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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 05-08-13, 12:33 PM   #1
Erwin8r
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Compact Cranks and Climbing Mountains...

In the spirit of actually climbing a mountain on my road bike, I am addressing a couple deficiencies (or perceived deficiencies) in the tool/weapon I will use on my attempt to pedal up Glendora Mountain Road. I feel I need a compact crank. The current crankset on the bike now is/was a 53/39, with a 12/26 cassette out back. What do those of you with climbing experience (and I mean those that have started where I am--overweight, not fit, and trying to "get there") recommend? Thoughts? And yes, this means you, TJ, PJ, Beach, Mr., Beanz, Jsig, Volo, iTrek, etc... Any and all comments and/or recommendations are welcome.

For the record, I just bought a set of Chorus 50/34 cranks, and am thinking of an IRD 12/30 or even 13/30 cassette...
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Old 05-08-13, 12:40 PM   #2
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Triple like this: http://www.universalcycles.com/shopp...ls.php?id=9824

Some triple haters will sing the praises of compacts. I like 'em but grannies will always treat you better, : http://www.bikehugger.com/post/view/...-compact-crank
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Old 05-08-13, 12:48 PM   #3
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What is your present weight?
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Old 05-08-13, 12:49 PM   #4
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I agree about the triple. Although one can get a similar range with a compact and a big cassette, a triple gives you that range while retaining nice tight ratios at the back.

However, OP, you've bought a compact. What you pair it with depends on how strong a climber you are. Personally I typically ride a 50/36 compact on my race bike (I disliked the 16-tooth drop between chainrings on the 50/34 I used to have, always seemed to have trouble finding the right gear when shifting up front) with a 12/25 at the back. However, I'm fitter and a bit lighter than I used to be, and in those days I was grateful from time to time to have a 34/27. Err on the side of having a lower gear than you think you really need, becasue being able to spin in the hills does make a big difference. 12/28 or 12/30 might be fine.
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Old 05-08-13, 12:50 PM   #5
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Triple like this: http://www.universalcycles.com/shopp...ls.php?id=9824 Some triple haters will sing the praises of compacts. I like 'em but grannies will always treat you better, : http://www.bikehugger.com/post/view/...-compact-crank
I went with a 42/32/22 on my T-1
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Old 05-08-13, 01:03 PM   #6
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I just broke down and bought an 11-28 to replace the 11-25 currently paired with my compact crank. I was really hesitant to go lower than 11-25, but I'm doing a mountain century in a couple of weeks (103 miles, 10k feet of climbing) and I wanted just a little extra wiggle room. However, I'll likely put the 11-25 back on after the big ride. My thinking on the subject is that, since climbing is an area I focus on, doing most of my riding with the lowest possible gearing isn't going to do me any favors...better to train on gearing that's slightly tougher than I'd like, so I'm not tempted to bail out into an easy gear. I'd rather adapt my fitness to the gearing over time, than match my gearing to my fitness level right now. I also think when it's time to replace my crankset, I may move to a standard setup, but that's a big step.
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Old 05-08-13, 01:21 PM   #7
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My thinking on the subject is that, since climbing is an area I focus on, doing most of my riding with the lowest possible gearing isn't going to do me any favors...better to train on gearing that's slightly tougher than I'd like, so I'm not tempted to bail out into an easy gear. I'd rather adapt my fitness to the gearing over time, than match my gearing to my fitness level right now.
I don't think you're right about that, though I do understand where you are coming from.

If you choose the lower gearing, and spin up the climb at a higher cadence, you will be transferring the strain from legs to cardiovascular system. That will almost certainly get you up a long climb faster, and will at the same time give you a harder CV workout: so you will actually get fitter, faster, with the "easier" gearing at similar speeds. Watch the pros on long climbs. Most of them turn easy gears fast rather than grind up. This is not because they lack leg strength, trust me.

