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Old 08-17-08, 02:26 PM   #1
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Frank Berto's recommended low gearing for "wise old riders"

A couple of threads about gearing here today had me thinking about Frank Berto, who was Bicycling Magazine's technical editor "back in the day." He wrote clearly and frequently about gearing set-ups, and had a big influence on the way I set up my bikes. His book, "Upgrading Your Bike", is still a very good read if you want to understand your bike, and especially if you own a bike from the 60's through 80's you want to fiddle around with.

Frank is a proponent of low gears and spinning (vs. mashing). Since the topic often comes up here about low gears, I thought I would convey his recommendations on the low gears that one should have for various types of riders. Understanding his recommendations means that you have to understand the concept of Gear Inches (some background and a gear calculator here: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears).


Here are Frank Berto's recommendation for the low gear that "wise old riders" should have on their bikes. In most of the cases outlined below, he recommends that "Strong Young Riders" can make do with gearing that is 5 Gear Inches higher, so if you're feeling brave or strong you can go 5 inches higher (though he also used to say that "strong young riders" who wanted to keep their knees their whole lives would be well advised to move to "wise old rider" low gears when they were still young...that's what I did).

One of his frequent complaints was that most bikes intended for recreational use were set up by manufacturers with gearing that was more aimed at racers than "normal" use....IMHO this got a lot better during the mountain bike boom, especially with the growth of triples...but I still see people struggling with too-high gears and, of course, we see variations of these questions asked here on BF all the time.


Without further ado, Frank's "low gear" recommendations:


Kind of Riding / Recommended Low Gear (in gear inches)


Racing (level course) 55
Racing (hilly course) 45
Triathlon (level course) 55
Triathlon (hilly course) 40
Recreational riding (flat terrain) 40
Recreational riding (hilly terrain) 32
Recreational riding (steep hills) 27
Loaded touring (flat terrain) 24
Loaded touring (hilly terrain) 19

(note: for loaded touring in hilly terrain, he also says that even "strong young riders" should have a low gear of 19).

Of course, once you pick a low gear, you have to arrange the rest of your gearing to have a proper "high" gear...and his book has pages and pages of discussions on various ways to get there. Frank's book is almost always available (used) at Amazon for a few bucks, a great bargain:

http://www.amazon.com/Bicycling-Maga...9004204&sr=8-1

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Old 08-17-08, 02:56 PM   #2
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Looks about right to me, at least the recreational categories. I've not done the others and couldn't say.
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Old 08-17-08, 03:14 PM   #3
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If I had a bike with a low gear of 55 gi, it wouldn't get ridden much. I almost never ride above 75 and my normal cruising gear is 60.

My bent's low gear is 17, but it never gets used.

Those numbers seem reasonable to me, except I would lower that "Recreational Rider - Steep Hills" from 27 down to 22 or 23. A typical hybrid is geared 48/38/28 and 11-32, or 48/36/26. That produces a 22-23 gi.
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Old 08-17-08, 04:36 PM   #4
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If I had a bike with a low gear of 55 gi, it wouldn't get ridden much.
But then, why would you own a road racing or triathlon bike in the first place?
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Old 08-17-08, 05:11 PM   #5
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Because it was there and to obey N+1.
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Old 08-17-08, 05:34 PM   #6
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I have used a 42/26 = 43.6 gear-inch bottom gear for many years. I save it for extremely steep (15%+) hills or for "bonking," using only my second (42/23 = 49.3) and higher gears for almost all of my riding. I do have a 24" low gear on my mountain bike, and I am not sure I could use anything lower without falling over.
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Old 08-17-08, 05:48 PM   #7
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Interesting. By chance, I have mine set up close to the Recreational-steep hills, which fits my riding area. I find I don't use the two or three super-grannies much at all, but they're there. I wasn't sure of my crank length, but found it didn't make much difference anyway.

I have a triple, but calculated the equivalent of a compact double gear inches would be with my cassette (I done this "unoffically" before). I try not to go easier than that. I guess I have just a little "macho" in me.
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Old 08-17-08, 06:35 PM   #8
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I read much of what Berto wrote back then and always kept it in mind when I set up a bike. Once I installed my first triple, I never went back.

I wonder what he's doing these days.
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Old 08-17-08, 06:45 PM   #9
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I wonder what he's doing these days.
http://www.thedancingchain.com/About%20Me.htm

http://www.roadbikerider.com/frankberto.htm
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Old 08-17-08, 06:58 PM   #10
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Thanks, T-Bomb.
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Old 08-17-08, 07:32 PM   #11
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Because it was there and to obey N+1.
There's another law that says if you buy it, you have to ride it.
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Old 08-18-08, 08:41 AM   #12
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... I wonder what he's doing these days.
When the first edition of The Dancing Chain came out, I emailed Frank with a few typos and minor errors I had discovered. He always cordially responded, signing off with "Gears 2 U." I always enjoyed his objective tests of bicycle transmissions and his analytical approach to gearing.
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Old 08-18-08, 09:09 AM   #13
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There's another law that says if you buy it, you have to ride it.
Great point...I thought he was going to hang them on the living room wall as art.
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Old 06-21-10, 01:41 PM   #14
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I was looking for this information the other day and then remembered I had it in a post. Hooray for me -- I should put my to do list, shopping list, anniversary date, etc. in a post so I know where to find it.
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Old 06-21-10, 02:09 PM   #15
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Summary: Buy a compact double for your first bike when you come back to cycling in you 50's. After a year, if it's too much, get a triple. If you're doing fine with it after the first year, ride it another year, and consider a standard double if you're still getting stronger. This also presents the opportunity to buy multiple bikes.

