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  1. #1
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    Needing a smaller crankset than 44/33/22

    I recently completed my first tour, a 2,000 mile loaded touring event from San Antonio TX to New York State. Thirty four days, averaging 65 miles per riding day (not counting three rest days). The bike is an '89 Schwinn Voyageur, most everything replaced except the derailleurs and shifters. In the back I was running an 8 speed 11-34 tooth cassette. Up front a Nashbar 44/33/22 mountain bike crankset. Loaded touring, about 40-50 pounds of gear and water.

    I never used the 44 tooth chainring at all, and the 22 tooth granny in combination with the 34 tooth sprocket was adequate all the way to New York. Once IN New York State however, some of the steeper grades really kicked my mass, I even ended up walking and pushing the bike an aggregate total of maybe one mile of that 2,000.

    Besides walking however there were many long hills that would have been easier and much more pleasant to ride with lower gearing. Certainly this will be a necessity if I tour in the Mountain West.

    My rear derailleur will not work with a larger than 34 tooth sprocket. As this is an older bike, I am not sure the chainstay geometry would work with a new derailleur/larger sprocket combo either. As it is the 8 speed cassette is used as a seven speed, as the chain rubs on the frame if I use the small 11 tooth sprocket (which in practice I never needed anyway).

    Are smaller cranksets available? In a perfect world something like a 40/30/18 might work with the present derailleur.

    Thanks,

    Mike

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    You can find 20T chainrings that would work. However, if you want gearing lower than that, I have two suggestions:

    - Reduce the weight of the gear you carry. 40-50lbs is a lot. You could easily lose 10-20lbs.
    - Consider a bike with smaller wheels. For instance, a Bike Friday with 20" wheels can be set up with significantly lower gearing.

    By the way, congrats on completing your first tour.

  3. #3
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    Some people may opine that the difference between 22T and 18T is insignificant; or that it will be difficult or impossible to pedal with such low gearing. Others may suggest you drop some weight, train to get stronger, or be content to walk up monster hills.

    There is merit to minimizing the load (but your route or travel style may preclude this possibility). Training is a good idea, although I am too lazy to take the advice. I don't mind walking up the occasional steep hill, but I prefer pedalling to pushing a heavy bike.

    Personally, each time I have made even incremental changes to my low gearing, I have found it easier to deal with steep hills, long hills (especially at the end of a day, when my legs are tired), and headwinds. I hope you can find a way to do what you are trying to do.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Schlumpf (swiss) mountain drive is a planetary 2 speed crankset in low range its reduced by 2,5Times ..
    crankarms turn faster than the chainring..

    so for example a 50t when you kick the shift button thru it, acts like a 20 t ..

    you can put a 34t chain ring on the 110 spider version , its like a 13.4t in low. or a 38t on the 130 version for a 15.2 t equivalent

    Mine is on my Brompton M3L a 130 type with a 54t (21.6t low) 15t cog... the AW hub's 3 speeds are used twice.. low in the 17" range.
    almost 1:1 with the 16" wheel .
    Last edited by fietsbob; 08-08-14 at 09:43 PM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    In my experience the hills in NY are steeper than most of the hills you will find in the Rockies or other western mountain ranges.

    The Pompey Hills, New York are harder than any we encountered in the western states.

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    Senior Member Medic Zero's Avatar
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    Who sells cranks and chainrings in 18T and 20T sizes? I was under the impression that a 20T will only barely fit some cranks and that 18's are too small altogether...
    ISO: 22" GT Rebound frame, year 2000 model

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    Mike, Some of the climbs in New England can be brutal, akin to what's found in the Junction/Kerrville area. You might be able to cobble up something like a 20-33-39 tooth crank set. I don't know how much a 20T granny will help in avoiding having to walk, but at the end of a long day riding, it wouldn't hurt.

    Brad

    PS This may help in having all 8 gears, plus adding something useable in the middle: http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/csird8.htm
    Last edited by bradtx; 08-09-14 at 03:40 AM. Reason: ps

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Check out Mountain Tamer Triple adapter - LOWER GEARS for bikes of all kinds

    It lets you use rear cogs as small as 17 as chain rings.

    I have to say that I have a hard time imagining anyone needing rings that small though. Back in the days that I packed pretty heavy, I did the Trans America with a 26/36/46 and an 11-32 and didn't wish for lower gearing in the Cascades or Rockies. There were a few places in the Appalachians where a 24T ring might have been nice, but it was OK without it.

    Since I pack lighter now I don't even feel the need to go as low as I did for the TA, in fact on the Southern Tier I used a 39/26 with a 12-28 and found it perfectly adequate . Despite having camping and cooking gear, I was packed VERY light though. I was 61 year old for that ride so it isn't like I am a fit 18 year old.

