If you can't tell the difference between a 12 and an 11 i.e. you can't notice a difference in cadence from 120 to 110 rpm then I don't know what to say. 99% of people will notice a change in cadence of 10RPM.
The reason people say 2 teeth up front doesn't make as much difference is because going from a 52 to a 50 is only 4% (52/50) difference vs 9% diff for the 12 to 11.
Here is my bad example: I was doing a 2 day, 250 mile solo ride, with miles front loaded to day 1. Gearing was 50/36, with 11/26 9 speed cassette, which is the easiest climbing setup I own. First 100 miles go by issue free, get hit by a car at mile 108 (adrenaline rush and later crash), and have all of my elevation gain at miles 125 to 145. I could have had a triple with a 32 cog in back, and I would have been walking the 2 times I walked. I could not generate the watts and will power to keep the bike vertical on a few long 6-8% grades, which would ordinarily be no issue even on my standard crank 12-25.
I guess I am saying that gearing is only one variable in ride success or failure (however you wish to measure it), and I don't even think that it is an important one. Just my opinion, and not critiquing anyone's selection.
To me, your description underscores the need for short gear inches on long rides with climbs. In other words gearing is very important not irrelevant because a couple of scerarios maybe less than perfect. If you are walking on rare occasion which btw, I fully understand being almost to that point on my last century when facing hills late in the ride, aside from increasing strength which is a bit of a intangible...then the obvious answer is shorter gears. A triple I believe on grueling rides over 100 miles where there is climbing to me makes a lot of sense.
Honestly, my philosophy may be based too much on young knees and a high pain tolerance.
Slightly off topic, but I miss the times with freewheels and the boards of cogs from the manufacturers (Regina, et al.) on the wall at our LBS. We could easily (too easily at times) swap around separate cogs to customize the gearing. Or, you could always use the famous Polish straight block set up. And, yes I am an old fart reminiscing, forgive me you young guns.
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You guys are on your own.
Just put a 50/34 on my Cross Check along with an 11-30 Tiagra cassette (with a mid cage rd), the idea being that it will basically be two 1x9 bikes - one for cruising unloaded with the 50 and one for pulling my son in the trailer in the 34. So far I think it's going to work out well.
On a road bike I prefer to shift early on long climbs and keep it in the big ring over rollers. Definitely prefer 53/39 for that application.
Just switched from standard to compact this year and am able to ride more efficiently
Speeds are up a bit but legs do not get so tired
Also just moved from 11-28 to 12-25 as was never using the 11 or 28
The 34 is a bit too small for me but more effective than 39 on hillls were I was mashing a bit
Can you mix a 50 with say a 36 or 39 on Ultegra (as I never considered that)
You can also use SRAM 36T rings, they are a bit noisier ime, but they work fine. The spacing is the same. Don't use FSA rings with shimano cranks
I just bought a Salsa Colossal Ti which uses a 34-50 compact front and a 11-28 10-speed in back, and I like it a lot. The 28T cassette cog allows me to stay longer in the 50T chainring on rolling terrain without having to downshift to the 34T. The only downside to this setup is that the two smallest cassette cogs, 11T and 12T, are not usable with the 34T chainring, since the chain rubs on the inside of the 50T chainring due to it being much larger. Upshifting from the 34T to the 50T is very easy, even under load.
I switched to a 50x34 with a 12x25 last summer. I love it. Sure, down the few fast hills I travel, I have to stop pedaling around 35mph. But, I spend far more time on my big ring and in the middle of the cassette now. And the 30x25 is enough to get me up any hill I encounter.
I think compact cranks make far more sense for far more people than standard cranks do.
My 53x39s are in a box now. I doubt I'll ever put them back on.
I've always ridden a 53-39 with a corn cob looking nine speed cassette. I have an older 5900.I like the gears. It seems compacts are all the rage right now as most new bikes are sporting them. It's a hard sport no matter how you cut it.
I love it and will never go back, and this is coming from a former hard core race junkie. The only thing that may be missing is the huge high speed descent gear, but I don't do that anymore anyway. I love the incredible range 50/34 gives me with an 11/25 or even an 11/23 cluster.
I'm new to road bikes and don't have my conditioning back yet but from the few rides I've taken on my new bike I do enjoy the 50/34. I have 50/34T front and 12-26T rear. On most flats I find riding on the 50T front with the rear somewhere near the center works well for me with a cadence of 85-100. This leaves me room on either side to bomb down a hill or boost up a couple for a medium hill climb. Though sometimes I do end up standing on the pedals during the hill climbs (but still keeping a pretty respectable cadence of about 75-80). The 34T front comes in just for sustained, steep climbs. I tackled a short but steep hill yesterday that varies between 15 and 20% and that was the limit of what I could do. Having a 32T in back would allow me to climb a hill like that longer probably but I'm comfortable with it. Especially since I am only running 8-speed I probably don't want to stretch my rear cassette range much further anyway.
Currently running 34/50 SRAM Force 22 with the WiFLi cassette (11-32). Shifts beautifully, and there have been times when I was glad to have the 34/32 combo (dirt-road climbs, mostly).
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I never thought there was anything wrong with 53/42 cranksets. They're a bad idea for heavier riders on hills, though. At least going up.
The vast majority of heavier riders will appreciate a compact cranket for hills. Novices will appreciate a 34 as opposed to a 42 chainring as well.
I'm glad you say the Force shifts well as I was worried about that with the 32.