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  1. #1
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    Confused on what I see being posted

    In this case gearing.

    Are the mountains out west that much more difficult than the mountains in the east? They are longer but are they that much steeper?

    I just got back from a nice 2800+ mie trip from NH-St Louis-NH. The comeback leg I followed RAAM from Athens, OH to Hancock, MD. I rode pretty much the entire ride in the big(52) chainring. I only dropped down twice(once in NY going west, and then on the last climb into Hancock) to the small chainring and knowing what I know now, if I wouldn't have had the time pressure I wouldn't have shifted to the small chainring for the last climb into Hancock. The climb west out of Cazenovia, NY I climbed a 400+ foot per mile climb, roughly 1.25 miles long, ina 52x19. That's with 35 pounds on my back, yes back not in a pannier.

    I'm a little lost here. Are the climbs out wet that much worse or is it because of who you are replying to the reason you are telling people to go with granny gears. I don't see the reason for triple chainrings or 12-36. Heck I only have a 11-28 on Specialized Allez. Most of the trip I rode a 52x17/19. Only a few times did I ever drop lower than that.

    Just curious.

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Have you never been to the west side of North America?

    From my experience, hills on the east coast are short and steep, and remind me of the hills around where I lived in Australia.

    But mountains on the west coast are long, with potentially steep portions to the length of the climbs.

    And it depends, too, if you follow the valleys or climb over the hills or mountains. For example, we were in the Alps in Switzerland (similar to the Canadian Rockies), but we were in a valley so all our riding was almost completely flat. However if we wanted to climb a mountain pass, that would have been a different story entirely.

    It also depends on how much you carry ... 35 lbs of gear is pretty light. Some people carry a lot more than that. And it depends on the length of the tour. If you're planning to be on the road a while, you might prefer to have the option of a wider variety of gears.



    However, all that said, Rowan and I toured a hilly part of France in 2007, and he had a fixed gear, with a full load of panniers and tent etc. ... going with fewer gears is doable.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    The reality is that not all human beings are created equal (or train equal!)

    If you are a randonneur and trains a lot, participates in several centuries per year and puts over 1000 miles/month over all kinds of terrain, obviously that those mountains will appear as piece o cake, even the ones out west (they do go much higher.) For the average joe, they'll be glad to have that granny gear when the road gets steep and are riding fully loaded.

    Remember that it's all about the engine. It's obvious that you have a helluva good one!

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    When doing 300 foot per climbs that are 3 miles long or 400 foot per mile climbs that are 3 miles long, I wouldn't call that riding flat terrain. I will agree from everything I have read the mountains out west are longer climbs/descents but they are better graded unlike the hills here in the east. You don't find the same kind steep climbs out west, at least not regularly, like you do here in the east.

    I can see I'm going to have to do some big time mapping work with ridewithgps this fall/winter and see how the climbs out west compare. I know what I've seen/ridden here in the east and doing it pretty much entirely in the big chainring is why I'm bringing up the topic. I can understand someone that isn't in shape will need better gearing but it seems like everyone is being told to go granny gears. It's why I'm a bit confused.

  5. #5
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    BTW your 400 ft/mile hill is a 7.5% grade for 1.25 miles ... which isn't overly steep. If that's the biggest hill you had, your route wasn't particularly taxing.

    Also we usually talk in % grade, or 1:4 or 1:8 and ratios like that, rather than 400ft/mile.


    Not on the west coast of North America, but Rowan and I did a mountain climbing challenge in Australia where the climbs were about 25 - 40 km long with average grades around 6-8% and steep sections of up to 18%.

    You may encounter climbs like that in the mountains of the west, and if you're hauling 80-90 lbs of gear around, you may want ample gearing.

  6. #6
    Bike touring webrarian
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    It can be hard to generalize from one's experience to the entire bike touring universe.

    For example, I use a camelback and, using your method, would have to wonder about why any would carry water bottles? There are people who don't carry cooking gear yet do just fine with keeping themselves fed. Why would anyone carry cooking gear?

    Just because you were able to ride a bike carrying a heavy backpack up hills using your big front chain ring doesn't mean that others should/can do the same thing. I, for one, have no interest in carrying 35 pounds on my back for any reason, regardless of what kind of gearing my bike has.