    The climbs were pretty crazy in the Sierras on the Sierra Cascades route so I might want lower gearing there, but still can't imagine wanting lower than what you have on your bike now.

    Worst case you can walk a bit. That can actually be a nice change of pace. Since most places where the climbs are crazy steep they are also short. If I needed less than 22T ring with a 34 cog, I would just as soon walk. I don't usually need to walk, but sometimes like to even where it isn't necessary just for the change of pace.
    Last edited by staehpj1; 08-09-14 at 04:29 PM.

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I too am finding it difficult to imagine wanting smaller gears than what you now have, and I'm very far from being a spring chicken. The fact is, hills are hard if you have 50lbs of gear on the bike.

    You can almost certainly pack lighter than that, but I suspect that getting stronger is the answer. That'll come. And there's no hurry when touring, being slow is OK.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I was going to mention this too. But I think you need a new crank to make it work. If you curently have a 22 granny, your bolt circle diameter is smaller than 74mm, I think the mountain tamer needs a 74mm. You could contact them and ask.

    I bought one several years ago and tried it. For a variety of reasons I decided it was not for me. The spider of it goes on where your smallest chainring would mount. When I shifted, the chain would land on the spider, not on the sprocket. The instructions say something about cutting off part of the crank to make if fit right if your crank does not have spacers. I did not want to cut my crankset. Instead I made some little ramps out of sheet metal that pushed the chain over onto the sprocket. The little ramps are hard to see in the photo, but they are there, the ones on the farthest right and farthest left are probably the best ones to look at. Since I did not use it for more than a few dozen miles, I can't say if my little ramps would have been a good solution or if they would have bent.

    IMG_2055.jpg

    Note that I have a Campy crank, middle and big rings are 135mm bolt circle diameter, my middle ring is 42t. Dropping down from 42t to a tiny granny was too big a jump for me, that is why I stopped using it and went back to my 24t granny.

    If you can find a 110/74 triple crank, you could use a smaller middle ring, that would solve some of the problem I had.

    One problem is that you might eventually find that you can't go slow enough to maintain balance and stay upright. On my last tour, my bike frame was too flexible and it would not steer well below about 5 mph. When it got steeper than about 9 percent grade I usually walked instead. Walking also lowered my heart rate because I walked slower than 5 mph and I used different muscle groups in my legs, so walking is not so bad. I have a couple other touring bikes that have stiffer frames, but I still need to maintain 3.5 mph on those bikes to maintain balance and stay upright.

    On my last trip when the bubble on the inclinometer hit 20 percent, I stopped to take a photo. Otherwise it rarely got steeper than 12 percent.

    20IMGP1367.jpg

    Since you did not use the 44 at all, you might consider setting up your bike the way that the mountain tamer people cite for a quad, you could use a tiny ring on the mountain tamer, a granny ring with a 74mm bolt circle diameter with 26 to 30 teeth as your middle ring mounted in teh granny position, and a larger ring mounted in teh middle position on a triple crank. Then put a bash guard in the outer position. You would need a longer bottom bracket to get the chainline right. It would be some work but I think it would give you the ring sizes you want. Teh mountain tamer people might be able to provide some advice in this area. If you did this with a 130/74 triple instead of a 110/74, they are cheap to find in square taper.

    The only other option I see to get you the tiny gears you want is a Rohloff. But that is a very expensive way to go. If you do not want to invest a few thousand into a bike, do not even bother looking at that option.

    Good luck.

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    Mountain TamerTM adapters adds a freehub spline inner ring.

  12. #12
    nun
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I have to say that I have a hard time imagining anyone needing rings that small though. Back in the days that I packed pretty heavy, I did the Trans America with a 26/36/46 and an 11-32 and didn't wish for lower gearing in the Cascades or Rockies. There were a few places where a 24T ring might have been nice, but it was OK without it.
    I have to agree. When you start to get to really low gearing the incremental returns of going even lower are small.....just get off and push.

    Rather than looking for really small gears I'd reduce your gear load and practice your hill climbing technique.

  13. #13
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharpshin View Post
    Certainly this will be a necessity if I tour in the Mountain West.
    I touched on this in my previous post, but wanted to say a bit more on this topic. It is definitely not the case that the mountain west automatically means steeper climbs. Most of the west has much better graded roads so you will seldom see much more than 8% on many routes. It may go on for quite a few miles at 6-8% but steeper grades are just not that common.

    The only places where I saw grades as steep as I see in the Appalachians in the west were in the Sierras on the Sierra Cascades route where AC apparently went out of their way to find the gnarliest climbing they could. I wasn't in shape for that tour and walked some by necessity, but I don't think lower gearing would have mattered. The places I walked I would have walked anyway. Had I been in top form I might have ridden everything.

