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  1. #1
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    Gearing advice for Gran Fondo

    I am seriously considering training for and riding the Gran Fondo National Championship in Frederick, MD next year.
    The ride has 10,536 ft elevation gain over 101 miles

    I do not have a background in endurance cycling, but do ride. I also ran a marathon this year (3:22:04 7:42/mile) so do have some endurance and aerobic capacity. If I do ride it, I would of course train hard and come prepared. My weight is typically about 158 and I am 5'9". I do plan to ride it as fast as is possible for me.

    My road bike currently has 53/39 up front and 11-28 in the back. I know I am not strong enough to push those gears on that ride. Would switching to compact 50/34 up front be a sufficient enough change to make the ride reasonable? I tend to think yes, assuming I am in good shape for the ride, but I wanted to hear from people who have done similar rides. I just don't have the experience to know one way or the other.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    I would think that time of year you should be able to handle the ride with a 34/28 low gear. I weigh 25 pounds more than you, and I like to have a 34/32 low gear, but when I'm in good shape I almost never go to the 32, more likely to top out at 34/30.

  3. #3
    don't try this at home. rm -rf's Avatar
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    100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing.

    My rule of thumb is that 200 feet of elevation is about like adding one more mile. But even a quite flat 100 mile route can easily have 3000 feet of elevation. So maybe this is more like an additional 7000 feet or 35 miles equivalent. That's a lot.

    ~~~~~
    For gearing, it's all about the steepest grades.

    On this ride, see for example on the ridewithgps link, the climb at mile 80.5 (you can drag to select a section of the red elevation graph, then hover over the climb to see the grade at that point, and the Metrics tab shows the averages for the whole climb.) It's 500 feet in 0.9 miles, for an average of 10.5% and a max of 13%. There's a lot of 9% or steeper grades on the other climbs, too.


    With your 11-28 cogs, switching to a 34 chainring from a 39 is just about exactly one more easier cog in the back.

    Here's your setup in Mike Sherman's gear calculator, with a 53, 39, and 34 chainring to make it easy to compare. (the popup message when the page loads is just to let you know that you can save the URL in your bookmarks to repeat this setting.)

    Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see, for steep hills, at 60 rpm,
    39-28 is 6.5 mph.
    34-24 is 6.6 mph,
    34-28 is 5.7 mph.

    (I would be riding that 500 foot/10.% climb at about 3.7 to 4.5 mph in my 34-29 low gear, standing up and doing 40-50 rpm, keeping my heart rate in a sustainable range. You are likely quite a bit stronger.)
    Last edited by rm -rf; 11-18-13 at 02:58 PM.

  4. #4
    don't try this at home. rm -rf's Avatar
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    To switch to a 50/34, you need a new crankset. You can't fit a 50 or 34 on your current crank. And you'll need to move the front derailleur lower on the downtube, and re-clamp the shift cable.
    Last edited by rm -rf; 11-18-13 at 03:00 PM.

  5. #5
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    What bike do you have? What shifters and derailleurs are installed?
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  6. #6
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    Ditto to the "steepest hill" comment above, overall climbing doesn't much matter as far as gearing. If it was pancake flat for 98 miles, then a 2 mile vertical climb, that would change the requirement, would it not?

    Do you live anywhere close where you can just drive over and leisurely ride the course?

    Riding my local hills, it is really helpful to have ridden them before, and to know I can just hammer up this one in high gear and drop it into granny gear while I read a book for that one.
    And keep in mind that the ideal gearing gets a little lower as you get more tired.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
    Ditto to the "steepest hill" comment above, overall climbing doesn't much matter as far as gearing. If it was pancake flat for 98 miles, then a 2 mile vertical climb, that would change the requirement, would it not?

    Do you live anywhere close where you can just drive over and leisurely ride the course?

    Riding my local hills, it is really helpful to have ridden them before, and to know I can just hammer up this one in high gear and drop it into granny gear while I read a book for that one.
    And keep in mind that the ideal gearing gets a little lower as you get more tired.
    Yes I live very close - about an hour away, so I plan on going out there multiple times to try different parts. The online map though shows the elevation and you can zoom in on it. The harder climbs are around 10% with parts of them in the mid teens. So I definitely need some climbing gears.

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    Thank you for this incredibly helpful and detailed post. That helps immensely!
    To answer your other question - I am aware I need to change out my crankset for a compact one and will need to move and readjust my front derailleur. I am currently looking at my options and depending on the deal I am able to get, will purchase either the ultegra 6750, 6800, or FSA SL-K Light (which is the compact version of what I have so I wouldn't have to switch out the bb)

    Luckily I live close to the location so I can test it out in sections and see about the worst climbs. If it's just a little too hard, I can always buy the ultegra 12-30 cassette.

    Thanks again.

    Quote Originally Posted by rm -rf View Post
    100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing.

    My rule of thumb is that 200 feet of elevation is about like adding one more mile. But even a quite flat 100 mile route can easily have 3000 feet of elevation. So maybe this is more like an additional 7000 feet or 35 miles equivalent. That's a lot.

