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Old 06-26-17, 01:48 PM   #1
carleton
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Big Gears

Our sport is one of trends and fads. I guess the only difference between the two is:

- If it works, it's a trend.
- If it doesn't work, it's a fad.

For example:

Narrow handlebars: Trend.
Smaller than 165mm cranks: Fad.

I'm still trying to figure out if the Big Gears thing is a trend or a fad. This is probably all over FB. I see pics of dinner plates on people's bikes. I've received several requests to make allowance for bigger and bigger chainrings in my apps.

I've asked a few friends (National/World level Masters) who are in on that trend/fad if they have seen anyone become significantly faster using them. They haven't been able to point to a particular person or cite themselves as having really benefited. They haven't taken a loss by doing so, but they also haven't gained.

So, does it work?

My assessment so far from what I've gathered is that:

- No one in particular has gained significantly using big gears (with all other things being equal). The "all other things being equal" is the key part. If someone is 15lbs lighter the season he uses big gears, that's a significant factor and it's not comparing apples to apples.
- If you train for big gears, you will learn to ride them and perform as well as you did on "normal" gears for a particular event.
- Basically, the hive mind has found that the power band using Normal gears also extends to Big gears.
- Big gears are an equal option, not a better option.
- Six one way, one-half dozen the other way.


One anecdote: When asked a few years ago, Steve Hill (2x US Elite Kilo Champ, Masters World Record Holder, trained engineer) was asked if small/normal/big gears made a difference. He told us that he'd actually properly tested for his own sake. He rode flying 200s on under, normal, and over gears and the times were nearly identical.

Thoughts?
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Old 06-26-17, 01:54 PM   #2
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It's hard to say. I agree that there are too many variables.

I will say that I've recently been using big-ass gears, and appreciated it when following wheels into a 70kph sprint during T-Town's UCI races... in the enduro races...
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Old 06-26-17, 02:04 PM   #3
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It's hard to say. I agree that there are too many variables.

I will say that I've recently been using big-ass gears, and appreciated it when following wheels into a 70kph sprint during T-Town's UCI races... in the enduro races...
Yeah, I think that touches on an upside use case. If you have someone breaking the air in front of you, you can roll like a freight train using a big gear.

But the down side is that it takes a lot of energy to get up to that cruising speed using big gears and it also takes a lot of energy to be on the front of that train while using big gears.

Personally, I consider big gears somewhat of a gamble in match sprints and mass start races. We can easily think of the situation where in a match sprint, a leading rider (riding a normal gear) corals a trailing rider and keeps him/her from "winding up" the big gear, then when the end is close enough, launch into a all-out sprint and leave the big gear rider to suffer trying to get the bike rolling.

In mass start races, a big gear can be detrimental when there are lots of speed changes because it takes that much energy to speed it up and slow it down.
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Old 06-26-17, 02:10 PM   #4
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As I commented to a friend regarding big gears and sprinting: The style of Sprinting has changed. It used to be a lot of "cat and mouse" stuff as they inch around the track then when the end was in sight, the sprint would commence. Now the culture is loooooong sprints that play to and are benefited by bigger gears. It's one of those, which came first? The chicken or the egg things.

I wonder if the same thing is happening in mass start races (I never took interest in mass start racing details like speeds and speed changes). Are mass start races faster now with fewer speed changes?
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Old 06-26-17, 02:19 PM   #5
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Doesnt this depend on each person individually? Kind of like how different motors produce their max HP at different RPMs, Different people produce max power at different RPMs?

Last edited by radripperaj; 06-26-17 at 02:21 PM. Reason: fixed watts to rpms
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Old 06-26-17, 02:53 PM   #6
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I think some people are also using the larger chainrings to be able to run a larger cog for the same total gear inches. This is done for drivetrain efficiency, because the smaller rear cog will put more friction on the chain. Not sure exactly how much difference this makes but at the top end of the sport where fractions of a percent can be the difference between winning or losing, it's just one more "marginal gain" to take into consideration.
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Old 06-26-17, 03:44 PM   #7
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Doesnt this depend on each person individually? Kind of like how different motors produce their max HP at different RPMs, Different people produce max power at different RPMs?
True, but the concept is that even among individuals who have raced several years (decades), they are choosing larger gears than they did in year's past. We aren't talking going from a 96" gear to a 98". I'm talking about going from 96" to over 110". If you've ever pushed a 110" gear, you'd remember it

For example, instead of sprinting on a 96" gear last season, they are choosing 120" this season as their race gear.