Typically, it is not leg strength that limits us when climbing, it is our aerobic capacity. So if I were you I'd fit the gears you can readily manage, and only go to the tougher cassette once your fitness has advanced to the point at which you can spin that, too.
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Old 05-08-13, 01:31 PM   #8
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What is your present weight?
I'm at about 240lbs right now (238 on the scale this morning...), and 5'10 or so. I would have gone with a triple (probably) but have you seen what they get for Campy triples lately?? Crazy! LOL!. Okay, I'm not a fan of how the triples look (yeah, I know, I know..). And I agree with I'd rather spin than mash the pedals. I've been blessed with good knees, and about the only time I can instill a bit of knee pain is when I'm mashing instead of spinning. So spinning it is.
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Old 05-08-13, 01:56 PM   #9
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Having ridden GMR to the shack a couple times and to the village once, I would recommend at least a compact crank. I am a hair over 300lbs so clearly heavier than you but the trick to GMR (and climbing in general) would be to find a rhythm and spin up the climb. If you can spin at a descent range while climbing with your current gearing, you may be ok.
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Old 05-08-13, 02:16 PM   #10
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I weighed 320 or even more and live in a hilly area. My 1:1 granny gear is absolutely necessary.
1:1 granny. You're a Monster! On my 26" bike, I've got a 22T granny and 32T in the back.

O.k. So I've got a recumbent and can't stand. But granny gears are a beautiful thing (so +1 on the triple).

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Old 05-08-13, 02:19 PM   #11
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I don't think you're right about that, though I do understand where you are coming from.

If you choose the lower gearing, and spin up the climb at a higher cadence, you will be transferring the strain from legs to cardiovascular system. That will almost certainly get you up a long climb faster, and will at the same time give you a harder CV workout: so you will actually get fitter, faster, with the "easier" gearing at similar speeds. Watch the pros on long climbs. Most of them turn easy gears fast rather than grind up. This is not because they lack leg strength, trust me.

Typically, it is not leg strength that limits us when climbing, it is our aerobic capacity. So if I were you I'd fit the gears you can readily manage, and only go to the tougher cassette once your fitness has advanced to the point at which you can spin that, too.
I get what you're saying and I don't mean to imply that I'm choosing to mash in a higher gear rather than spin in a lower one. Instead, what I mean is building leg strength required to spin a higher gear at a high cadence. While spinning a lower gear may be a good CV workout, it seems to me that spinning a higher gear works the CV system AND builds leg strength, and may be more effective for training purposes. I would not, however, try to spin a higher cadence on a higher gear on something like a mountain century....I'd go for high spin/low gear.

Please also note that this is my philosophy/what seems to work for me...I'm not claiming this is gospel or anything.
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Old 05-08-13, 02:29 PM   #12
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Hi Matt,

I'm a little confused.

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Instead, what I mean is building leg strength required to spin a higher gear at a high cadence.
Sure. That's great. That's called going really fast. And you're right, that is a good CV workout. But nobody does that climbing.
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Old 05-08-13, 02:48 PM   #13
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I run compacts 50/34 cranks. Two of my wheelsets have 11-23 cassettes, 1 wheelset has a 12-27 which I used on the last GMR trip. On the solo part of that climb I was in the 34 up front and rear 19,21 &24t cogs and was in the 8.5-10mph range, then for the social-able parts after the shack, I was in the 24 & 27t spinning with TH and his buddy @ around 5-7mph on the steeper stuff of GRR.

For my style, 11-23 works perfect, yes I can suffer a bit more on the steeper climbs of <10% grades but the tight gear ratio is PERFECT for 98% of the rides/races I do.

The key to climbing for me, is finding my groove, and keeping my leg speed up. This will hold forward momentum better and make the climbing easier/funner/faster. Then again I'm just like my sig says....
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Old 05-08-13, 02:48 PM   #14
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Matt - where are you riding? I know there are some good hills not too far from you, which is why I asking, but I think we need to make sure we're talking about the same thing. Going up a steep road that takes < 10 min. is one thing, a sustained 2 hour climb is another (time is defined more by fitness level than the road, obviously).

If I were building a climbing bike from scratch TODAY, I'd get a triple. you know, something to ride on those ridiculous centuries with 10k feet or more. The chief advantage is that you can always go to a lower gear when you're dying, where there is a most definite floor with a compact or regular double.

However, if I already had a bike I'd get a compact double (which is what I did) because you can use the same shifters and same rear derailleur.