    The other exception was off of paved roads on the dirt, but we are talking MTB terrain here. In Colorado on a dirt roads tour I found some pretty steep grades, but I'd rather walk them than go too much lower in gearing than I was using when I was there (about 22 gear inches). Even given the steepness I was actually able to ride everything on that tour, but chose to walk a couple places just for a change of pace. Again I was packed pretty light though.

  14. #14
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I'm not too proud to use my 2 foot gear ... in keeping with the British vernacular... A 'Push Bike' is one without a Motor.

    & yes highway engineers where it snows every winter have been trying to lower the slope rate to be safer when snow is on the passes.

    other places havent changed much since the Roman Empire put the 1st road down , there..

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    Thanks for the input all.

    Yep I'm certain I want a smaller granny. Recall this need became apparent AFTER about a whole month averaging 65 miles per day. My current granny moves me along about 5mph at a normal cadence. I'm sure I can handle 3-4mph.

    Turns out Shimano makes a 14-36 nine speed cassette which would be a start, tho I'll be needing a longer cage derailleur to go with it (and halleluiah for old-style non-indexing friction downtube shift levers).

    I will also check out the Mountain Tamer chainring offerings.

    To my mind, a granny should be low enough to make long ascents actually relaxing. This is the way it was for me going up hills most of the way; I was watching the front wheel roll serenely by flowers and bugs and such while having more time to appreciate the scenery. As long as that front wheel was rolling, speed was not a concern, ever. If I rode all day the miles piled up regardless.

    My philosophy is if I'm breathing hard just to stay on the bike on a given hill, then I need a lower granny.

    Others MMV,

    Mike

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    Mountain Tamer chainrings are Suntour freewheel, not Shimano spline. Seems a weird choice.

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    I've stopped walking my bike long time ago. If the hill gets very tough, I simply rest and get my wind back. If my muscles ache, I massage them, and may even apply hot balm to prevent cramp. I also stretch during the break, and eat some thing. Anxiety plays havoc with my endurance, so I tend to take things easy. Regarding lightening the load. I was amazed that I could climb the hills that I practice, more quickly and less tired on my 7.9kg. road bike 50-34 crank, and 25t rear sprocket, than with my 11kg. mountain bike with 22t crank and 34t sprocket, and three water bottles. I do light touring only mostly because I want to enjoy cycling, and not be slave to burden. Sorry, if this doesn't answer the OP's question. Just lighten your load.

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    While I truly appreciate all input I believe the "train harder/carry less/walking is fun" folks are missing an important point: Hills are why gears were invented in the first place.

    I was not carrying a huge load, even by backpacking standards. If I was heading across West Texas where it can potentially be 50-90 miles between water sources an extra gallon or two of water would have made made my load heavier yet.

    There is nothing wrong with the concept of cycling as effortlessly as possible, whatever ones' fitness level. That exact approach worked very well for me and I made that 2,000 miles at a pace right in there with the pack of posted bike tour accounts.

    Clearly gearing down to the limits of rideability (3mph?) oughtta be an available option, possibly even lower for those on three wheeled recumbents and such.

    Some hope tho'; turns out some of the newest mountain bikes have 11 speed cassettes that go to 42 teeth, but expensive and paired with single chainrings up front. But before too long the price will come down and folks will be matching them with paired chainrings if that is their preference.

    Mike

  19. #19
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharpshin View Post
    While I truly appreciate all input I believe the "train harder/carry less/walking is fun" folks are missing an important point: Hills are why gears were invented in the first place.

    I was not carrying a huge load, even by backpacking standards. If I was heading across West Texas where it can potentially be 50-90 miles between water sources an extra gallon or two of water would have made made my load heavier yet.

    There is nothing wrong with the concept of cycling as effortlessly as possible, whatever ones' fitness level. That exact approach worked very well for me and I made that 2,000 miles at a pace right in there with the pack of posted bike tour accounts.

    Clearly gearing down to the limits of rideability (3mph?) oughtta be an available option, possibly even lower for those on three wheeled recumbents and such.

    Some hope tho'; turns out some of the newest mountain bikes have 11 speed cassettes that go to 42 teeth, but expensive and paired with single chainrings up front. But before too long the price will come down and folks will be matching them with paired chainrings if that is their preference.

    Mike
    Your current crank will take a 20 tooth inner which cost about $25 with shipping on Fleabay. I would start there. mbtools (also on Flebay) sells individual 36, 38 and 41 teeth. While the 41 is probably too large for your current derailer, the derailer could be pushed to work with a 36 or 38. The jump from the next to the lowest to lowest gear would be larger but it's not that big and would work. Low gears should be considered bailout gears anyway.

    Personally, I'd start with the 20 tooth inner rings. Paired with a 34 tooth cog, that will give you a 16" gear. I use that myself on my touring bike and it worked very well in Appalachia. I'm no spring chicken but I'm also not a weak rider. I also have no problem using very low gears in all kinds of situations...including touring. Machismo usually just means being dumb.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    . . .

