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Vintage factory gearing observations

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Vintage factory gearing observations

Old 09-18-21, 11:33 AM
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Vintage factory gearing observations

I really like looking at the old articles posted on test rides of bikes from back in the day. What has struck me like a brick however is the seemingly less than optimal gearing choices. I may be kinda anal about it, but to see redundant gears multiple times drives me nuts. I donít understand.

It seems that 1.5 step makes a fair bit of sense for wide ranging gearing. A half step with granny makes sense. Even crossover gearing looks decent with vintage 7 speed clusters as long as the harder gears are evenly staggered between rings so as to find that perfect gear against the wind on a longer straight.

It seems that the test stats show the worst offenders being with 6 speed freewheels. I guess it may just be me, but 10 or 12 speeds doesnít mean as much when several are duplicates. Perhaps it is just convention with 42/52 and 39/52 front rings, but it seems odd. A recently purchased Peugeot has a 13-30 rear and 38/50 front giving nice spacing. Did it not matter to some manufactures? Thatís my rant for today.
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Old 09-18-21, 03:40 PM
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My recollection is that it was hard enough to educate the consumer about what a derailleur was and what gears were. The optimal selection of gearing was not something that the consumer was going to care about... unless their last name was "Berto"

a bit of trivia that demonstrates the state of consumer knowledge about shifting are the little bike derailleur drivetrains that would sit on the bike shop counters so the consumer could practice shifting while standing in the store...



Frank Berto's many articles in Bicycling did influence me, causing me to design one-and-a-half step and half-step-plus-granny drivetrains. Even among bike nerds, though, I'm a bit of an outlier.

Steve in Peoria
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Old 09-18-21, 04:05 PM
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I like the display. Actually nicer progressions seem to point to 1X5 setups when strictly looking at the bike spec charts. No one wants to double shift front and rear, so I can see the appeal of 7,8,9 speeds and crossover gearing, but that’s not too vintage to some hard core guys.
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Old 09-18-21, 04:36 PM
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I'm with you sd5782 or at least I was. When I was in High School, I had a subscription to Bicycling and read every article. I was also:

- Nerdy enough that I would calculate the gear inches on a bike
- A cheapskate (then and now) that I wanted to get my money's worth

I couldn't understand why manufacturers kept putting on gears with so many duplicates or close enough ratios. I believe most 10 speeds only had 6 gear ratios. I would take apart freewheels and try to get better combinations.

Now, I think I understand what was going on. It was far less expensive for the manufacturer to buy a standard 14 - 28 freewheel (or cassette) and a 52 - 42 crank with a derailleur that can handle 28 teeth. They also knew that the customer wasn't going to complain about overlapping gear ratios. They didn't know enough. In fact, for most people, they just thought of it as I'm in the high range or the low range and then just shift the rear derailleur. It may be that the front derailleur did not get shifted much at all.

The other thing that is that I don't want to put a gear ratio chart on my handlebars and think about shifting. So, nowadays, I know I am not getting the maximum number of distinct ratios. I don't have a board full of SunTour cogs to swap around and aside from expanding the low range with either a 32 or 34 cog in the back, I pretty much learn to work with what I've got and accept that I have overlaps.

On my wife's mixte, I ditched the front derailleur and it is just a 6 speed. It's simple. It gives up a little range to get that. It is probably worth it since she doesn't do hills anymore. Back in the early eighty's when I worked in a bike shop, I built up a bike that had a Sturmey Archer AW 3-speed hub, with two cogs and a rear derailleur. It had a nice progressive 6 speeds. No overlaps, all usable gears. This was about the same range and ratios as a 10 speed at the time.

