xmas Pamestique's Avatar
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    Coming late to the discussion and maybe from the wrong perspective... I hear all the time the argument between triple and double. First off, there should be no concerns about the ability to shift a triple. If the bike is well maintained and tuned, shifting should be good, even with 105. If you can afford Ultegra, then shifting will be like "butter".

    That said, on my current bike, my set up is Ultegra triple crank and shifters but XTR rear cassette and deraileur. I am a big gal. I will always be big because I am also tall and will never be 130 or less lbs. I like to do long distance riding on varied terrain and in fact, like to climb mountains. With my age and weight and bad knees I knew immediately I would never ever be able to manage a double, even a compact double (which is never as good as a triple as far as low gearing).

    Don't let any posers pressure you into a double if you think you might need a triple. Trust me, I have never been embarased with my set up - I have climbed up the top of many of mountains passing folks who had to walk. I may not be the fastest but I can get there and my knees are doing good and I have a rig that will ride with me for many, many years,even when I am really old (I am now 59).

    That said, I am currently having a custom bike built and am changing up the components abit. I am switching to Ultegra 10 (from 9 ) upfront and going to SRAM 32 in the rear. The new SRAM cassette is a work of art. I had t debate between the 32 and 36 (MY XTR is a 34) and settled on the 32 - I just hope I don't regret that decision.
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    Thanks everyone! My issue isn't really with whether a double will give me low enough gears, because from what I understand, the SRAM Apex specifically goes lower than most triples. I rarely use the lowest two gears on my current triple, but when I need them I'm glad I have them. I guess either way, I'll have to adapt to the gears that I have available. As for the shifters, I've only ridden two road bikes, and that was a year ago. Since then I've been riding my FCR which has a flat handlebar. I'll have to get used to different levers anyway, so I guess maybe it's a toss up either way.

    I think at this point what is on my mind is this: if I'm mainly in the "middle" of my gears with my current triple (i.e. I spend the majority of my ride on the middle chainring and use mostly the middle cogs on my cassette), is this going to create a significantly higher need to do more shifting back and forth on a double to maintain that middle area? If so, does that eliminate the "smoothness factor"?

    I guess it really doesn't matter at this point, as I don't know what the 2011 Defy is going to come with. By the time I do know, the 2010's will probably be unavailable...haha!

  19. #19
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markdavid570 View Post
    ...because from what I understand, the SRAM Apex specifically goes lower than most triples...


    Not necessarily true. It depends on the cassette you are running in the back. For a compact to have the same range of gears as a triple it will have to have larger gaps between gears. Either that or you will give up gearing on the top or the bottom. A lot of riders will never miss the gears on one or both ends of the spectrum so the compact or regular double makes a lot of sense for them. If that's you, then a double or compact double is the way to go. If you need or want the whole spectrum than the triple is the way to go.

    Just look at them as tools that do slightly different things. Pick the tool that best suits your job! That's why I have bikes with all three configurations and a box of cassettes that I mix and match for whatever event I'm doing.
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  20. #20
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    I've had the same debate with myself about triple vs. double and the amount of shifting required. In the end I'm deciding to go double for one reason: q-factor. The triple has a much wider q-factor, which most people agree isn't a good thing. I have a triple road bike and compact double commuting bike and I've started getting some pain in the knee when riding the road bike. They have the same measurements otherwise. With your knee problems you might want to consider which one would be better for you.

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    That isn't the case for everyone. If I went down to a double of any sort, I'd have to purchase Kneesavers to make the q-factor wide enough. As it stands, I have 3mm of spacers on my left pedal spindle on my triple to get my feet under my knees.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrClyde View Post
    I rode 105 and Rival, because those were the two in the price range of bikes I was considering. I did not find much, if any difference in smoothness or functionality.
    Honestly, it's hard for me to comprehend how this could be the case...

    SRAM rear shifting is lightening-fast, a bit noisy, and feels very mechanical. Shimano is so smooth and quiet you sometimes wonder if it's made the shift at all! But it also feels decidedly slower. This might just be because you have to move Shimano levers a lot further before the derailleur actually shifts (at least with my Ultegra 6600 components; dunno about the newer 6700). When I crest a hill and begin banging the lever to shift into a more difficult gear for the descent, it feels like the Shimano RD is always a half-step behind the lever. With SRAM, the shifts feel nearly instantaneous. Shifting under load isn't perfect with either system. Shimano tends to be a bit more consistent for me. If it is going to have a problem, it seems to "stick" in the current gear until you let up on the pressure and then you get a reasonably smooth shift. SRAM, on the other hand, always shifts. This may mean, however, that you get a rough shift where the crank spins for a half-revolution and then slams into the next gear. Let off a bit and either system will shift as expected.