    What's more, riding up a meaningful grade with a loaded touring bike requires that I ride in the small front chain ring. Frankly, I couldn't care less what you use as I know what works for me.

    While riding a bicycle 2800+ miles is a meaningful accomplishment, try riding from Sacramento to the top of Carson Pass in your big chain ring wearing 35 pounds in a backpack and then come back and tell us if the mountains in the west are any different than the ones in the east.
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

  7. #7
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    They are longer but are they that much steeper?
    no

  8. #8
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    You choose your gearing to match your pedaling endurance/strength. Short, 6-9% grades can be found nearly anywhere. Who wants to push the bike up any of them? Especially one loaded with 50 pounds of gear.

    The climbs out west are generally much longer and not as steep as those in the east. More an endurance challenge than a strength challenge. The older tourist, maybe just as strong as the 20 something, usually will not be able to muster the same level of endurance. Lower gearing, slower climbing helps compensate.

    Enjoy your advantage while you can.
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  9. #9
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    There are also other factors like wind, especially while climbing.


    The thing is, although granny gears may be recommended (but as I mentioned touring can be done on a fixed gear, so they aren't always recommended), no one is suggesting that anyone ride in the granny all the time. On this tour, I think I've been in my granny once or twice on the way up a couple steep hills in Scotland. And that's quite normal for me ... going into the granny a handful of times on a tour. Most of the rest of the time I'm somewhere in the mid-range of my gearing. But it is nice knowing I've got the granny there if I need it.

  10. #10
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    May I suggest reading more Geography and Geology,
    oh young braggart?

    Colorado sees snow every winter, So, highway engineers
    did not make the grades short and steep. to make winter driving safer..

    places that rarely if ever see snow have done things different..
    some of the old roads in southern Britain
    seem like they repaved the Roman ones without changing much..

    Oh and the geology of the western US has been subject to much more recent
    plate tectonics and uplifting, and Volcanism, than the much older
    Appalachian range, which Ice-sheets eroded the sharp peaks off long ago..

    So can you summit Mt Washington NH in that 52-19?
    have named witnesses?
    Last edited by fietsbob; 09-27-12 at 06:59 AM.

  11. #11
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    I can see I'm going to have to do some big time mapping work with ridewithgps this fall/winter and see how the climbs out west compare. I know what I've seen/ridden here in the east and doing it pretty much entirely in the big chainring is why I'm bringing up the topic. I can understand someone that isn't in shape will need better gearing but it seems like everyone is being told to go granny gears. It's why I'm a bit confused.
    Go ride the Boston-Montreal-Boston route and see how you feel.

  12. #12
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Confused about why you are posting. You must have biked quite a bit by now, and have surely realized that there are physical and age differences among individuals, and among equipment that people choose to carry?

    There was a recent "what's your low gear?" email thread on a randonneuring group to which I belong. Most of these very experienced individuals choose to ride triples with big cassettes, and that's unloaded. One of our strongest riders, a PBP record holder, rides a 40" low gear. On my unloaded single, at 67 I'm down to a 28" gear from the 32" gear I rode at my peak. Of course randonneurs tend to choose routes for their climbing rather than to avoid climbing.

    Hills back east are not insignificant. The Boston-Montreal-Boston brevet has 30,000' of climbing over approximately 750 miles. That's only 40' per mile, though riding it in under 90 hours in the big ring could tire you some. My wife and I just completed a loaded tandem tour featuring 60' of climbing per mile. We used the granny a lot.

  13. #13
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    You probably need to walk into your job, tomorrow if possible, quit, and take up a career as a professional cyclist, maybe track racing....
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Clarabelle's Avatar
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    Confused or boasting?

  15. #15
    Senior Member LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    How old are you? I used to run around with 53/42 x 13-21 in my youth.

    Finally gave up on 42T little rings a couple of months ago. Currently running 39x23 low gear.

    I'm sure I'll be on a triple by the time I hit 55.

    I ride with backpack most of the time also, easier to bunnyhop stuff that way.
    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Olde Western Auto Cruiser.