I can also see why the 1X gearing has gotten popular. No overlaps, simple progression. At some point I should try a half step progression. I'd probably like it. I would feel like I got my money's worth of gear ratios.
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Old 09-18-21, 05:15 PM
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Haha! Valid rant. But not everybody has the same gearing needs/goals as you. Case in point: in 1986, I bought a mail order bike and had a choice on chainrings and freewheel. I chose 53x42 and 13-21 (6-speed). Yes, there is a near duplicate with the 53/19 and 42/15. But that's probably not as bad as it seems. First of all, much of my home terrain is probably classified as gently rolling, with some hilly areas and some flat areas. The key is that if I'm riding gently rolling into a headwind, I use the small ring. A 42x14 is likely big enough on the gradual downhills into a headwind. And if I'm riding gently rolling with a tailwind, I ride the big ring as I can probably get up most hills in a 53x19. If I'm in a flat section, I can choose the ring based on the section I just rode and what is coming up. If I'm in a hilly section, I'm double shifting a lot and the duplicates don't come into play.
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Old 09-18-21, 05:19 PM
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Interesting that you bring this up. My old '75 Fuji S-10S came with a 3-pin Sugino Maxy crank with oddball chainrings - 39/51. With the standard SunTour 14-28 five speed freewheel, there were NO duplicate gearing combinations.

BUT, my favorite long-distance cruising gear was the cross-chained 39/14 combination.
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Old 09-18-21, 06:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Cougrrcj View Post
Interesting that you bring this up. My old '75 Fuji S-10S came with a 3-pin Sugino Maxy crank with oddball chainrings - 39/51. With the standard SunTour 14-28 five speed freewheel, there were NO duplicate gearing combinations.
...
True: 14-17-20-24-28 with a 12-tooth drop up front is a nearly perfect 1.5-step.

I have always customized my bicycle gearing to avoid wasteful redundancies, which one cannot afford with only 5 or 6 cogs.

My current best road bike gearing efforts are arguably 50-42 / 14-16-18-20-23-26, 45-42 / 13-15-17-20-23-26, and 46-38 / 13-15-17-19-22-25.
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Old 09-18-21, 06:42 PM
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I've found this gear calculator to be of great utility when figuring out prospective gearing for my bikes. https://www.gear-calculator.com/ Just plug in your choices for chainrings and rear cogs... Oh, and tire size/cadence/max chain angle if that is of importance to you...
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Old 09-18-21, 06:53 PM
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I have a copy of a 1975 Cycling review of the Norman Fay touring bike (one of which I happen to own). Unlike large manufacturers, this was set up with a Regina Extra 5-speed block (15, 16, 18, 22, 25) and a TA crankset with 44/28t rings, widely available parts at the time. Here's the nicely spaced gearing:

So back in the day, you could get a good range of gears (and for a tourer, this one is geared fairly low) once you got your bike home.
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Old 09-18-21, 08:02 PM
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I remember having a vague feeling that some of the gears were duplicated on my first good bike... but I didn't know how many teeth were in my crank or freewheel... I just kept shifting until I found the one that worked.

Then when I started calculating gears I was still a little surprised that there were so many duplicates, but I understood the reasoning with derailleur capacity limits and such. I started racing and it just wasn't that important to have a perfect transition between gears so long as I knew how to get into the right one. Some people felt "cheated" that they had 12 possible gears but only 10 different gears or whatever. I always thought that was silly.

Then came STI and I cared even less. Then came 9 and 10 speed cassettes and compact cranks and I couldn't care any less about shift patterns or gear charts. I never think about which gear would be perfect, I just want to be able to go up or down a little bit quickly. So I usually know what cog I'm in, but I literally never think "boy I really wish I had a 20t for this section instead of a 19 or 21".
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Old 09-18-21, 08:21 PM
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Actually my original Schwinn Super Sport with 14-32 five speed cluster and 39/52 rings was/is a very nice 1.5 step with no duplicates. That is why I was a bit surprised that manufacturers didn’t strive for nice progressions. Playing with the gear calculators does show 6 speeds being a bit more challenging to avoid duplicates however.
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Old 09-18-21, 08:47 PM
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Originally Posted by sd5782 View Post
Playing with the gear calculators does show 6 speeds being a bit more challenging to avoid duplicates however.
Challenging but not impossible. I currently have 53x42 and a 6-speed 13-14-16-19-22-26 freewheel on my roadie. No duplicates! But the 53/19 to/from 53/16 is a big jump and it takes a double shift to get from either of those to the 42/14. If the pace/effort is more relaxed, I don't bother with the double shift and adjust the cadence. But if I'm in a paceline with high effort, I make the double shift.
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Old 09-18-21, 11:17 PM
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As sd5782 mentioned about his ancient early Seventies Schwinn Super Sport which has excellent gearing thanks to the same FREEWHEEL gearing which the 1970 COLLEGIATE 5 speed and the 1970 SUBURBAN 5 speed brought into Schwinn.

