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Old 10-22-09, 10:58 PM   #1
Dkane
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Is a 21 speed adequate for touring?

I'm in the process of setting up a touring bike and I'm a bit confused on the gearing. Looking at the specs for many touring bikes I've noticed that 27 speed (3x9) is the norm. Does anyone tour on 3x7? Seems to me like 21 speeds is plenty but then again I've never toured so I'm not fully aware of what is needed. What kind of gearing range should I look for in a 3x7 if I wanted to tour?
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Old 10-22-09, 11:12 PM   #2
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The number of speeds isn't as important for touring as getting the right range. That'll depend partly on the cyclists' strength and preference for spinning vs. mashing and partly on the load being carried and the terrain. For a fully loaded bike in mountainous regions you're likely to want the lowest gear to be 1-to-1 or less, i.e. with the smallest chainring no larger than the biggest rear cog. My current touring bike is only 18 speeds (triple with a 6-speed freewheel), but the lowest gear is a 32-tooth cog and 30-tooth chainring, or 25 gear inches. The highest gear is a 13-tooth cog and 50-tooth ring for 104 gear inches. That gives me enough of a range to handle a pretty wide variety of terrain and the somewhat larger jumps between gears aren't as much of an issue for touring as they would be for racers.
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Old 10-23-09, 01:27 AM   #3
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48/36/26 and a 32 rear cog is a common compromise between speed and climbing power for loaded touring. A 9 speed cassette allows for finer tuning of your pedaling speed.

The downside of 9 is more gears to transition.
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Old 10-23-09, 02:14 AM   #4
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It is all about having the right gearing range for the terrain you plan to ride and your abilities as a cyclist.

The 28/38/48 and 11-34 setup on my touring bike offers me a range of 22 to 117 gear inches and just running off the middle ring I have 29 to 92 gear inches which is sufficient range for almost anything.
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Old 10-23-09, 07:11 AM   #5
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Just make sure you have a large cog of at least 32 on the cassette and your gold.

It doesn't really matter how many gears you have in between.
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Old 10-23-09, 08:21 AM   #6
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I toured on a 10-speed in the 70's. I don't know how many teeth the gears had.

My first "real" tourer had 21 speeds and biopace chanrings. I put a 24-tooth granny on the front and it was almost perfect, however I could have used a wider range in the back.

My new tourer has 27 speeds with a 24-tooth granny and a 34-tooth big gear in back. It's enough.

Incidently, when I put together my "fast bike" I opted for 10 speeds in back. With 10 speeds, I couldn't really find any wide range cassettes. It makes me think that for touring, sticking with a 9-speed casssette makes more sense. Comments, gearheads out there? (My impressions are not always correct, and I appreciate when people inform me.)
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Old 10-23-09, 08:48 AM   #7
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I concur with others that the total number of gears is less important than the range of gears. My mid-1980s Miyata 1000 had 18 gears, and it was fine for everything, except long climbs. The problem was that I had biased the gearing toward the high end. I had set up the bicycle to more easily bomb down hills rather than climb them!

After participating on this online forum for the past six years, I have the impression that I am in the minority that believes in going as low as physically possible when selecting touring bicycle gearing. My lowest gear is currently 34/22, and I use it regularly. If I were starting again, I would choose 34/18 or 34/20.

I know someone who has 34/20 on his mountain bike, and I have seen that it is an eminently usable gear: I have seen him ride up extremely steep dirt paths that I walk up.
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Old 10-23-09, 09:32 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
I toured on a 10-speed in the 70's. I don't know how many teeth the gears had...
Same here.

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Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
...Incidently, when I put together my "fast bike" I opted for 10 speeds in back. With 10 speeds, I couldn't really find any wide range cassettes. It makes me think that for touring, sticking with a 9-speed casssette makes more sense. Comments, gearheads out there?...
Yes. I agree with this. It is possible to get aftermarket, Shimano-compatible, 10-speed rear cassettes from companies like IRD. I have used a 12-30 one of these on my road bike but, while usable, it does not shift very smoothly. I met a tourer on the PCH this summer who also had an IRD 10-speed cassette with the same lousy shifting.

