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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 04-16-12, 02:27 PM   #1
pinkbeekeeper
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Do I need a third chain ring on a road bike???

I have been reading posts on here for a few months now but this is my first post. I am 6 ft, 248 lbs and am thinking of getting a true road bike. My only road bike experience is on a Schwinn Continental which was far from being road worthy. I have been tooling around on a Giant Suede; which is fun but very upright, and recently got me a Trek 4300. I am amazed by how much body position makes a difference as far as speed! Just dropping down a bit with the mountain bike has shaved time off of previous routes I have done.

Anyway... The area around my house has some good hills for Northern Indiana since I'm along a creek. Also there is another area that has good hills that most road bikes ride on, which is a "short" bike ride away. I am so-so with hills depending on how long I have been riding or what gear im in. So with keeping all that in mind, should I be looking at road bikes with a third chain ring? I know there will be gear over lap but I wanted some opinions from other Clydes out there. Please give me some feedback about the third chain ring on a road bike! Many thanks!
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Old 04-16-12, 02:34 PM   #2
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It's a very personal thing... I would not think of riding without a triple but I have many friends who love their compact doubles. It really doesn't depend on whether or not you have hills... the area around my house is plenty hilly... it depends on how you ride and what you are looking for in a bike and its performance.

Whatever you do, test ride bikes - I would bet its hard to find a triple in a store... most now only carry compact doubles. A triple will give you lower and higher gears but again, many people swear by the compacts. Do some research before you make a decision.
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Old 04-16-12, 02:43 PM   #3
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Ride your current bike on the steepest hills you expect to encounter and see what the lowest gear is that you need to make it up. Compare that to the lowest on any bike you look at. You can deal with losing a gear or two as the road bike will be a bit lighter and more efficient but if you need something significantly lower than you can find on a compact double, I'd go with a triple.
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Old 04-16-12, 02:49 PM   #4
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Do you *need* one? I dunno. Technically, you really only need one gear, front and back.

But I like triples.

Keep in mind, it's not just the highest and lowest gears in the range you need to be concerned about. A triple offers better spacing between gears along with a straighter chainline in different gear ranges.

The weight penalty is minimal and I find the difference in shifting quality between a double and triple to be negligible at best.
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Old 04-16-12, 02:50 PM   #5
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You really don't need a triple (eg that third chain ring). Whether you want one or not is a different question, but you can get the same gears out of a double without having to do as much maintenance ... and without annoyances like the bike refusing to shift in the front, or shifting when you haven't asked it to. What a triple gets you compared to a double isn't an easier time climbing hills, it's a smoother gradient from your lowest to your highest gear.

Now, if you're new to road bikes, and you're having trouble climbing hills, I'd say what needs to improve is the engine, not the drive train.
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Old 04-16-12, 02:53 PM   #6
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I'd recommend a triple, personally. Yes, there's lots of overlap. Yes, it is possible to get a similar range with a compact and some big sprockets at the back. But the triple allows you to have the very low gears and keep fairly close ratios because you don't need the big steps between sprockets on the rear cassette.

You may rarely use the smallest chainring. But it's very nice to have it when you're struggling or in steeper territory than you're used to. And there is really very little downside.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:05 PM   #7
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I've heard that compact doubles make a triple unnecessary. I've never ridden one, so I can't say. I can say that I do love the triple crank I have on my (oldish - mid/late 1990s) road bike.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:06 PM   #8
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... and without annoyances like the bike refusing to shift in the front, or shifting when you haven't asked it to.
Someone needs a new mechanic.

I've got 5 triples and 2 doubles in our stable and never have I had this problem. Triples work very well when properly adjusted. The problems you mention have to do with the mechanic not the triple itself.

A double makes the front derailleur easier to set up but a decent mechanic wil have no problem setting up a triple. Heck, I've had shop mechanics totally thrash my double.

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Old 04-16-12, 03:24 PM   #9
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A Compact double can provide just as large a range (high and low) as a road triple. However, it does result in slightly larger changes between gears. The bike Mrs. Fred got for Christmas has a compact double as a, "suck it and see" trial. She reports no more effort required on even the steepest of our road climbs. Those are probably around 14%. I don't take her up the 20% West Wall (Rd.). If I did, she might not ever ride with me again. Anyhow, the one thing she does report, is that she uses the left shifter/front der. far more than she did on the triple. It seems that at the speeds she frequently rides, she finds herself constantly on the verge of cross chaining. Either large ring/ lare cog or small ring/small cog, to find the correct gear ration. More so than the triple, where she spent the majority of her time in the middle ring and the middle of the cogs.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:36 PM   #10
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It's really flat in central Illinois so I went with a compact double on the roadbike. While making the decision I went out and rode on the hilliest place I could find around here. I was able to get up the hill in the middle ring. It was a 38 front with a 25 rear. The compact double was a 34 front with a 28 rear so it's actually has a little lower gearing than using the middle chainring. I'd try an experiment such as this to see what you need.

