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  1. #1
    qqy
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    Gearing: Compact or Triple w/MTB cassette?

    I'm building a bike to tour Europe this spring and summer, so I'm going to need a wide range of gears. I travel very light, so I'll only use rear panniers and a messenger bag (<25lbs.). However, I'm currently stuck in between the wider range of a road triple(52/42/30), versus the more appropriate chainrings for a compact double (50/34). I've decided to use a 32-11 MTB cassette. I intend to use the bike for CX when I get back.

    I really, really prefer doubles, as I'm strong and young and can stay in the big ring for all but the steepest climbing. Moreover, the 34 is very low, whereas a 30 would be too small to be useable. Even the 52 would be a little too big for carrying loads. Basically, I stay would stay in the 50 as much as possible and use the 34 as a bailout if I'm approaching my lactic threshold or if I have to climb a bloody mountain.

    I bring this question to you guys because I'm from a fairly flat part of the world. I have a feeling that those with more experience in the mountains have a better idea of ideal gearing for the more varied terrain of continental Europe. However, I intend to avoid the mountains to the south until after a few months of touring.

    Secondary question: how well do regular double compact derailleurs work for compacts chainrings? They do seem too big for the rings.

    Any help is greatly, greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Thor29's Avatar
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    I'd say go with the compact double. A standard front derailleur works just fine with a compact crankset. By running a mountain rear derailleur and cassette you will have a lower gear than a standard road triple set up. Personally, I can't imagine touring with a messenger bag at all. That sounds awfully painful to me. Are you sure you don't want to add a handlebar bag or lightly loaded front panniers? Ouch.

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    Senior Curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by qqy
    ...I really, really prefer doubles...
    You've answered your own question, IMHO. There's no compelling technical reason pro or con, so go with your preference.

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    Caffeinated. Camel's Avatar
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    Another option:check out some of Sheldon Brown's custom cassettes through Harris cyclery. They drop the low cogs, giving closer spacing where most folks will realistically be spinning.

    Compact double vs triple vs messenger bag-have you spent much time carrying a load? Were you comfortable?

    25lbs on my back wouldn't work for me, 15 lbs in my backpack for my short daily commute (20mi RT) is pushing it. I'd be very uncomfotable carrying just that load all day, after a few days-but that's me.
    mmmm coffeee!

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Have you been to Europe before? What's the highest grade percentage you've climbed? Have you done much cycling with the load you're planning to carry? And why a messenger bag?


    See ... in Wales, for example, there are several hills that are 25% grades. In various places around England 15-20% grades are common. They build the roads right up and over hills there, and they don't have the grade restrictions that they do in North America. It's not the mountains you have to worry about so much as the short 1-2 km long hills.


    whereas a 30 would be too small to be useable ... and use the 34 as a bailout if I'm approaching my lactic threshold or if I have to climb a bloody mountain

    I'm not all that strong, and I do carry slightly more than you, but I've been in my 30 (chainring) x 32 (mtn bike cassette) several times, and have even resorted to walking when I couldn't keep pushing the pedals around anymore. I definitely don't regret my triple + mtn bike cassette.

    However, I also know some riders who take those UK grades on a fixed gear ... so it's possible you could be just fine with what you want to use.

  6. #6
    Banned Bikepacker67's Avatar
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    they don't have the grade restrictions that they do in North America.
    SOME of North America anyway... many New England roads are of the 'up and over' variety!

  7. #7
    qqy
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    Thanks for the responses.

    About my packing strategy: I will carry the vast majority of the weight in my panniers (I agree about the discomfort of carrying heavy weight on your back). The messenger bag is for easy access to my: maps&compass, travel documents, camera (bulky SLR), food, tools, and cell phone. It won't weight more than 7lbs or so. I carry one all the time here in Toronto, where I use my bike everyday. For example, my old commute was 45 minutes each way, and my messenger bag never bothered me. Then again, 6h of riding/day may be another story. I don't like handlebar bags, but would consider switching if I hate the messenger bag. Also, I want to take the rack off once I reach a destination city for just general riding/exploring. Another reason why I want the messenger.

    I do suppose I'll go with a compact double. I've heard that Campy F'Derailleurs don't work so well with 50/34 which is why the made a special compact derailleur. I hope a Shimano 105 is okay.

    Another question: should I use a short or long cage derailleur with a compact double? I'd assume a short (SS) would be best, while a long (GS) would still work.