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I think some people are also using the larger chainrings to be able to run a larger cog for the same total gear inches. This is done for drivetrain efficiency, because the smaller rear cog will put more friction on the chain. Not sure exactly how much difference this makes but at the top end of the sport where fractions of a percent can be the difference between winning or losing, it's just one more "marginal gain" to take into consideration.
Yeah, I've heard of that, too.

I firmly believe that the gains are small and are "lost in the wash" of other variables. Just like ceramic bearings are technically more efficient...but they only demonstrate performance gains over high quality steel bearings at several thousand RPMs as when used in machinery.

So, my question isn't about achieving the same gear ratio by using bigger chainrings and cogs. It's about achieving a higher gear ratio than before with all other things being equal (rider, strength, fitness, track, event, etc...).
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Old 06-26-17, 03:56 PM   #8
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Eddy Dawkins, Theo Bos, Denis Dmitriev, Matthijs Buchli and IIRC also Shane Perkins are all aboard the Big gear hype train. Theo Bos even posted a video of him training standing starts in Japan with a custom setup of 58x10.

The pursuit has also seen a rise in gear inches since the acceleration part is minimal in that event.

Elimination and tempo are just suicide with big gears but I could see myself running big gear in a scratch or a points race if I know the average speed will be high (and that i can hold/lead the pack at that speed)
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Old 06-26-17, 04:04 PM   #9
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radripperaj,

Further, many track racers have been considered "the Pincess and the Pea" when it comes to choosing gearing. Some will spend valuable time in the infield between races switching chainrings/cogs to go up or down just 1 or 2 gear inches instead of sitting down and recovering...for each race in a 4-race race night.

I've had people say that they gear up/down based on atmospheric conditions (he was a PhD of Aerodynamics from a top engineering school in the US).

Now if people put that much thought into local weekly races, imagine how much thought they'd put into an annual training program leading up to Nationals or Worlds.
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Old 06-26-17, 04:06 PM   #10
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Eddy Dawkins, Theo Bos, Denis Dmitriev, Matthijs Buchli and IIRC also Shane Perkins are all aboard the Big gear hype train. Theo Bos even posted a video of him training standing starts in Japan with a custom setup of 58x10.

The pursuit has also seen a rise in gear inches since the acceleration part is minimal in that event.

Elimination and tempo are just suicide with big gears but I could see myself running big gear in a scratch or a points race if I know the average speed will be high (and that i can hold/lead the pack at that speed)
Yeah, I know of several examples of people doing it.

The $64,000 Question is: Are they faster because of it?

And do those gains "trickle down" to us local racers like the gains from using narrow handlebars?
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Old 06-26-17, 06:09 PM   #11
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Elimination and tempo are just suicide with big gears but I could see myself running big gear in a scratch or a points race if I know the average speed will be high (and that i can hold/lead the pack at that speed)
I've found the opposite. In big races, I've had much better luck with big gears for the elim and the tempo. Those races aren't about surges, they're about constant high speed and keeping your cool. Big gears help.
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Old 06-26-17, 06:56 PM   #12
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Being a cyclocross racer who just recently started trying track, I had to consult a chart to see what 120" is. HOLY CRAP!!! 120" is around 49x11 that is me trying to start with almost my biggest gear on my road bike. Although, alot of track racers have legs wider than my shoulders, so I guess its not quite as big of a deal to them. right now im stuck with a 49 up front with a 14, 15, and 16 for the back. I have a 50 and 51 on order. When I was looking at cogs I was thinking, "who needs a 12?". Now I know. lol

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True, but the concept is that even among individuals who have raced several years (decades), they are choosing larger gears than they did in year's past. We aren't talking going from a 96" gear to a 98". I'm talking about going from 96" to over 110". If you've ever pushed a 110" gear, you'd remember it

For example, instead of sprinting on a 96" gear last season, they are choosing 120" this season as their race gear.



Yeah, I've heard of that, too.

I firmly believe that the gains are small and are "lost in the wash" of other variables. Just like ceramic bearings are technically more efficient...but they only demonstrate performance gains over high quality steel bearings at several thousand RPMs as when used in machinery.