Most of my GMR rides were done with a mid compact and a 28 in back (36,28) which is 33.8 gear inches.
a standard crank with a 30 tooth cog in back would give you 34.2 gear inches, which is barely noticeably different.
a compact with 28 teeth (34, 28) is 31.9 gear inches and that's a pretty nice easy gear to spin up the hill.
a standard crank with 32 teeth in back is 28 gear inches.

I guess my point is that there's nothing magic about a compact crank and you may be able to replicate the gears you need by changing out the cassette in back (and maybe the rear der.) Cranks CAN cost a damn fortune, whereas cassettes and a longer chain are pretty cheap. Then it's just a matter of swapping out your climbing wheel for the regular wheel and switching chains (takes about 5 min if the chain has a quick disconnect)

Of course, there are plenty of people who do that hill with a standard crank and standard cassettes, so maybe you just need to give it a whirl first.
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Old 05-08-13, 03:01 PM   #15
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I have several bikes...too many really. One is a triple, the others compact. One day, about a year ago, I went up from Palmdale to Big Pines/Mountain High Ski Resort, (very near Wrightwood). A bit of climbing, and took one of the compacts. Since I was not under any time constraints, I wanted to see how far the new frame and new-to-me-at-that-time compact would take me. It was a surprise to make it all the way to the top with the compact and an 11-28 cassette.

I have since gone to Ultegra 12-30 cassettes. Not too many places have them yet. Not sure why. They've been out for almost a year now. When I first saw them on the Shimano web site, I printed out the spec sheet and took it into one of my LBS and had them order several. At first, they denied that they existed - but couldn't refute the Shimano tech docs. The triple, (52-39-30), would give me a 30:30, on the compacts, (50-34), a 34-30. The mid-length derailleurs work fine with the 12-30, both Ultegra and Dura-Ace. However, be aware of chain length in case you go big-big, (which isn't recommended with any gear ratios anyway).

The 34-28 of a compact can get me up most hills. The 34-30 is even better. Not sure about the ski lifts at Baldy. With such a gear ratio, I'm pretty slow. Then again, I'm not racing either.

I'm seriously considering selling the triple. Last time I used it, (going up GMR by coincidence), I couldn't get into the 30 ring on back. Kept dropping the chain. Bad adjustment, and I haven't figured out yet how to adjust STI shifters yet. They are a lot more complicated than the old down-tube levers. I'm just about convinced that I can live without a triple. And ... the new Ultegra groupset announced for 2014 has a 11-32 cassette. It's the new Ultegra 6800 11-speed groupset. It will mean a whole new component group, including wheels. At least the old brakes will still work. If I can snag a new 11-32, for sure I'll dump the triple. Maybe a 6800 groupo will be my 2014 N+1?

- - - - -

I really can't say which way you should go. Remember, that I'm not as young as I used to be, (turn 62 this summer), and my legs are not as strong as they used to be, or at least I don't feel like they are. I was never a very good climber, (being a bigger person than average and also packing an extra 30 pounds that I can stand to lose). Right now, I am quite happy and pleased with a 50-34/12-30 compact and will be even more pleased with a 50-34/11-32 when they are available. Screw tight gear ratios. As I said, I'm not racing.

I do have a 52-39 crank on my TT bike and a brand new 53-39 Dura-Ace crank that I pulled off a new bike, (that was replaced by a 50-34). Only about once every few weeks do I wish I had a 52/11 available on the bike I was riding. I don't care about speed much any more.

p.s. As you have surmised, all the above is Shimano. I'm not sure what Campagnolo offers right now. SRAM has their wi-fli feature, which I think is just nothing more than a compact with a 11-32 or 12-32. When 6800 is available, then Shimano will be on the same playing field as SRAM. I haven't used Campy since Nuovo Record. Still have, but don't use that bike too.