    Another option:check out some of Sheldon Brown's custom cassettes through Harris cyclery. They drop the low cogs, giving closer spacing where most folks will realistically be spinning.
    Frankly, they're fairly expensive. While I would like tigher spacing between 23-16, I will probably have use for the 13 & 11 with compact cranks.


    Have you been to Europe before? What's the highest grade percentage you've climbed?
    Yes, several times (esp. England - 5 times because most of my family is there). I often train on a short (1km) 8-13% grade here in Toronto (biggest I can find), so I know what it's like. However, I've never done it with a real load or when I felt anything less than 100%. I imagine a 34/32 will get me up any montain, even if I have to climb at a jogging pace. That said, if I tour the Alps as planned, well, it's just going to be a lot of pain.

  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qqy
    It won't weight more than 7lbs or so. I carry one all the time here in Toronto, where I use my bike everyday. For example, my old commute was 45 minutes each way, and my messenger bag never bothered me. Then again, 6h of riding/day may be another story.

    Yes, several times (esp. England - 5 times because most of my family is there). I often train on a short (1km) 8-13% grade here in Toronto (biggest I can find), so I know what it's like. However, I've never done it with a real load or when I felt anything less than 100%. I imagine a 34/32 will get me up any montain, even if I have to climb at a jogging pace. That said, if I tour the Alps as planned, well, it's just going to be a lot of pain.

    Just a suggestion ... why not load up the bicycle you're currently using now (and yourself) with the weight of your panniers and messenger bag, and ride a metric century (100 kms) which includes 3 or 4 passes on that hill you mentioned ... that might give you a better idea what you want in terms of gear and gears.

    If you do a few test runs before you go, it might save you some trouble once you get there.

  9. #9
    qqy
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    That's very reasonable advice - thanks.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qqy
    That's very reasonable advice - thanks.
    No problem ... it's just that I used to commute about 20-30 minutes with a backpack and thought it was fine. Then I started commuting 1.5 hours (each way) with the same backpack, and was in agony by the time I reached the 1 hour mark. I did that twice, and then switched to a Carradice rack bag.

    I also did a 3 month tour of Australia with a lot of cycling under my belt, but with only one day of cycling with a fully loaded bicycle. In addition, came from Manitoba (flat like pancake) and was immediately faced with the Snowy Mountains when I got to Australia. I ended up doing a lot of walking and pushing the bicycle. I had the right gearing, I think, but I definitely needed the practice to know how to ride up the hills with a loaded bicycle. By the end of the tour, I had figured it out, but some practice ahead of time would have saved me a lot of grief at the beginning of the tour.

  11. #11
    qqy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    I definitely needed the practice to know how to ride up the hills with a loaded bicycle.
    I appreciate the concern, but I feel that I'll be ready for a number of reasons: (1) I'm only 22 - just graduated from UofT, (2) I love hard riding and do crits for fun, (3) I'll be there for months and intend to gradually build up my climbing grades over time. My first planned tour is through the low countries, so I'm not too concerned with heavy climbing until I get into the mountains in the south. Finally, (4) I'll have the gearing to deal with any scenario - thanks in part to this thread.

    There's no substitute for experience, so that's why I started this thread.

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    People do lightweight touring in Europe using compact doubles, you should be OK on the major climbs which are well graded.
    I have used a compact double in the UK and hauled my shopping load up steep hills. I use an MTB triple on my touring bike becasue I like to explore unsurfaced tracks mountain tracks and trails.
    I would suggest a bar bag, you can keep all your valuable there and use it as a map holder for on-the-bike navigation. They have quick-release mounts and shoulder straps. I also carry a small, minimalist 20l backpack (no padding or buckles) for exploring on foot.

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    If you want my opinion - I'm still strong enough to always ride a double. But NOT on a touring bike. My low gear on my touring bike is a 24/34 and I've used it on more than one occasion.

    You can't grunt out a 36% climb for a block while carrying a 40 lb load of pannier or pulling a 55 lb trailer in a 34/27 young or not.

    And there are always your weak days when you just would rather crawl up that final 200 meters to the crest of the hill where the Castle-***-hostel lies.

    Or you can put on Compact gearing as a double and pretend that the tendonitis and the chondromalacia is good for you.

  14. #14
    qqy
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    Okay - 36% grade is totally insane (there are laws against that here). Anything over 30% might just be a walk. Even with a 1:1 gear ratio, I don't think I could manage that for very long. Still, I would image I'd be covered up until ~25% with a compact & MTB cassette. The trouble with going with a "trekking" MTB triple (48/36/24) is that it doesn't give me enough large gears without cross-gearing. Since I intend to use this bike unloaded too, it would really sacrifice a lot of useful gears for a few exceptional circumstances.