What all of you folks that are saying Why didn't they have better gear ratios back in the old days?
That is super simple to answer. THE EUROPEAN REAR DERAILLEURS WERE NOT CAPABLE OF RELIABLY SHIFTING ANYTHING WITH 30 or More!!
The JAPANESE built a rear derailleur by the late sixties that COULD DO WHAT THE EUROPEANS could not do!!
Heck Yeah, the Japanese copied the best of the existing European designs and then slightly improved them with better materials and better manufacturing precision and quality control.
Until you did have something that could shift something with more than 28 teeth reliably, you just could not do a whole helluva-lot.
Sure you had a few 15 speeds with a TRIPPLE up front that attempted to provide better gear range than a typical 10 speed or 8 speed (when freewheel had only four..).
Hell, don't you think they could easily build a freewheel with a 30, or 32, or 34 teeth FIRST GEAR as that was the simple thing.....but GIVEN THE EXISTING REAR DERAILLEURS OF THE DAY........How the hell would you get them to shift to the large rear cog and through the gears as expected? That is right, the European rear derailleur technology wasn't that far developed. It isn't a knock on the Europeans so much as all of them, SIMPLEX, CAMPAGNOLO, HURET etc had made significant advancements to get the rear derailleur to a workable--fully functional--completely reliable device by the 1960's, which it certainly was not before 1960 to anything close to what Europeans did achieve by say 1964, So you can't fault the bike manufacturers for keeping with the best functional solutions UNTIL Shimano developed the first LARK in 1967 and then took it farther. Soon Maeda SUNTOUR would also emerge from Japan with a rear derailleur that used better materials and engineering build & worksmanship than the French design that it was a near Xerox of. BEFORE THE JAPANESE hit the scene with rear derailleurs that could reliably shift a 32 teeth cog, bicycle manufacturers couldn't really go beyond the TWENTIES for the teeth on the LOW GEAR.
The Shimano built for SCHWINN GT-100 was a heavy tank that was more bulletproof than anything prior to its arrival and it SHIFTED A 32 RELIABLY......... Disraeli gear site is WRONG as it is 32 max and not 28 as that site erroneously lists on their link about the GT-100. There is a MARCH 1970 BICYCLING Magazine feature article about the GT-100 which tells of it being the most reliable and durable of any to that point in time. Now, certainly the GT-100 weighs a ton and never was designed for a super lightweight......it was designed to be an unbreakable workhorse that never missed a shift, even if it is more clunkingly notchy than buttery smooth.
SHIMANO & Maeda SUNTOUR would destroy all European rear derailleur competition by 1977 because they were that much better in the rear derailleur department.
Many marques held on to the greatly inferior and junky by comparison, CAMPAGNOLO, HURET & SIMPLEX for far too long after 1971-1972 when virtually everyone on the planet had realized that SHIMANO and Maeda SUNTOUR rear derailleur offerings were better than anything CAMPAGNOLO, HURET & SIMPLEX offered.
I'm old enough to remember that folks were routinely irritated that the PARAMOUNT was still Campy rear derailleur equipped in the early Seventies, and the then newly imported from JAPAN, World Voyageurs, ...Voyageur, and even the base model LeTour came with a superior rear derailleur to the relative piece of trash in comparison, CAMPAGNOLO rear derailleur that was still fitted as original equipment to the PARAMOUNT. Well, at least the CAMPAGNOLO and HURET rear derailleurs were among the best and most reliable that Europe offered, so basic functionality was not so much of a question if it was properly adjusted. A few marques continued with some SIMPLEX derailleurs which were the least reliable and offered the worst durability because of the lack of manufacturing quality and crummy materials. The SIMPLEX basic architecture is largely what SUNTOUR built their design by copying it with better materials and engineering tolerances and quality control.
It is just the way it was way back then. People do seem to forget that all those companies mentioned above made great advances to get people to not even question the shifting using a derailleur, if not for those advancements, folks would have been choosing 3 speed STURMEY-ARCHER equipped bicycles for much longer than what we saw as the Sixties progressed. All those European rear derailleur manufacturers did build excellent quality products but woo, once the Japanese unleased a vastly superior product, it was exactly like what Japan did with electronics, Television, Tape Players, Radios, Stereo Equipment, Stereo Tape Recording Decks from about 1964 to 1971......they wiped everyone out because of their well really...SONY & Matsush--a (National/Panasonic/also later Technics)........SONY & Panasonic developed many innovations......SONY's Trinitron Color television process forever changed Color television quality when it was released in about 1968...... it made everybody else's color tv design immediately obsolete as no one else's system could achieve that level of quality in Color reproduction......such that everyone would adopt it.........SONY and PANASONIC products were expensive relative to other electronics marques, and they sold like crazy because they were beyond just slightly ahead of their time.