The trade-offs IMO are fewer models are available with a triple. The chainline with a double is better in the big ring but neither ring is as good as the middle chainring in a triple. I've heard that triples are touchier on derailleur adjustments. The shifts on compact doubles are slower as you're jumping up 16 teeth instead of 10 and you have to shift the rear more because of that.

Ride some doubles and see if they work.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:43 PM   #11
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Yup, ride both and see what you like. We can't tell you what you "need" nor can we tell you what you "want". We can only tell you what we like. I switched from a triple (Trek 7300) to a compact double (Trek Madone) last summer and haven't looked back. To be honest, after I'd ridden the 7300 for a few months and gotten some legs under me, I never used the small ring anyway. But everybody is different.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:45 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by pinkbeekeeper View Post
I have been reading posts on here for a few months now but this is my first post. I am 6 ft, 248 lbs and am thinking of getting a true road bike. My only road bike experience is on a Schwinn Continental which was far from being road worthy. I have been tooling around on a Giant Suede; which is fun but very upright, and recently got me a Trek 4300. I am amazed by how much body position makes a difference as far as speed! Just dropping down a bit with the mountain bike has shaved time off of previous routes I have done.

Anyway... The area around my house has some good hills for Northern Indiana since I'm along a creek. Also there is another area that has good hills that most road bikes ride on, which is a "short" bike ride away. I am so-so with hills depending on how long I have been riding or what gear im in. So with keeping all that in mind, should I be looking at road bikes with a third chain ring? I know there will be gear over lap but I wanted some opinions from other Clydes out there. Please give me some feedback about the third chain ring on a road bike! Many thanks!
It's a preference thing...I have bikes that I've swapped back and forth between triples and compacts...these days it seems I've settled on triples. I just like the gearing better, like the 39/40 middle chainring for climbing, but also like the bailout option of the 30 being next to it. The gear spread of a compact double works, but its' hardly inspiring. Afterall, what's the negative of a triple...weight? Jeez, if I was 150lb on a 15lb bilke I guess I would be worried.
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Old 04-16-12, 03:51 PM   #13
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Anyhow, the one thing she does report, is that she uses the left shifter/front der. far more than she did on the triple. It seems that at the speeds she frequently rides, she finds herself constantly on the verge of cross chaining. Either large ring/ lare cog or small ring/small cog, to find the correct gear ration. More so than the triple, where she spent the majority of her time in the middle ring and the middle of the cogs.
This accords with my experience. I ride a compact double on my road bikes, and it is true that finding the "right" gear isn't as easy as with a triple. I frequently change front and rear simultaneously, up at the front and down at the back, or vice versa, to find just the correct incremental change.

I think it's because of the big drop from 50 to 34 on the chainrings. On one bike I have an FSA crank with a 50/36, and that seems better.
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Old 04-16-12, 04:01 PM   #14
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Someone needs a [strike]new[/strike] mechanic.
A lot of people do. The people who post in this forum regularly ... we really like bikes. We treat ours well, keep them in good working condition, and get a lot back out of them for it. But most people don't take such good care of their bikes. I've got a friend, for example, who occasionally joins me on rides, with his Marin Muir Woods. He's got a triple chain ring, and he's never shifted it. Once we traded bikes for a mile during a ride, and I couldn't get his bike to shift out of the middle ring. A lot of people don't maintain their bikes all that well, and triples, because they have smaller tolerances, will go out of tune more quickly. That's the biggest reason I recommend doubles to people; things have to be really bad before you can't shift between two rings.