So, my question isn't about achieving the same gear ratio by using bigger chainrings and cogs. It's about achieving a higher gear ratio than before with all other things being equal (rider, strength, fitness, track, event, etc...).
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Old 06-26-17, 07:24 PM   #13
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Yeah, I know of several examples of people doing it.

The $64,000 Question is: Are they faster because of it?

And do those gains "trickle down" to us local racers like the gains from using narrow handlebars?
The Ttown Men's 200m track record was broken three times this past Saturday: 1) Hugo Barrette - 10.208, 2) Stefan Ritter - 10.179, and 3) Eddie Dawkins - 10.141 seconds. The Women's record was also broken by Kate O'Brien - 11.235. Maybe the big gears are working. I was a back-up timer on the judges stand and I didn't believe my timings at first.

As far as big gears are concerned, I have found if the field is faster than me (fast tempo riders), big gears help me to keep up. If I'm competitive, then smaller gears allow me to be more responsive to the jumps.
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Old 06-26-17, 09:29 PM   #14
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I think at the elite level the falling record times we see are at least in part due to the new fashion of huge gears. How that translates to the local level is a different deal though. I witnessed a steady up creep of gear sizes at Hellyer amongst masters sprinters, and I'm now seeing it starting to catch on in Japan. Can't really tell if people are getting faster though, as we're also getting older at the same time! I'm trying nominally bigger gears this year, but I'm building towards September and don't really expect to see fast times until August at the earliest. Interested to hear others' experiences with this.
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Old 06-26-17, 10:11 PM   #15
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Big gears are clearly better for sprinting. Roadies have been using huge gears forever in their sprints. All the good sprinters these days are using big gears in their races. I've converted. It's better as long as you have the strength to get the gears accelerated.

The way I view it is similar to chess history. Back in the day (Bobby Fischer's era and before), when chess was more intuitive, reactive and less pre-calculated, the gambit opening was a very popular style of play. It was exciting, it led to positions that were difficult to calculate, and a lot of good chess players won all the time using gambits by out calculating their opponents over the board and forcing their opponents into mistakes.

Now? Almost no chess game at a high level uses a gambit opening because they are all unsound and people have studied how to deal with them. Play the King's Gambit at the high level now and your opponent has had the first 15 moves memorized from the time he was 12 and you will lose. Pre-calculation has won the day and truly sound opening are the only openings played.

The days of 90" gears were from a time when training and racing was intuitive and reactive, and acceleration was used as the be-all and end-all of sprinting. Understand that the well coached individuals of that era were all taught that small gears were the gears to use and the game was at an equilibrium. Small gears racing against small gears works just fine and a top level racer isn't going to sacrifice a full season on the vague notion that big gears might just work better. Even racers of moderate talent such as myself, it's hard to just jump on an untested idea knowing that you'll have to dedicate a lot of work to get the new system to work for you. The sport of track racing, and sprinting especially, is well known for being very conservative. How long exactly did it take before cleated pedals were finally out? There was still one rider in the 2012 Olympics using slotted cleats and straps.

It's not that nobody used big gears, but the ones who used big gears were outside the main talent pool. It wasn't until Marty Nothstein, who rode something like a "big gear" (a whole 94 inches), and then later with converted kilo riders like Chris Hoy and Theo Bos, that people started experimenting with and having success with bigger gears. Power meters probably helped in that conversion too.

Curiously enough, if you watch some of the high level racing, you'll see guys like Jason Kenny and Denis Dimitrov starting to adopt "small gear" tactics against bigger geared opponents, but instead of racing an 88 or 90" gear and launching from 15mph at 190m, they are doing it launching from 30 or 35mph in a 110" gear starting from 300m.
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Old 06-26-17, 11:30 PM   #16
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The $64,000 Question is: Are they faster because of it? YES

And do those gains "trickle down" to us local racers like the gains from using narrow handlebars? DEFINITELY
Big gears are definitely far from a fad. The science is out there and the evidence is in your face if you care to open your eyes. BUT you can't approach it like you can expect to ride 90" week in and week out, go out and throw on 60/12 nad expect to be breaking PBs. Harnessing the power/speed takes time if you're willing to put the effort in.