Just about everyone will be pretty happy most of the time with a compact double.
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Old 06-21-10, 02:27 PM   #16
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Just about everyone will be pretty happy most of the time with a compact double.
How does a compact double get a "wise old rider" down to 19 gear inches for loaded touring in hilly terrain?
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Old 06-21-10, 03:00 PM   #17
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How does a compact double get a "wise old rider" down to 19 gear inches for loaded touring in hilly terrain?
"Just about everyone will be pretty happy most of the time with a compact double."

Do you need more caveats, or are you just being cranky? (intentional pun)
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Old 06-21-10, 03:08 PM   #18
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Nice summary BengeBoy. Thanks

>(note: for loaded touring in hilly terrain, he also says that even "strong young riders" should have a low gear of 19).
A lot of the touring setups described at CGOAB ( http://crazyguyonabike.com ) have a granny gear under 20 gear inches. My current setup is 18 gear inches and I'm considering dropping to around 16.5
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Old 06-21-10, 03:09 PM   #19
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I've never been accused of being wise, and hooray! I guess I'm not old any more.

Except for winter, I've been riding around using a 45 inch gear as my low for a couple of years now. I typically ride in the 70s and 80s.

That said, two of my bikes are triples, but even then, their three-season low gears are 35, and I very rarely use the granny, staying in the middle for the 45 low gear. Only in the winter do I drop to a 30 inch and use the granny with any frequency.

As for compact doubles, the meat and potatoes of my power range is in the transition between the two rings. Between stoplights I'd have to shift rings, then shift back again so I'm not cross-chaining from the stop. Too much of a PITA. For my kind of riding, the middle ring on my triples or the small ring on my standard doubles gets the most use. In fact, I wore out the middle ring on the Portland and had to replace it recently.

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Old 06-21-10, 03:17 PM   #20
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Quote:
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Do you need more caveats, or are you just being cranky? (intentional pun)
I'm being cranky. Triple-cranky, at that.

BTW, I would agree w/your point -- for most people a compact double ought to do it -- steep hills, long climbs, commuting or touring with heavy loads would seem to require gearing down below the level that compact doubles can reach. Even *that* is changing now, though, with the availability of groups like the SRAM Apex that work with a 32T rear cassette.

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Old 06-21-10, 04:48 PM   #21
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I was happy with my 34-26 low gear, that's about 34 gear inches. I just got a 13-29 Campagnolo cog set, a 30.7 gear inch low gear. It's not supposed to fit with a normal derailleur, but many riders have gotten it to work with no problems. I can just barely run the 34-13 cross chained combination with just enough tension on the derailleur.

It's nice to have on 7% or higher grades. To recover while on a long 7-8% grade, I can slow down to about 3-4 mph and keep the cranks turning over without tiring out my legs, then pick up the cadence when rested. I was surprised it made that much difference, since it's only 11% easier. With a 25 or 26 cog, I would be alternating standing up and sitting much of the way.
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Old 06-21-10, 04:52 PM   #22
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My Tarmac and I was running 31.5 and now down to 29.2 and about to go to 28.2. The Simoncini runs 35.7 but I don't do serious long climbs with it.
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Old 06-21-10, 05:12 PM   #23
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Two of my road bikes have 34/28 (32") for lowest gears. The other has been changed to 34/32 (28") for extreme steep hills expected late in long rides. What I like about the 34/32 is that I can ride in the 50/25 and stay in the large chainring more. That was an unexpected benefit. But for most rides that low gear is way overkill.
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Old 06-21-10, 05:41 PM   #24
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I live in flat country where the steepest climbs are overpasses, so I can easily get by with a 47-inch low (very rarely used) and a 95.4-inch high (also very rarely used). I currently have 47-41 chainrings and a 13-15-17-19-21-23 freewheel (Frank's "Crossover" pattern from his May 1978 Bicycling magazine article, "All About Twelve Speeds") on my Ciocc, which gives me seven usable nicely-spaced gears with NO double shifts. Shifting is very smooth/fast thanks to my old Campy Super Record derailleurs with downtube friction shifters.
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Old 06-21-10, 05:45 PM   #25
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Frank's "Crossover" pattern from his May 1978 Bicycling magazine article, "All About Twelve Speeds"
I think it's an interesting tribute to Mr. Berto that you know the date of the article that cites this gearing pattern.
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