  16. #16
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clarabelle View Post
    Confused or boasting?
    Probably just young

  17. #17
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Boast post. Lots of those, just usually more subtle.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    You don't find the same kind steep climbs out west, at least not regularly, like you do here in the east.
    300-400 feet/mile is pretty average in the area where I live; plenty of steeper stuff (ex: 600 ft/mi) if you're looking for it. Those climbs are over hills, not mountains, so they only last for 3-5 miles. Of course, it's unlikely you'll only have to climb one in a day. Once you're on the fourth, or fifth, or sixth climb of the day that lower gearing starts to pay for itself... especially if you have to do the same thing for several days in a row, like you might on a tour.

  19. #19
    Senior Member mulveyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
    Boast post. Lots of those, just usually more subtle.
    Yeah, the people who make the "I'm perplexed why people say X is hard" style of posts never seem able to figure out how transparent their ulterior motives are.
    Knows the weight of my bike to the nearest 10 pounds.

  20. #20
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    I crossed the country with a double and might do it again but that doesn't make it wise.

    I agree with earlier posters that mountains in the east stand a fair chance of being both steeper and shorter than those in the west.

    The things I see to make western mountains potentially more challenging are the higher altitude and weather that may require more gear.

    Edit to add: I used a double because that's what I had, not because I thought it the best tool for the job.
    Last edited by Bug Shield; 09-25-12 at 09:04 PM.

  21. #21
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    Well, a 400 ft climb with parts at 7% are part of my commute out of the El Cajon Valley each workday here in the San Diego area...generally, you can find a well engineered highway that crosses any western mountain range, but also find plenty of other crazy steep options. For example, you can climb up the Lassen Park Road from 5000'-8500' and never break 6-7% grade, or cross the Sierra at Yuba, Donner, or Tioga Pass at no more than 6%, maybe 7% in spots. However, the Sierra's Ebbetts and Sonora Passes feature some stretches of over 24%, and other sections have sustained climbs of over 12%. Overall, the parts considered "tough" climb between 3 to 4 thousand feet. Heck, here in San Diego County, though maybe topping out at 8%, the Montezuma Grade from Borrego Springs climbs 3600 feet in 11 miles, and the South Grade up Palomar Mountain climbs from 800' at Rincon to over 5260' at the summit...(the hiker-biker site at the State Park on the top of the mountain seems to have had very little use for some reason, the table was under a foot of leaves and I had to get a rattlesnake to leave the site by launching it with a stick (they hate to fly!)
    Last edited by stevepusser; 09-25-12 at 09:06 PM.

  22. #22
    George Krpan
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    None of the 11-28 cassettes/freewheels on the Sheldon Brown Gear Calculator have a 17 or a 19 tooth gear.

    10 Speed None
    9 Speed 11-12-13-14-16-18-21-24-28
    8 Speed 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28
    7 Speed 11-13-15-18-21-24-28

    The 52-19 combination would be about 73 gear inches. I know that I could climb a 1.25 mile, 7.5% grade on that gearing but it would be hard. I'd have to stand the entire way and I could not do it with 35lbs of gear on my back.

  23. #23
    The Left Coast, USA FrenchFit's Avatar
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    Mentioning Sheldon Brown, I think a recall reading about his trip out here, riding with Grant Peterson up Mt. Diablo and riding with friends in Santa Cruz. If I'm remembering the story correctly he was a little stunned with the "hills" out here and our rolling terrain, it caused hm to re-think road bike gearing. Whatever....

  24. #24
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    In answer to your question I'll say, it depends. On many of the roads in the west they are graded to be less steep and the climbs are just long. I found that to be the case on the Trans America. Since then though I have found that there are plenty of very steep and long climbs in the west depending on where you go. I found some in Colorado and plenty in the Sierras. Mostly they are avoided on the standard cycling routes though.

    I am not a believer that you need to spin like crazy on climbs or it will destroy your knees. IMO opinion some folks go overboard with that. On the other hand I do think that lugging up them in a huge gear is a bad idea and not good for your knees.

    Just an anecdote, but...
    We met a nice young man on the TA who was hauling a fairly heavy load and using road racing gearing. He was strong and was always at the top of the climbs first. He caught a bus home after 15 days because he wrecked his knee. He had surgery and was a year off of the bike. I have to think if he had used a little lower gears and a higher cadence he would probably have avoided the knee problem.

  25. #25
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by mulveyr View Post
    Yeah, the people who make the "I'm perplexed why people say X is hard" style of posts never seem able to figure out how transparent their ulterior motives are.
    +1.

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