SRAM has introduced their new XX series which is a 10-speed system that has an 11-36 (or 11-32) tooth rear cassette! It is intended as a cyclocross series for use with a double crank in 26-36, 28-42 or 30-45 up front. Very expensive. I wonder if anyone has put one of these on a touring bike yet?
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Old 10-23-09, 10:32 AM   #9
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I toured with a 22/32/42 (or 44) chainrings and 12-32 cassette until last year. Cassette was 12-14-16-18-21-26-32. Worked fine. The gears were easier to adjust and there's less wheel dish.
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Old 10-23-09, 10:39 AM   #10
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Plenty.That's how many I have had in the last 32 years.I only really use about 6-8 of them. A couple for climbing,one for flat riding and a couple for with/against the wind.
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Old 10-23-09, 12:06 PM   #11
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yes, 9, 12, 15, 16 speeds could be enough. Like Prathman said it's not the number of gears its the range of gears for your terrain, load and fitness that matters. Go to sheldon browns gear calculator and look at what you've got. I assume you have a 7cog cassette and triple.
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Old 10-23-09, 12:29 PM   #12
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I rode across the US, fully loaded and camping all the way, in the early 80's with 10 speeds. The low gear was too high (40x27, 27 inch wheels). Admittedly I had to push sometimes. Now I have 14 speeds (Rohloff), which is equivalent in range to just about any 24 or 27 speed. Much lower gear, too, which is nice in the mountains. Less pushing. My mountain bike is a singlespeed. More pushing sometimes, but still good enough that I've ridden a dozen road centuries on it. Point: number of gears is not relevant. But if you are unwilling to push, make sure you have a low gear which is low indeed. And if you are doing loaded touring in the Alps you still may choose to push sometimes!
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Old 10-23-09, 02:09 PM   #13
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The one thing that nobody is pointing out is that if you are building up a new bike, you would be advised to go with 9 because there are a lot more options as far as shifters and cassettes go. If you are wanting to use an older bike that has a 7 speed cassette or freewheel, then go ahead. Just try to get the largest rear cog possible to get a nice low gear for climbing while fully loaded.

As far as 10-speed goes, they are more sensitive to slight changes in cable tension and my personal experience is that 9 speed is much easier to live with. Since 9 speed is still the norm for mountain bikes and since touring bikes need the lower gear ratios that mountain bikes use, 9 speed is still the standard choice for touring. The new SRAM XX 10 speed group is not designed for cyclocross - it is designed for mountain bikers with really fat wallets.
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Old 10-23-09, 02:46 PM   #14
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I'm stuck on 8, it took me ten years to catch up on index shifting.
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Old 10-23-09, 02:53 PM   #15
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I stopped with 8 speeds and run friction bar cons on my touring bike as they are simpler and more robust... my brake levers are not integrated as when you frag a brifter you lose your brakes and shifting and replacing those is expensive.

With this I could run 7-10 speeds in the rear... a 7 speed cassette would need a spacer and 9 and 10 speed cassettes would warrant a different chain but past that there is no compatibility issue.

The bar con pod accepts a good number of suntour levers so servicing will be easy in the event I ever have to do that.

I built my bike with the intent of going on epic unsupported rides and when you are in the boonies you may not be able to find higher end components and want parts that are bombproof.
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Old 10-23-09, 03:09 PM   #16
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speaking of friction bar ends, I have a 14yr old 26" Ed Litton touring bike that I just replaced the 105 rear derailleur with a SLX derailleur with velo-orange bar ends and it's bizarre how wide of a shifting range it's got. With the 8spd cassette it's like an old down tube shifter and five speed freewheel with plenty of range for adjusting the shift.
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Old 10-23-09, 03:28 PM   #17
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The one thing that nobody is pointing out is that if you are building up a new bike, you would be advised to go with 9 because there are a lot more options as far as shifters and cassettes go. If you are wanting to use an older bike that has a 7 speed cassette or freewheel, then go ahead. Just try to get the largest rear cog possible to get a nice low gear for climbing while fully loaded.

As far as 10-speed goes, they are more sensitive to slight changes in cable tension and my personal experience is that 9 speed is much easier to live with. Since 9 speed is still the norm for mountain bikes and since touring bikes need the lower gear ratios that mountain bikes use, 9 speed is still the standard choice for touring. The new SRAM XX 10 speed group is not designed for cyclocross - it is designed for mountain bikers with really fat wallets.
And the other 10 speed systems are for road cyclists with really fat wallets
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Old 10-23-09, 10:05 PM   #18
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My partner was looking over my shoulder and she summed it up very well, "It is not how many gears you have, but which ones you have". The folks above covered it well. We did a lot of touring on true "10 speed" bikes, and had a lot of fun doing it.
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Old 10-23-09, 10:09 PM   #19
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I'm in the process of setting up a touring bike and I'm a bit confused on the gearing. Looking at the specs for many touring bikes I've noticed that 27 speed (3x9) is the norm. Does anyone tour on 3x7? Seems to me like 21 speeds is plenty but then again I've never toured so I'm not fully aware of what is needed. What kind of gearing range should I look for in a 3x7 if I wanted to tour?
Number of gears doesn't matter, it's being comfortable with them. I have 2 touring bikes, one is a 2x9 and the other is essentially a 2 speed either 69" or 38".

When you set up your bike look for a gear range from 20" to the 90", you don't need big gears over 100" like road riders use. To calculate your gear range divide the number of teeth on your largest front ring by the number of teeth on the smallest back sprocket and multiply by your wheel diameter in inches. This will be your highest gear. To find the smallest gear repeat for the smallest front ring and largest back sprocket.
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