    Personally, I'd start with the 20 tooth inner rings. Paired with a 34 tooth cog, that will give you a 16" gear. I use that myself on my touring bike and it worked very well in Appalachia. I'm no spring chicken but I'm also not a weak rider. I also have no problem using very low gears in all kinds of situations...including touring. Machismo usually just means being dumb.
    + 1. It's not worth running the risk of hurting your knees when climbing with a loaded touring bike. I did my cross country with a 24 up front and a 28 in the rear. I was in a great shape and I finished the trip without any real problems but the gearing was not low enough. I was using a 110/74 triple on that trip which can't go lower I believe than 24 teeth. I think using a modern mtb triple for a loaded touring bike with a 20 tooth inner is a good idea.

  21. #21
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharpshin View Post
    My philosophy is if I'm breathing hard just to stay on the bike on a given hill, then I need a lower granny.
    My philosophy is that cycling is a physical activity. If minimising your effort level is the goal, then it strikes me you might prefer a bike with an electric motor. Nothing wrong with that, if it's what you want.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  22. #22
    djb
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    with the 20t and going from 17.6 to 16 gear inches should be a significant enough lowering, it may seem very close on paper, but going from experience of playing with gears, I suspect that it will feel like nearly a gear lower than your present low.

    cycco's comments are all spot on, especially about this being the easiest way to bring your gearing down and see how it feels.

    a few comments
    -your 40-50lb load is pretty much what I have always ended up taking, being a light guy I really make an effort to keep it more at the 40 range, especially as you say with extra water and whatnot its easy to add in a bunch more weight if you have to cover yourself because of long supply distances.
    -I have no problem riding at 5, 6, 7kph, or 3-5mph lets say, you shouldnt either.
    -the comments regarding hill steepness seems to me to be pretty accurate, especially from these very experienced tourers who you can believe when they say that some out east hills are much steeper than out west. The most outrageous steep hills I have seen have been in Latin America and in England, where you often see 20%+ hills which are a real bear. I toured a little in Latin America with about 20-25lbs of stuff, and 19.5 gear inches, and there were hills that I knew if I had a full load with camping gear and whatnot in your load weight range, I would absolutely need a low of easily 17 g.i or lower.

    hopefully a 20t will go on with no problem and hopefully wont even need any front derailleur adjusting. I changed my 30t granny on one of my bikes to a 26t last summer and didnt have to touch a thing, and that with a 4 tooth difference.

    oh, and in the post where you showed a photo of yourself with the wide brim hat, you mention using sandals because of your feet issues. I know you will not be changing your shoes and pedals, but as a reference, I found out a long time ago that really stiff cycling shoes and spd pedals pretty much allowed me to climb a hill one gear higher compared to regular shoes and pedals--I mention this more as a reference to you and others when talking about what gearing is needed for a given load etc etc. I had forgotten this with this conversation but it is a factor and makes climbing with a heavy bike just that little bit easier being able to smoothen out the pedalling circle, but again, I realize you will be sticking with what works for your feet.

    pop back in when you have made some gearing modifications.

  23. #23
    nun
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    My inclination (sorry for the pun) would be to first change things that will improve the entire cycling experience, not just riding hills. So I'd look to lose weight where ever possible and practice on steep gradients to improve your technique. When I got back into touring I was frightened of the hills in Western MA and NY and thought that lower gearing was the obvious solution, but spinning away and doing 3 or 4 mph made bike handling difficult. After a few years I'm now comfortable riding slightly bigger gears and enjoy the experience of riding hills a lot more.

  24. #24
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    My philosophy is if I'm breathing hard just to stay on the bike on a given hill, then I need a lower granny
    thats when I get out my 2 foot gear .. I dont have to stay on the bike..

    10s of thousands of miles many countries .. 700c wheels . 50-40-24 t crank 14-34t freewheel .. (Phil Wood freewheel hub)

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    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    While I agree with lighter loads and being in good riding condition, there is nothing wrong with having low gearing when you need/want it.

    Three of us in our family run 44/32/22 cranks with an 11-34 cassette. That gives us 17.2 gear inches on the 700 c bikes and 15.9 on my daughter's 26" LHT. Coming from a mountain biking background our daughters's bike handling skills were evident on a very hilly loaded tour in the Selkirk Mountains a couple of weeks ago; she easily climbed very steep hills at 3 MPH. My wife is also very good at low speed riding, which is important for her due to the toe overlap on her small framed bike.

    From what I have observed, it seems the the folks who have trouble at low speeds are either riding at a low cadence(40 RPM) or are spinning very fast (+100) with little pedal resistance. Also, practicing riding slow is the only way to get good at it.
    Last edited by Doug64; 08-10-14 at 10:12 PM.

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