If somebody's going to keep their drive train in good mechanical shape, and wants the smaller gaps between gears, I'd recommend thinking about a triple.
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Old 04-16-12, 04:56 PM   #15
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SF - I respect your opinion. My experience is more like Beanz - no troubles with triples at all. And I can't even tell you the last time I adjusted my front derailer on my road bike.
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Old 04-16-12, 05:17 PM   #16
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Anyway... The area around my house has some good hills for Northern Indiana since I'm along a creek. Also there is another area that has good hills that most road bikes ride on, which is a "short" bike ride away. I am so-so with hills depending on how long I have been riding or what gear im in. So with keeping all that in mind, should I be looking at road bikes with a third chain ring? I know there will be gear over lap but I wanted some opinions from other Clydes out there. Please give me some feedback about the third chain ring on a road bike! Many thanks!
Figure out what your current setup is, rear cassette and front chain rings, then go ride the the hills in your area and see how it goes.

Make a note of the gears that you used and compare those to a compact or a triple crankset on a prospective road bike. That should give you a reasonable idea with respect to gearing.
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Old 04-16-12, 05:38 PM   #17
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I run a triple with a 12-23. The smallblock makes for better/more physically pleasing flatland riding, I feel.

Also a long-enough 971 chain so I can do big/big without a second thought.

I imagine a compact would be a bit busy, perhaps like playing pinball?

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Old 04-16-12, 06:17 PM   #18
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I have a triple on my road bike. I don't use it too often, but when I do need it, I'm glad I have it. Like here:

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Old 04-16-12, 07:05 PM   #19
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I have triples on my cross commuter and my road bike. I like having the granny gear even though I don't use it a lot...mainly on one very steep mile long climb on my commute, but also some other serious hills in the area. It doesn't "cost" you anything to have one, so if you're concerned, go for it and know that it's there if you need it.
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Old 04-16-12, 07:31 PM   #20
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Nothing wrong with a triple. If you are on the fence between compact and triple, I would go triple becase the cost of switching to the other is cheaper: you can use a triple left shifter on a double, but not vise versa. Just need a new crank and FD.

I tried a 9-speed compact and didn't like it. But I'm looking at a new bike that has a PF30 bottom bracket and there are almost no BB30 triples made, so maybe with 10-sp and some custom gears I can get a set up I'm happy with. But without the wide range of a triple I would never know what my practical gear range is!
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Old 04-16-12, 07:42 PM   #21
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Triple? I'm waiting for the Shimano electronic quadruple!!!
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Old 04-16-12, 07:44 PM   #22
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I have both a triple and a compact. Had to "fight" with the shop to get the triple. He wanted to sell me a compact. My money ... I won. About a year later I purchased another bike with a standard at a steal of a price and swapped the crank to a compact within a few weeks. The compact is my go to bike when the gradients are less than an 5-6% (average). There will be those inevitable 8-10% ramps, but the compact handles the mid-gradients just fine. The triple is my "climbing bike", and I'll use it when I expect gradients averaging more than 6-7%. Yes, I do use the granny gear often. I don't miss the loss of the top end speed on the compact. I can go fast enough with the 50/12 or 50/11.

As mentioned, ride both and see what you like. If you car considering SRAM, their Apex setup can have lower gearing than a triple, Or, some people ride with a mountain bike rear dérailleur and cluster to get that extra low gearing.
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Old 04-16-12, 07:44 PM   #23
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I'd be surprised if you had much need for the triple in Northern Indiana, to be honest. Southern Indiana, absolutely though. I'm not too far away and I'd be happy to drive up and let you ride my compact double on those roads, but I'm 6'5" and my bike is a 60CM. I've also got Speedplays on it and have no idea where the platform pedals I took off are.
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Old 04-16-12, 09:24 PM   #24
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Seems to me that LBS stock the gearing that's most appropriate / most popular for the rides the customers will be riding and for the physical condition of the cyclist.

My LBS is willing to special order bikes with the gearing I prefer. I recently did so to get a 53/39 front, 11-28 back on a bike that was only stocked with a 50/34 front, 12-30 back using lesser quality components than what I wanted.

Definition of "pretty good hills" is highly subjective. %grade of steepest hills and how long it takes to climb them; and the total feet of climbing per x miles is easier to understand.

Your climbing style will also influence which drivetrain you will be happiest with. To me, spinning in a very low gear means I'll just slow down until I tip over while my heart rate soars and I overheat. I do better when I can get a good steady rhythm going cadence 50-60.

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Old 04-17-12, 05:16 PM   #25
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I like compacts. Just a personal choice. A 50x34 in the front, and 11-28 (9-speed) in the rear gives me plenty of granny gear.

AND...I'm just lazy about shifting. Unless I'm on a prolonged climb, I usually just stay in the big chainring no matter what.
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