For my own hypothetical musings, I feel the acceptance of big gears has given the non genetically gifted riders (those that just can't ride a 90" to 10.5s and never will) the ability to be comfortable with gears that allow them to harness their strength at lower rpm. Being surrounded by old school spin to win broken records had me stagnant on a 12.5 F200. Moving to bigger gears had me drop to 12.0 and weight loss last season saw that drop even more to 11.8. Who knows where next season will lead?

I also muse what speeds and times could have been back in the great old days of juiced up, jacked up riders if they had had the balls to ride a 110, or even 135".
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Old 06-26-17, 11:51 PM   #17
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Personally, I consider big gears somewhat of a gamble in match sprints and mass start races.

(stuff deleted)

In mass start races, a big gear can be detrimental when there are lots of speed changes because it takes that much energy to speed it up and slow it down.
I was mostly a mass start racer and picked the gear based on what the race was and who was there. I didn't have the high end to contest the sprints in a win and out when the real sprinters showed up, but could still finish in the money by putting on a big gear and just rolling in the draft of the first couple sprints. By the time the third one is done you've gone from 15-20 riders to about 4 because anybody who contested the sprints and missed is laying on the apron trying to breathe. I could roll through and pick up 4th or 5th.

If it was a big, fit field, a bigger gear was fine (where for me "big" was a 94" or 95") - the race would start fast, stay fast, and only get faster in the sprints. You don't even notice the extra gearing. A smaller field of mixed fitness and a big gear is ok if you're going to roll of the front, but if you're going to be in the pack as it speeds up and slows down, smaller is easier on your legs and easier to manage in close quarters. We'd sometimes mess with people who were overgeared by floating at odd times so they'd ride up on you too fast, have to slow down, then have a gap to close. With a big group and them just a little behind the front you can use them to stack up the field with everybody wishing they had brakes. I'd also go smaller outdoors if it was windy because you end up changing speed a lot.


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Just like ceramic bearings are technically more efficient...but they only demonstrate performance gains over high quality steel bearings at several thousand RPMs as when used in machinery.
Ceramic are really best for dirty conditions. My GF skated (ice and inline) when she was lived in Montreal, and much of the year it was hard to do a long skate without getting your bearings wet and maybe full of dirt. Steel bearings would bind up unless you were very thorough about cleaning and lubing them all the time. Ceramic bearings would just crush the dirt and keep rolling, and if you didn't soak them right after the skate they'd still turn the next day. I think some people would try to save money by just putting in one ceramic ball per bearing to crush the grit. On the track where everything is pretty clean it's going to make less difference.

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Elimination and tempo are just suicide with big gears but I could see myself running big gear in a scratch or a points race if I know the average speed will be high (and that i can hold/lead the pack at that speed)
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I've found the opposite. In big races, I've had much better luck with big gears for the elim and the tempo. Those races aren't about surges, they're about constant high speed and keeping your cool. Big gears help.
I mostly agree with queerpunk here, with a little caveat on elimination races - it depends on who's there and how you plan to ride it. If you're going to be the devil, it's easier to make the accelerations if you're geared a little lower than everybody else, if you're going to ride it like a tempo until it turns into a series of sprints where everybody fits across the track, bigger is better, though it can make the last few eliminations harder to stay in unless you managed to stay out of the wind for most of the early race.
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Old 06-27-17, 06:28 AM   #18
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I mostly agree with queerpunk here, with a little caveat on elimination races - it depends on who's there and how you plan to ride it. If you're going to be the devil, it's easier to make the accelerations if you're geared a little lower than everybody else, if you're going to ride it like a tempo until it turns into a series of sprints where everybody fits across the track, bigger is better, though it can make the last few eliminations harder to stay in unless you managed to stay out of the wind for most of the early race.
My frame of reference this year has been big, fast fields for UCI races at TTown. It changes the calculus and it's a whole new learning experience. Hard to explain, but compared to local or regional races, it's just a consistently high pace instead of sprints and lulls.

In the first few races, nobody was really sure of who else would ride how: there are some familiar names from previous years or international competitions, and dozens of question marks. You see some national team squads and you assume they're at least semi-balleur and that's not always the case; you see some privateers on beat-up bikes and it turns out they're total crushers. You line up at the start of the race and the riders, on both the blue band and the rail, stretch back from the start/finish line nearly all the way back to turn 4.

Compare that to a local or even regional field in which you're racing against the same sixteen or eighteen familiar faces - some of those races you can practically predict the finishing order before it starts.