    ~~~~~
    For gearing, it's all about the steepest grades.

    On this ride, see for example on the ridewithgps link, the climb at mile 80.5 (you can drag to select a section of the red elevation graph, then hover over the climb to see the grade at that point, and the Metrics tab shows the averages for the whole climb.) It's 500 feet in 0.9 miles, for an average of 10.5% and a max of 13%. There's a lot of 9% or steeper grades on the other climbs, too.


    With your 11-28 cogs, switching to a 34 chainring from a 39 is just about exactly one more easier cog in the back.

    Here's your setup in Mike Sherman's gear calculator, with a 53, 39, and 34 chainring to make it easy to compare. (the popup message when the page loads is just to let you know that you can save the URL in your bookmarks to repeat this setting.)

    Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see, for steep hills, at 60 rpm,
    39-28 is 6.5 mph.
    34-24 is 6.6 mph,
    34-28 is 5.7 mph.

    (I would be riding that 500 foot/10.% climb at about 3.7 to 4.5 mph in my 34-29 low gear, standing up and doing 40-50 rpm, keeping my heart rate in a sustainable range. You are likely quite a bit stronger.)

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    I have a Motobecane Grand Sprint 2012 -
    derailleurs and shifters are Ultegra 6700

    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post
    What bike do you have? What shifters and derailleurs are installed?

  10. #10
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    Does anyone else find the idea of combining "Gran Fondo" and "National Championship" a little strange?

    By definition, Gran Fondos are not elite-level racing, just a fun ride with a mildly competitive element thrown in by having timing chips and mass starts. Having a national championship for this kind of ride seems quite odd to me. But maybe you Americans have taken the Gran Fondo idea to a whole other level?

  11. #11
    don't try this at home. rm -rf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimbo_tunacan View Post
    Thank you for this incredibly helpful and detailed post. That helps immensely!
    To answer your other question - I am aware I need to change out my crankset for a compact one and will need to move and readjust my front derailleur. I am currently looking at my options and depending on the deal I am able to get, will purchase either the ultegra 6750, 6800, or FSA SL-K Light (which is the compact version of what I have so I wouldn't have to switch out the bb)

    Luckily I live close to the location so I can test it out in sections and see about the worst climbs. If it's just a little too hard, I can always buy the ultegra 12-30 cassette.

    Thanks again.
    That looks like a great place to ride.
    Climbs are always better if you've done them before. And they don't seem nearly as long the second time.

    Last May, I went to do the 65 mile Tour de Cashiers, but skipped it due to cold temps and rain forecasted all day. I had been worried that I hadn't been riding enough to handle all the climbing.

    With a break in the rain, I tested most of the big climb, 1700 feet in about 4 miles, on Culhowhee Mountain Road. Even with a cold start ( don't do that! ), I got up without too much strain by going quite slow in my 34-29. I'll probably do the ride next year, and it'll help to have tried the climb already. my ridewithgps link- 1500 feet in 3.7 miles. Climbing for 47 minutes.

    My 34-29 lets me climb 8% grades while sitting, without mashing too hard. My other cassette's 34-26 is noticeably harder on these grades.
    Last edited by rm -rf; 11-18-13 at 06:10 PM.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris_W View Post
    Does anyone else find the idea of combining "Gran Fondo" and "National Championship" a little strange?

    By definition, Gran Fondos are not elite-level racing, just a fun ride with a mildly competitive element thrown in by having timing chips and mass starts. Having a national championship for this kind of ride seems quite odd to me. But maybe you Americans have taken the Gran Fondo idea to a whole other level?
    It is silly, but it looked like a nice ride that was convenient and not nearly as bad as the Garrett county gran fondo diabolical double, which has a reputation for being extremely difficult.

  13. #13
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Having done a number of rides, century and over, with 100'/mile of climbing, I suggest that one should do those steep climbs at a cadence of at least 78. Otherwise your legs will get trashed too early. So, using your present ride, find an equivalent longish grade, climb it at an acceptable power, HR, or RPE, and note your speed and rate of climb in feet per hour. Then plug your speed into one of these calculators, insert your desired cadence and output your gearing:
    http://www.machars.net/bikecalc.htm
    http://www.gear-calculator.com/#

    Arnie Baker on serious climbing rides:
    http://www.arniebakercycling.com/pub...ll%20Gears.pdf
    Baker recommends figuring to climb at 75% of MHR. My experience is that I can hold 90% of LTHR on the climbs for a ride of this length, as long as I can keep my cadence up as suggested. YMMV.

    Don't use someone else's gearing. Use your own gearing. You may find you'd do better with a triple.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Going out and "testing" the hills you are going to do this race on is all fine (and probably the best way to find the proper gearing for you) but you need to keep in mind where on the route those climbs are and how tired you will/may be when you reach them. I'll guarantee that you won't be climbing as fast at the end as you will be at the beginning. The lower the gear you use, the slower you will be going (assuming you're turning the same rpm). The key is to use the highest gear you can push without blowing yourself up. Remember, it is a race!