  15. #15
    nun
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    I think a 110/74 compact triple is a great crank to use for touring or general riding. I have one set up with 48-36-24 and a 34-12 cassette for touring. It gives me 108 to 19 gear inches with lots of nicely space gears
    at the bottom end. If I want something a bit higher I can easily increase the chainrings, but you won't get
    closely spaced gears above 100 gear inches. Alternatively you could go with a 12-27 9 speed cassette which will give you more gears at the top end and would give you 24 to 108 gear inches for touring and then you could simply change the chain rings and set it up as a double with 53-39. You'd probably have to adjust the front derailleur as well.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Tom808's Avatar
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    About 20 years ago, I gave up on club riding and modified my Team Fuji for touring. My approach was very similar to yours. I used a 34/48 up front and a 14 -30 on the back. Added a rack and handlebar bag and was off. I toured all over Oahu, Maui, and Big Island with this setup. There were times I wished for a lower gear, but it was suitable for light touring.

  17. #17
    Macro Geek
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    Quote Originally Posted by qqy
    Okay - 36% grade is totally insane (there are laws against that here). Anything over 30% might just be a walk... Still, I would image I'd be covered up until ~25% with a compact & MTB cassette.
    Is there REALLY such a thing as a road with a 36% grade? Or even 30%?

    I find that even a couple of degrees can make a big difference when cranking up long hills. I can do a 12% grade without a lot of problems, but I struggle up 15% grades only by resting every couple of minutes. The biggest hills I have encountered have been 18%. The only way I could do these was to zig-zag up, and stop every few minutes to rest and guzzle water.

    If I ever find myself facing a 20% grade, I plan to push my bike!

    OK, people, tell the truth: what is the steepest grade you have ever pedalled up?

  18. #18
    hello roadfix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by acantor
    If I ever find myself facing a 20% grade, I plan to push my bike!
    .....or winch yourself up on a trike pushing a mere 10 gear inches...
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  19. #19
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by acantor
    Is there REALLY such a thing as a road with a 36% grade? Or even 30%?

    I find that even a couple of degrees can make a big difference when cranking up long hills. I can do a 12% grade without a lot of problems, but I struggle up 15% grades only by resting every couple of minutes. The biggest hills I have encountered have been 18%. The only way I could do these was to zig-zag up, and stop every few minutes to rest and guzzle water.

    If I ever find myself facing a 20% grade, I plan to push my bike!

    OK, people, tell the truth: what is the steepest grade you have ever pedalled up?

    The steepest hills in England are called 1 in 3s ... that's 33%. There aren't many of them, but they do exist. More common though are the 1 in 4s ... 25% grades. When I toured there, I climbed two of those ... walking. There was no way I could ride up those with a loaded touring bike. I have an English friend who has ridden up those ... with a fixed gear.

    The steepest hill in the world is Dunedinís Baldwin Street in New Zealand. It is a 1 in 2.66 or 38% grade.

    http://home.earthlink.net/~waltmeier/nz/nz7.html
    http://www.bikereader.com/contributo...ley/hills.html

    The same friend of mine rode it last year ... he sent me a hilarious write-up of his attempts. It took him 3 tries to make it all the way from the bottom to the top.


    As for the steepest I have ridden up ... well, I'm not much of a climber ... I think the steepest has probably been 10-12%

  20. #20
    hello roadfix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    The steepest hill in the world is Dunedinís Baldwin Street in New Zealand. It is a 1 in 2.66 or 38% grade.
    I could swear Fargo Street (of the world famous Annual Fargo St. hill Climb), close to where I live is just as steep as this hill....

    I snapped this photo of ovoleg (forum member) attempting this hill climb a couple weeks ago.
    Last edited by roadfix; 11-14-05 at 09:33 PM.
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  21. #21
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Fixer
    I could swear Fargo Street (of the world famous Annual Fargo St. hill Climb), close to where I live is just as steep as this hill....

    I snapped this photo of ovoleg (forum member) attempting this hill climb a couple weeks ago.

    Does it have a nice little sign or something telling you how steep it is like Baldwin St. does?

    That's one thing that annoys me about North American roads ... they so rarely post grades. In other countries they've got signs proudly telling the world how steep their hills are.

    One of the 25% grades in Wales - the Long Mynd:
    http://ca.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/mac...d6.jpg&.src=ph
    http://ca.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/mac...b0.jpg&.src=ph
    http://ca.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/mac...86.jpg&.src=ph

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