So instead of the predictable "front vs devil," everybody is constantly surging toward the front, even if they're safely midpack. The unknown factor, plus the fact that there were 40 riders on a wide track, meant that there wasn't a "front vs devil" dynamic - not yet, not for those first twenty laps. It was just speed and chaos, and having a little extra to push against in order to make a surge around the outside really really helped.

The eliminations happening every 333 meters, too, instead of every 500 (on a 250) was a factor too.
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Old 06-27-17, 08:09 AM   #19
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My frame of reference this year has been big, fast fields for UCI races at TTown. It changes the calculus and it's a whole new learning experience. Hard to explain, but compared to local or regional races, it's just a consistently high pace instead of sprints and lulls.
That's how the big races were here in LA when I was still racing -- things like Elite nats and the nats qualifier, and sometimes elite states. When they still had qualifiers to get into nats, we scheduled ours to be almost the last and people would show up from all over and it would be as fast as nats. Those are the kind of fields where the race is really fast, except when it's even faster, and I'd just put on a big gear and not worry.


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So instead of the predictable "front vs devil," everybody is constantly surging toward the front, even if they're safely midpack. The unknown factor, plus the fact that there were 40 riders on a wide track, meant that there wasn't a "front vs devil" dynamic - not yet, not for those first twenty laps. It was just speed and chaos, and having a little extra to push against in order to make a surge around the outside really really helped.
Yeah, the full P/1/2 miss and outs here were like that. The race basically started at the ramp as people were fighting for a good position at the rail, and then coming off the rail it was already full blast on the neutral lap. I'd always use those races as an example in the accelerated class as how "neutral" doesn't mean "slow" (kids and 5's tended to have a neutral lap slide in the first race of the day), but a 24 rider P/1/2 race starts before the neutral lap and doesn't have any slow bits.

Those are fun races though, because they really do have three distinct parts - the beginning where the track is crowded, the middle where the field can almost fit side-by-side across, and the end where there's lots of room but people are getting a little thrashed.
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Old 06-27-17, 09:24 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff View Post
Big gears are clearly better for sprinting. Roadies have been using huge gears forever in their sprints. All the good sprinters these days are using big gears in their races. I've converted. It's better as long as you have the strength to get the gears accelerated.

The way I view it is similar to chess history. Back in the day (Bobby Fischer's era and before), when chess was more intuitive, reactive and less pre-calculated, the gambit opening was a very popular style of play. It was exciting, it led to positions that were difficult to calculate, and a lot of good chess players won all the time using gambits by out calculating their opponents over the board and forcing their opponents into mistakes.

Now? Almost no chess game at a high level uses a gambit opening because they are all unsound and people have studied how to deal with them. Play the King's Gambit at the high level now and your opponent has had the first 15 moves memorized from the time he was 12 and you will lose. Pre-calculation has won the day and truly sound opening are the only openings played.

The days of 90" gears were from a time when training and racing was intuitive and reactive, and acceleration was used as the be-all and end-all of sprinting. Understand that the well coached individuals of that era were all taught that small gears were the gears to use and the game was at an equilibrium. Small gears racing against small gears works just fine and a top level racer isn't going to sacrifice a full season on the vague notion that big gears might just work better. Even racers of moderate talent such as myself, it's hard to just jump on an untested idea knowing that you'll have to dedicate a lot of work to get the new system to work for you. The sport of track racing, and sprinting especially, is well known for being very conservative. How long exactly did it take before cleated pedals were finally out? There was still one rider in the 2012 Olympics using slotted cleats and straps.

It's not that nobody used big gears, but the ones who used big gears were outside the main talent pool. It wasn't until Marty Nothstein, who rode something like a "big gear" (a whole 94 inches), and then later with converted kilo riders like Chris Hoy and Theo Bos, that people started experimenting with and having success with bigger gears. Power meters probably helped in that conversion too.

Curiously enough, if you watch some of the high level racing, you'll see guys like Jason Kenny and Denis Dimitrov starting to adopt "small gear" tactics against bigger geared opponents, but instead of racing an 88 or 90" gear and launching from 15mph at 190m, they are doing it launching from 30 or 35mph in a 110" gear starting from 300m.
This is great analysis!