    SRAM front-shifting tends to be pretty smooth... once you get it properly adjusted. Again, it feels faster to me but, again, that might just be because you don't have to move the lever as far. SRAM shifting feels a bit more positive to me: you can definitely feel when you've moved the lever far enough to complete the shift, whereas Shimano feels a bit more vague. Front shifting under load with SRAM seems to generate a bit more noise and has a tendency to be less smooth. Shimano front shifts under load are a bit less consistent than their rear shifts under load. Shifting to a smaller ring may hang until you reduce pressure on the pedals. Shifting to a larger ring will occasionally result in a rough, grinding shift. Shimano, as I recall, has two "trim" positions on the front shifter (big->small and small->big). This is nice if you tend to cross-chain. SRAM only has one trim position (big->small) which means you can't use the smallest cog or two on the cassette if you're on the small chainring. Not something you'd want to do regularly, but occasionally useful.

    I'm also a big fan of the SRAM shift levers. I have small hands, so being able to adjust the reach to the levers is nice. Plus, they just feel better. Also love the "sprint shift" feature, which allows you to pull the shifter toward the bar so you can easily upshift while sprinting or descending. Shimano levers require such a big push that I find it difficult to change gears from the drops. Ergonomically, the SRAM levers feel much better in my hands (though the new Dura-Ace 7900 levers are pretty similar in shape).

    The big difference is the way you shift.
    I didn't find there to be a huge difference. SRAM DoubleTap and Shimano STI use the same motion to shift, it's just that Shimano has two levers while SRAM only has one. I routinely jump back and forth from my SRAM bike to my Shimano bike without a thought...

  23. #23
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markdavid570 View Post
    I think at this point what is on my mind is this: if I'm mainly in the "middle" of my gears with my current triple (i.e. I spend the majority of my ride on the middle chainring and use mostly the middle cogs on my cassette), is this going to create a significantly higher need to do more shifting back and forth on a double to maintain that middle area? If so, does that eliminate the "smoothness factor"?
    Pretty much depends on your midle ring and cassette setup. I had a middle ring of 42 teeth, I rarely shifted out of it on flat to rollers. Then I ended up going with a 39 middle ring when I replaced the crankset after failure. Withthe 39, I find that I have to shift to the bigring more than I did with the 42 ring even with the same cassette.

    SO really you could go with a 42, find the right cassette and you'd rarely leave the midring till you hit the climbs.

    It helps the rider to understand some things to look at a gear chart. One reason why I rarely use my middle ring on a long climb. There is usually a duplicate of my preferred gear on the granny, so why switch front when It's not needed othe thatn to say "I'm too strong for the granny" Not true, cause you're pushing the same gear inch combo. For example, my favorite gear ona double is the 39/25 which equals xx gear inches. There is an equivalent somewhere in the granny, maybe a 30/17 which equals the same xx gear inch. I'm using xx cause I don't have a chart in front of me. But either way, there are equal gears on both rings depending on ring and cassette. So some of your answers may not be answered till you look at the actual gear sizes.


    In my case, of course I can climb with a double, but when I am on my triple, I use the granny ring since I can find the same gear but with a stright chainline and no dragging on the front derailleur. I've gotten quite a few laughs out of some experienced riders that have said,"you beat me with a triple!. What does it matter when you are pushing the same gear inch combo?

    So like I said, some of your answers can only be answered by looking at the actual gears you have and a gear chart!

  24. #24
    The cat says Merry Xmas Pamestique's Avatar
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    Well said by Mr. Beanz. Also to the OP - do you expect to only ride the same terrain forever? Consider sometime you might do longer, harder, steeper rides. If so that triple will come in handy!!!! Heck look at professional CG guys, more and more they are lowering gears (did you see how Basso spun gears up those steep climbs - awesome!) because science is proving smooth, easy cadence helps one climb, not power.
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    cooleric -- Good point about the q factor. I'm a pretty big guy...and built big too, so I wonder if the reduced q factor would be a problem for me? I guess I won't know until I ride the bike in question.

    Mr. Beanz -- I definitely know what you mean about similar gear inches only with different combinations. I usually go to the small chainring on a climb specifically to keep the chainline straight, and of course, to go to a lower gear when I need to. My chaingrings are 30/39/50, and my cassette is 11-29 (9 speed); so I usually stay on the 39 and then move around near the middle of the cassette for the majority of my rides, going up or down in the front as needed for either the proper gear or a straight chainline.

    I guess ultimately I worry that since I'm used to a triple and sticking around the middle chainring, that going to a double and doing a lot of shifting up front will feel like a huge pain...and I worry about excess wear and the need for much more maintenance. I could also just be worrying too much.

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