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Old 08-29-11, 01:36 PM   #1
andrewtclarkson
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How many gears do you really need?

Assuming most people commute on the road, how many gears do you need? I have a 21 speed mtb being converted to commuter (until I wear it out and decide what I'm buying next) but really only ride it in 7 gears (and could get by with maybe 3 or 4 of them). I assume a bike set up with only 3 or 7 speeds would have a wider range of ratios and work even better.

Thoughts? I'm slowly building in my head what I want my next bike to be like!
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Old 08-29-11, 01:41 PM   #2
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Yeah I only use my small (42 tooth) chainring and all seven of my rear freewheel. I ordered a new one with a larger low (32 tooth vs 28) for hills, though.

The big chainring is useful on a single hill in my town, and I can get by without it.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:43 PM   #3
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14

I have a rholoff!
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Old 08-29-11, 01:44 PM   #4
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Really depends on terrain, and how sensitive one is to cadence change. If you live in a very flat locale, you'd likely need only a few gears. If there are lots of hills, then more gears is likely better, especially if the grade percentage varies a great deal. As for cadence change, anyone who has been racing for any length of time knows what cadence their body works best at. As terrain changes, racers shift up or down a gear so as to maintain a cadence.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:44 PM   #5
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One seems to work fine for me.



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Old 08-29-11, 01:44 PM   #6
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On my commute, 5.5 miles with very little elevation change, I could get by with 3. Wouldn't want to go SS because of wind conditions and hauling variations.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:45 PM   #7
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The big chainring is useful on a single hill in my town, and I can get by without it.
This is what I'm thinking... and there are no 'big' hills in my town.


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14

I have a rholoff!
I'll bite. What's a rholoff?
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Old 08-29-11, 01:46 PM   #8
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All of them... in some people's cases this may be one or three and in others as many as possible.

A person's gear range just needs to match their cycling needs and at one time I got by very well with a single speed and now health warrants a wider range of gears to allow me to maintain a decent level of performance in varied conditions and on varied terrain.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:48 PM   #9
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Every commute is different, every rider is different, the golden rule is to use what works for you.

Simplest is a single speed. A guy here where I work uses a Trek (Portland I think, with the chain, not the belt drive) and he mainly uses his middle chainring and for one hill the small chainring, but he hits all ten on back, and said he could take off his big chainring and not miss it at all.

Pick the steepest or biggest hill on your route, find a gear that works for that, let that be your base line low gear, everything above that is just gravy and how efficient you want to be.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:49 PM   #10
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Ok looked up rholoff- badass.

SS looks sweet, I def want to try to get out on one next summer.

65er- great point. I'm big on minimalism, but hate to sacrifice functionality. Next spring hopefully I'll be able to decide just what exactly I need! Also... LOVE the idea of a IGH.

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Old 08-29-11, 01:53 PM   #11
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if wind weren't a factor, i could probably be happy with just one (chicago is dead flat), but riding DIRECTLY along the shore of lake michigan as i do everyday, wind is unfortunately a HUGE factor for me, and my absolute minimum of 5 gears would be along the lines of:

~50 - stupid strong headwind
~65 - headwind
~80 - neutral
~95 - tailwind
~110 - stupid strong tailwind

as it is, i ride a road bike with a 2x10 ultegra drivetrain (53/39 x 11-28) and a hybrid with an alfine 8 IGH.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:53 PM   #12
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If you understand gearing and calculations it is easier to determine what range you need and what works bets for your terrain and level for riding.

Gear inches are a measure of this and a range of 40-100 seems to be ideal for most average riders while those who climb more or ride faster will want to expand on that.

A 1 by 7 on an mtb with a 42 tooth ring and a fairly standard 13-28 freewheel will give a 37 to 75 gear inch range so might be lacking for those who want more top end, a cassette will offer an option for an 11 tooth cog which will bump that top gear up to a very useable 95 gear inches.

For most, 75-80 gear inches is as much gearing as you would want to push on the flats for any extended period while gearings above that are nice for descents and tailwinds.

One could always use a larger chain ring and a wider range cassette to expand the gear range.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:55 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan View Post
if wind weren't a factor, i could probably be happy with just one (chicago is dead flat), but riding DIRECTLY along the shore of lake michigan as i do everyday, wind is a huge factor for me, and my absolute minimum of 5 gears would be along the lines of:

~50 - stupid strong headwind
~65 - headwind
~80 - neutral
~95 - tailwind
~110 - stupid strong tailwind

as it is i ride a road bike with a 2x10 ultegra drivetrain (53/39 w/ 11-28) and a hybrid with an alfine 8 IGH.
You must be a fairly strong rider... a 50 gear inch low is typical on road bikes with a performance set up while most modern hybrids will run a low in the 30 gear inch range and mountain bikes will drop that down into the low 20's at the expense of a taller top gear.
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Old 08-29-11, 01:56 PM   #14
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Depends. In Sacramento, where it's dead flat, my favorite commuter has been a FG. 42 x 16 = 69 gear inches, just fine for around town.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:00 PM   #15
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If you understand gearing and calculations it is easier to determine what range you need and what works bets for your terrain and level for riding.

