There was a time when I set the gearing up on my main road bike with 34/27 as the lowest gear to enable me to get up the steepest hills in my area. None of the hills are longer than 1 mile and vary between 8 and 15% gradient. That 34/27 was fine but I did puff a bit on the 16% nasty. However for the flatter rides I changed the cassette to 12/25 as the wide ratios on the lower gears used to bug me a bit. This was done with the spare set of wheels but when the TCR came along- I found that this bike did hills easily. So I now had a bike for the flat-Boreas- and the TCR for hills. But I wanted to get back to the mountains and lower gears were going to be required. Got a triple 50/39/30 and set it up with the 27 cassette and a few longer steeper hills were done although I haven't got back to the mountains yet.
Then the Pinnie came along and this is the bike I ride most of the time now. Good all round Cheap(er) bike and it is adequate. Not set up for hills or flat rides but does both.
Till today. Took the Pinnie out on one of my hillier rides and it is 2.400ft over a 30 mile route. Most of that climbing comes in about 8 miles so you have time to warm up- sweat a bit and then can relax after a coffee. 1st hill and 1,000 ft of climbing over a couple of miles and the last bit is 15%. That was not nice and I put it down to laziness. Fast downhill and 400ft climb at 12 to 15% and a bit easier. Down into Eastbourne and decided to have coffee later as the last hill is a loop that brings me back to the cafe with a diversion. 1 mile at constant 12% and I admit that I stopped about 2/3rds up. Was going to turn round but just rest and get going again. I was out of the saddle and struggling for that last bit.
I may not be fit but it is a long time since a hill has defeated me. I may slow down a lot but I always ride them. Got home and cleaning the bike up and that rear cassette looked a bit small. Couple of months ago I loaned my wheels to a mate as he was doing a 3 day tour and wanted a spare set to carry in the sag wagon. Took the handbuilts off the Pinnie as I knew they were true and had good tyres on them. I had put on a 12/25 cassette as I knew it was a flattish ride. Apparantly his bike is set up to take a 12/23 and he had put his own cassette on. He did not use the wheels on the ride and just returned them back to me---and forgot to change the cassette over.
Those hills killed me today and I can confirm that there is a world of difference between your lowest great being 34/27 and 34/23. Especially when you set yourself a toughish ride with a few good hills in and you know you are not fit. Next time I tackle that ride it is going to be on the TCR with the triple and the Tiagra 12/30 is going on. I would rather have gears to spare than run out of them like today.