    Buying a compact for one race seems like a bit of a waste. Unless of course money is no object.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    Going out and "testing" the hills you are going to do this race on is all fine (and probably the best way to find the proper gearing for you) but you need to keep in mind where on the route those climbs are and how tired you will/may be when you reach them. I'll guarantee that you won't be climbing as fast at the end as you will be at the beginning. The lower the gear you use, the slower you will be going (assuming you're turning the same rpm). The key is to use the highest gear you can push without blowing yourself up. Remember, it is a race!

    Buying a compact for one race seems like a bit of a waste. Unless of course money is no object.
    I have a decent amount of experience coming from endurance running to know how to pace my energy and heart rate. I know it's not the same thing, but endurance is still endurance and I was able to run a negative split in my last marathon. So, I believe I will be able to judge in a test ride whether a hill is too difficult for the gearing I have. If I am running near lactic threshold at 34/28 on the hardest sections, I will have to strongly consider getting a 12-30 cassette. If I am over threshold or just can't do it, I may want to borrow a triple crank bike for the ride. I wanted to switch to a compact anyways since it just makes more sense for me, and I may keep the standard to be able to switch back and forth depending on circumstances. I am not bad ass enough to really be able to take advantage of a standard crank often, but could make use of the 34/28 on hilly rides. I would much rather be able to do 34/28 than 53/11, and 50/11 should be plenty fast for me 95% of the time.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimbo_tunacan View Post
    I have a decent amount of experience coming from endurance running ...
    I switched from running to cycling and I didn't have a whole lot of success transferring the fitness from running to cycling. Cardio was there but it took a couple years to earn my cycling legs. The fitness knowledge though is a big deal. Knowing your body and what's going on with it is huge. I think if you follow what you body is telling you the right gearing will become very apparent. That's why I don't often give specific gearing suggestions to people because I'm not in their body and don't know what they can or can't do. Gearing is a very individual thing. I have a box full of chainrings and cassettes that I switch around depending on the ride/race I'm doing and what fitness level I am. I also have a double, compact double and a triple that I switch between. I think it's best to look at gearing as a tool. Reach into the toolbox and choose the right tool for a particular job. I do a lot of long distance races so I've come to be quite fond of the triple. Manly because I can get the widest range of gearing without huge gaps in the cassette.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  17. #17
    Senior Member JimF22003's Avatar
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    I use a compact crank with an 11/28 cassette, and I have managed to get up some of the steepest (but short) stuff around, including some 20+% grades. It's adequate (for me) for longer 12-15% grades (for example some of the approaches to the Blue Ridge Parkway). I could certainly use an even lower gear sometimes, but those times amount to maybe 1-2% of my total riding, so this is what I'll stick with for now. If at some point I go with an 11-speed cassette I might consider going as low as a 32-tooth cog in the back.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    I switched from running to cycling and I didn't have a whole lot of success transferring the fitness from running to cycling. Cardio was there but it took a couple years to earn my cycling legs. The fitness knowledge though is a big deal. Knowing your body and what's going on with it is huge. I think if you follow what you body is telling you the right gearing will become very apparent. That's why I don't often give specific gearing suggestions to people because I'm not in their body and don't know what they can or can't do. Gearing is a very individual thing. I have a box full of chainrings and cassettes that I switch around depending on the ride/race I'm doing and what fitness level I am. I also have a double, compact double and a triple that I switch between. I think it's best to look at gearing as a tool. Reach into the toolbox and choose the right tool for a particular job. I do a lot of long distance races so I've come to be quite fond of the triple. Manly because I can get the widest range of gearing without huge gaps in the cassette.
    Yes, that was what I was trying to convey, that I had some experience knowing my body from an endurance perspective and had a good cardio base. I cycle some now, but know that getting my legs into cycling shape will take some work - which I am willing to do. Thanks for your thoughts. I have received a lot of great advice here and should have more then enough info at this point to figure out what I need. Now I need to get out there and train. Once I get a little closer to the event, I can assess my fitness and test out some similar hills to get an idea of the gearing I will need.

  19. #19
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    I think you might be better off just getting a different cassette, instead of switching out the cranks. Get a wide range cassette and your low gear will be just as low as if you kept the same cassette but switched cranks. Except that you'll still have your old cassette, and switching cassettes whenever you want takes about 90 seconds. I don't tend to think that losing the closer spacing by going from a 12-25 to a 12-32 or whatever really makes all that much difference for most people most of the time.

    FWIW though, I'm sensitive to q-factor too, and my touring bike has a 46/30 crank with a 12-34 cassette. It works just fine, although I really do miss having a 53x12 high gear. (Which might be just as well anyway, because I often go on trips with my partner, who does not like to descend that fast, and I still drop him on descents)

  20. #20
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    I've ridden portions of that ride, and live ~1 hour away also. I've always been comfortable with a compact 50/34 front and a 12-28 cassette. Several of the climbs go on for a bit, so a sustainable pace will be important for you. If you're heading over for a training ride, shoot me a PM, I'd ride with you. Phil G.

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