I think your take in how sprinting has evolved was a more eloquent way of saying what I wrote about:

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Originally Posted by carleton View Post
As I commented to a friend regarding big gears and sprinting: The style of Sprinting has changed. It used to be a lot of "cat and mouse" stuff as they inch around the track then when the end was in sight, the sprint would commence. Now the culture is loooooong sprints that play to and are benefited by bigger gears.
Basically, the long game wins...so gear for it.

This explains how kilo riders started taking Sprint titles. Hoy was not known for being a cunning sprinter. But, he was strong enough to ride himself out of any situation. Then he may have realized that after training for 1,000M races for a long time, a balls-out 600-750M was easy by comparison, when many Match Sprints were contested at under 500M.

One moment of teeny, tiny glory for me: In 2010 I trained for the Kilo at Masters Track Nationals all season. That was the focus of my season. I would do team sprint and match sprints for fun. Fast forward to the Masters Nationals and I'm in the 9-12 5-up race (I've never been a great F200M rider or match sprinter). So here we are 4 of us on the 250M track with 3 laps to travel. We push off and coming out of turn 2 at the beginning I look and see the other 3 guys looking at each other trying to do "cat and mouse" stuff. I'm like, "Pfft...I'll see ya'll at the house." and I haul ass for 700M to win that race. It felt easy after training for the Kilo all season.

It was a small victory, but I learned something in the process.
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Roadies can run tempo all year as that's what humans were designed for. If you want to be a cheetah, lay around and lick your paws more.
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Old 06-27-17, 09:29 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by brawlo View Post
For my own hypothetical musings, I feel the acceptance of big gears has given the non genetically gifted riders (those that just can't ride a 90" to 10.5s and never will) the ability to be comfortable with gears that allow them to harness their strength at lower rpm.
So, the approach is: Roll a big gear like a Diesel engine as opposed to a small gear like a turbo 4 cylinder revving through small gears?
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Roadies can run tempo all year as that's what humans were designed for. If you want to be a cheetah, lay around and lick your paws more.
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Old 06-27-17, 09:44 AM   #22
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That's how the big races were here in LA when I was still racing -- things like Elite nats and the nats qualifier, and sometimes elite states. When they still had qualifiers to get into nats, we scheduled ours to be almost the last and people would show up from all over and it would be as fast as nats. Those are the kind of fields where the race is really fast, except when it's even faster, and I'd just put on a big gear and not worry.
It's funny that you mention that. In 2010, I'd watched Dan Holt (road pro) race at DLV all season. We were at Elite Nationals and sharing a pit. He put on the biggest gear he had for the points race qualification and qualified...and promptly came off the track saying that he was spinning out.

He asked around to everyone until he could cobble together the biggest chainring and smallest cog he could find to ride the finals...which he won by lapping the field
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Roadies can run tempo all year as that's what humans were designed for. If you want to be a cheetah, lay around and lick your paws more.
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Old 06-27-17, 09:53 AM   #23
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Agree with most everything here. My one adjacent comment: the trend toward bigger gears in both omniums and (especially) sprinting has made it all the more difficult to convince newcomers that they should really develop cadence and leg speed first. Seeing guys run a 98" in a cat 4 points race where it is anything BUT consistent high speeds is a head banger.
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Old 06-27-17, 09:54 AM   #24
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Agree with most everything here. My one adjacent comment: the trend toward bigger gears in both omniums and (especially) sprinting has made it all the more difficult to convince newcomers that they should really develop cadence and leg speed first. Seeing guys run a 98" in a cat 4 points race where it is anything BUT consistent high speeds is a head banger.
oof, absolutely.

speed first - THEN gear.

FWIW, until recently i raced Nats on 93-94" gears.
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Old 06-27-17, 11:06 AM   #25
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I've been reading this thread with interest, as I am still new to track and learning what gears I want.

For the most part, I thought I was running small gears because I was racing largely in the 86-94 range.

I recently had my wife come with me to the track to time my 200 efforts with different gears to figure out my best options. I started at 108. I got around in a decent time, but I really felt like I was fighting the bike to keep it going. My wife and another guy there that day - former world champion - both agreed that despite the time, it was too big of a gear. I backed off to 100 and shaved .2 off the 108 time. I then went up to 102, as I felt like I was spinning out the 100. My time was up a little bit, but it's unclear if that was due to the bigger gear or fatigue.
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