p.p.s. In case it makes a difference, I'm a masher. Always have been. Not comfortable spinning.
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Old 05-08-13, 03:05 PM   #16
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I have several bikes...too many really.
It may be possible to own too few bicycles but it is impossible to own too many.
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Old 05-08-13, 03:16 PM   #17
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...For the record, I just bought a set of Chorus 50/34 cranks, and am thinking of an IRD 12/30 or even 13/30 cassette...
Go for the 12/30. 50/13 is too low.
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Old 05-08-13, 03:20 PM   #18
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It may be possible to own too few bicycles but it is impossible to own too many.
Seeing your sig... I have right now:
1972 Mondia Super
1997 Trek 930 Single-Track
2009 Pinarello FP-6
2010 Kestrel RT800-SL
2010 Trek Madone 4.5
2012 Bike Friday Pocket Rocket
2012 Kestrel 4000 Pro SL
2012 Pinarello FP Team

Yeah, too many! And I'm lusting after that new Pinarello ROKH. The force is strong. Must resist. Resistance is futile. Oh, what am I to do?
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Old 05-08-13, 03:32 PM   #19
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Seeing your sig... I have right now:
1972 Mondia Super
1997 Trek 930 Single-Track
2009 Pinarello FP-6
2010 Kestrel RT800-SL
2010 Trek Madone 4.5
2012 Bike Friday Pocket Rocket
2012 Kestrel 4000 Pro SL
2012 Pinarello FP Team

Yeah, too many! And I'm lusting after that new Pinarello ROKH. The force is strong. Must resist. Resistance is futile. Oh, what am I to do?
My sig line is incomplete but I'm thinking that there are plenty of posters here who have us both badly beat when it comes to how many bikes they own. In any case, resisting the urge to buy that new Pinarello is not only futile but could also be dangerous to your mental well being . . . .
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Old 05-08-13, 03:32 PM   #20
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Seeing your sig... I have right now:
1972 Mondia Super
1997 Trek 930 Single-Track
2009 Pinarello FP-6
2010 Kestrel RT800-SL
2010 Trek Madone 4.5
2012 Bike Friday Pocket Rocket
2012 Kestrel 4000 Pro SL
2012 Pinarello FP Team

Yeah, too many! And I'm lusting after that new Pinarello ROKH. The force is strong. Must resist. Resistance is futile. Oh, what am I to do?
N+1, baby! That's what I did when this LaPierre got within reach.... But seriously, though, I think I'm going to shoot for the 12/30. I tend to be a masher, but am disciplining myself to spin (as my post above states, if I mash too much now, I can instill a bit of knee pain, and I don't want to go down that route...). I still consider myself relatively young, and not too old to learn new tricks... so Compact 50/34 with a 12/30 it will be. And as TH mentions, the best way to figure out if its optimal (or even works for me) is to just do it.

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Old 05-08-13, 03:39 PM   #21
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Get a single speed bike. It will train your legs to both spinout and mash
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Old 05-08-13, 03:39 PM   #22
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I get what you're saying and I don't mean to imply that I'm choosing to mash in a higher gear rather than spin in a lower one. Instead, what I mean is building leg strength required to spin a higher gear at a high cadence. While spinning a lower gear may be a good CV workout, it seems to me that spinning a higher gear works the CV system AND builds leg strength, and may be more effective for training purposes. I would not, however, try to spin a higher cadence on a higher gear on something like a mountain century....I'd go for high spin/low gear.

Please also note that this is my philosophy/what seems to work for me...I'm not claiming this is gospel or anything.
Sure. If you can spin a bigger gear at the desired cadence, by all means spin it. When Eddy Merckx was asked whether it was better to spin a small gear or mash a big one, he said "spin a big gear".

But we're not Eddy. And the implication of your previous post was that at your current state of fitness, spinning the big gear up the long climbs was beyond you. All I am saying is, the best strategy to address that is to train on the smaller gear.
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Old 05-08-13, 04:00 PM   #23
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Get a single speed bike. It will train your legs to both spinout and mash
My wife loves it when you guys post stuff like that! I am actually looking at a cool single speed as I type this... an all-steel bike with decent wheels and a not-crazy gear ratio...
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Old 05-08-13, 04:04 PM   #24
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I think what you bought is perfect, get the 12/30 cassette or even 12/28. I use a compact and 12/28 and have to use the 28 on GMR all day long until my legs get stronger.
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Old 05-08-13, 04:36 PM   #25
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Well, after barely making it up GMR...LOL...I added a 11-32 cassette to my bike. I have compact crank. I need all the help I can get.
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