Gear inches are a measure of this and a range of 40-100 seems to be ideal for most average riders while those who climb more or ride faster will want to expand on that.

A 1 by 7 on an mtb with a 42 tooth ring and a fairly standard 13-28 freewheel will give a 37 to 75 gear inch range so might be lacking for those who want more top end, a cassette will offer an option for an 11 tooth cog which will bump that top gear up to a very useable 95 gear inches.

For most, 75-80 gear inches is as much gearing as you would want to push on the flats for any extended period while gearings above that are nice for descents and tailwinds.

One could always use a larger chain ring and a wider range cassette to expand the gear range.

According to sheldon's calc, my 13-28 on 42t chainring nets me 39.4 -> 85 gear inches on 700x23 wheels, so it'll vary a lot by your tires apparently hah.

With the 32 tooth low I'm upgrading to, I'm getting 5 extra gear inches
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Old 08-29-11, 02:04 PM   #16
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According to sheldon's calc, my 13-28 on 42t chainring nets me 39.4 -> 85 gear inches on 700x23 wheels, so it'll vary a lot by your tires apparently hah.

With the 32 tooth low I'm upgrading to, I'm getting 5 extra gear inches
Was calculating for an mtb on 26 inch wheels like the OP has... so hah.

Wheel size has to be factored in the calculation as the same gearing on a bigger wheel yields a higher range while smaller wheels will decrease this.

Again... hah.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:07 PM   #17
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The OP won't be the only one reading this thread
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Old 08-29-11, 02:13 PM   #18
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lmao... I would like a 29er, so relevant all around.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:18 PM   #19
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You must be a fairly strong rider... a 50 gear inch low is typical on road bikes with a performance set up while most modern hybrids will run a low in the 30 gear inch range and mountain bikes will drop that down into the low 20's at the expense of a taller top gear.
i would say, without trying to brag too much, that i am a decently strong rider, but the real reason i never need anything below 50 is because chicago is so unrelentingly dead flat (i mean like one of the flattest places on the planet type of flat), anything below 50 is totally unnecessary for me. both my bikes have lower gears in the 40s & 30s, but I never use them. wind is my only enemy/friend on my rides.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:25 PM   #20
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I typically use 3 gears, but when there are hills or something I'll use a lot more (and even then I shift less/later than I should). But for my mostly flat commute, I'm good with 2-3 gears and just mash/spinout/coast rather than change because, well, I don't have much more top end and it rarely occurs to me. I'm working on being better about that though. Well, I guess I sometimes use 4 if there's a slight incline when I'm stopped at a light. But my commute is pretty flat except for a pedestrian bridge over a highway where signs say you should walk your bike (and I do most of the time).
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Old 08-29-11, 02:30 PM   #21
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i would say, without trying to brag too much, that i am a decently strong rider, but the real reason i never need anything below 50 is because chicago is so unrelentingly dead flat (i mean like one of the flattest places on the planet type of flat), anything below 50 is totally unnecessary for me. both my bikes have lower gears in the 40s & 30s, but I never use them. wind is my only enemy/friend on my rides.
Edmonton is as flat as you want it to be and the wind never stops blowing although it is not like Chicago... I like to drop into the river valley on many rides and commutes and can find some 12-18% grades there.

Have tackled these on the 3 speed and fg bikes for the challenge but having a fuller range makes getting up and down so much easier when you are loaded down and riding a heavier bike... my road bike runs a 40 gear inch low for this reason.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:39 PM   #22
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^ what's a "valley"?

seriously though, the biggest climb i have on my daily commute is a mighty 15' ridge left over from a former lake michigan shoreline. it's like 1 or 2% to get up to the top of that beast.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:45 PM   #23
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I use all 20 of my gear combinations with some used a lot more often then others. I stay in my 34 tooth chain ring most of the time. When I get over 20 mph, then I change to my 50. I only use my 50-11 gears when I am on a 35+ mph downhill but it sure is fun when I do.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:47 PM   #24
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Personally, 3 is fine for me. I used to ride a single speed, but it got tiring on hills and over bridges. I converted the bike to a 3 speed, and all's well. I suppose if I had a 5 speed I might shift a little more, but the fact is that even with a 3 speed I mostly only use 2nd and 1st. I have been thinking of gearing it a bit lower to make more use of the top gear.
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Old 08-29-11, 02:50 PM   #25
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^ what's a "valley"?

seriously though, the biggest climb i have on my daily commute is a mighty 15' ridge left over from a former lake michigan shoreline. it's like 1 or 2% to get up to the top of that beast.
Sounds like a killer climb.

My commute often takes me 30 miles one way and it is a 15 mile climb over a fairly low grade followed by a long drawn out descent for 10 miles with another 5 miles of low grade climbing with some gravel roads for dessert.

The terrain here is rolling because of glacier activity during the last ice age so the countryside rolls up and down with little valleys in the middle of ridges.

Over this distance and with the incessant wind I find I like a little wider range, especially if I am feeling weary on the return as that first 15 miles can suck the life out of you and then it is pretty much downhill all the way home where one can hammer a big gear for miles and miles.
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