I know another gearing thread!
Being new to touring and trying to figure out what gearing is right for me I wanted to start a thread that might help others with some things I "think" I have figured out that suit me best. For me (gear inches) is the term that best describes gears in terms of what I feel when riding in them. Having rode enough with a load now in my mind I can picture what I feel with 54 gear inch doing 12 MPH on a level road etc. I would suggest knowing that feeling for several gear inches and several cadence RPM's that you feel comfort in along with your lowest granny and highest tall gear. There is some magic numbers for everyone and IMO everyone's numbers are different. Touring and racing are two different animals. One rider may be able to tour with bike, body & gear weight on a level surface in a totally different gear but the same or different cadence and a different speed but feeling the same exerted effort based on abilities (strength and conditioning).
Here was my process of tuning in my bike to me.
It came with front gearing of 30-42-52 and 11-32 (9 speed cassette)in the rear, a very common gear range and IMHO one to high for almost all even unloaded. When first riding you quickly find you want more low end to spin up hills and I learned many go as low as 22 tooth granny and I then found out a shift from 42 to 22 is too great a drop to not expect problems and that in going that low I would have to be careful not to go to any of the smaller back gears as I wouldnít have enough take up for the slack chain. I was told 26 was about the reasonable smallest I could go without going smaller on the 42, 52 and a shorter chain. so I went 26. That worked pretty well and I could have been very happy with that setup but I kept feeling my top gears were also to high with a top gear of 126 gear inches and many said anything over 100 is a waste. Around that time I needed to have my wheels rebuilt (spokes) and I thought as long as they are apart why not change the cassette lowering the granny a bit more and also the top gear. so I put on a 12-36 (9 speed). that dropped my granny from 21.6 to 19.4 and my tall gear from 126 to 117. I did some riding with this range on my new spokes and didnít seem to get into the tall gears enough to really notice but that bump in the granny I sure noticed. I was quite surprised at how like everyone had been saying getting under 20 would be. At this point I got "Granny Fever" and having a brand new mountain bike crank in the shed I knew would fit 22-32-44 I punched the numbers in and saw if this will work I will have utopia a 16.3 gear inch granny and a top gear of 97.6. I did see that if I didnít keep my cadence above 90 in this stump puller gear I would topple over from lack of speed but being able to ride up El Capitan loaded might be worth it. so I got out the crank puller and went to town. I had to shorten the chain and reposition the front derailleur. with the range of gears in the back and the smaller in the front the adjustment was just barely able to be made, but I got it working and went straight for the steepest hill I could find, the test hill I had been using to benchmark all these changes. Well I rode to the top without much peddle effort but the high cadence trying to stay upright about killed me. No leg burn but was sucking air like crazy. After catching my breath I did a more natural ride slight hills, level and slight down hills. The results were I absolutely hated these front gears. Half the gears I like to ride in were on the 32 and the other half on the 44 the 44 was much like my 42 center gear was before but being on the outside I didnít want to ride cross chained especially with the missing link. So instead of jumping around with the easy back shifts I was doing math in my head and flipping between 32 and 44 in the front and then making bigger jumps in the back.
What I learned is the 9 gears using the center gear in the front is what it's all about for me. In my case 42 is perfect matched to a 12-36 it gives me a range of gear inches between 31 and 94. It just worked out that the 26 granny made for a ok shift out of the 42 (and I do run a chain minder) and I have 5 low gears to jump around on a mixed climb. Now for the 52 top gear, I guess I could drop it to a 50 or even a 48 but there is already a good amount of overlap gears there and actually maybe 4 that I see using downhill or if I feel like mashing a little on the level. I haven't a clue if I will ever find a need for the 52-12 but the 52-14 is a nice top gear. So tonight out come the tools and on goes the old crank setup.
I donít see the last change as a waste of time because it pointed out just how much I was looking at the extremes and not paying attention to what for me I wasnít seeing and that is those middle gears, that alone can cover almost all my riding requirements the shifts are small and easy I donít need to really keep track of where I'm at. If I'm anywhere in the middle of the cassette to the big end I can drop on the granny and go shifting as needed on a hill, a long flat haul pop on the 52 and save some wear on the middle gear.
Thatís my process, I only post it that it might help some other newbie out finding the right middle gears.
Pics below of where I'm sticking for now! Hmmmm maybe I should tweak that 52 to a 50?