Everyone that is now at least 64 or 65 years old, remembers the Tube checking machines in Drug Stores......Tubes (Vacuum Tubes or "Valves" as those outside the USA may refer to Tubes).............Radios, Record Players, TV's, Stereo typically had Tubes until about 1963 or 1964......when SOLID-STATE became the new norm, and everything was Solid State by 1966 or '67... Things changed tremendously. Bonanza & The Jetsons were the about the only programs telecast in color before the 1965 -66 changeover. All you other old folks out there do remember that the old TV dial only went from channel 2 through 13 on VHF. The FCC opened up the UHF band for tv broadcast from channel 14 through 86. Television manufacturers probably didn't begin to even include a UHF tuner with 14 -86 until around 1963 or 1964, as I don't recall seeing a local commercial broadcast UHF station in my area until 1967 and you do recall that UHF provided a much more snowy picture in most cases.
Everything was B&W and then 1966 everything except The Fugitive was color. I didn't own a color tv until about 8 years after that because it wasn't in my budget, so I kept on using a Zenith b&w 19" from about 1965 but I watched a lot on other people's sets during that era. I did have a lot of expensive stereo equipment and reel 2 reel tape decks some which could do Sound On Sound recording as I was doing a lot of actual live recording in those days. All of that equipment was Japanese. It was impressive just how good the sound recording had become by 1970-1971 versus say 1966, although the equipment was expensive. Things would only get even better beyond 1971 and by the beginning of the eighties, one could make live recordings on top-end cassette decks that would be at least as good, if not superior than the reel 2 reel decks from 1971......certainly the s/n ratio of the top of line cassette deck of 1981-1982 was significantly better than any reel 2 reel deck from 1971. Sure, you'd certainly have a higher frequency response with reel and opportunities did arise where one could employ an outboard noise red system to improve the s/n ratio but this gives you an example of just how much technology and engineering improved that the tape manufacturers, mainly TDK, Hitachi-MAXELL, BASF, and SONY, along with the leading Japanese electronics/stereo manufacturers improved the quality of what was initially a low-fi, dictation medium (cassette format) to outstanding recording and playback, sound reproduction capabilities in just more than 15 years(Cassette format was born circa 1963).
...................Well isn't this how many things have evolved, through significant technological and mechanical advancements.
This is also what occurred with the multi-gear, derailleured bicycle.
People do often forget that once upon a time, things weren't nearly as advanced as a possible certain moment in time when practically it actually transitioned from just being barely acceptable and not really useful, to the point where it first became good.
That certainly happened when the JAPANESE and low gear cogs with thirty two teeth made for a much much better bicycle riding experience thanks to the wider-range gearing that was much more useful in climbing hills that could not be tackled as easily before. Japanese rear derailleurs montumentally changed everything The Europeans never again came close and essentially today Shimano now rules the world.
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Old 09-19-21, 05:11 AM
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My 1970s Motobecane Mirage (1976 or '77) came with 52/40 chainrings and 5-speed 14-30 freewheel. That seemed fine for the first year and probably suited most folks who bought a bike that was only one step up from Motobecane's entry level Nomade.

But as my conditioning improved and I tried a few time trials and crits, I found some of the gaps to be awkward, and the 30 tooth big cog was unnecessary.

I remember seeing a cycling magazine article explaining this stuff, with instructions for changing cogs without replacing the entire freewheel. I don't remember the specific changes I made, but I did tighten up the four smallest cogs to be a bit tighter, leaving the original 30T big cog which now had an even more awkward jump from the fourth cog. But I didn't need it often so it was no big deal. I remember needing that 30T cog only on a few steep hills around San Diego where I was stationed in the 1970s. It was basically a four-speed freewheel with a bailout granny gear for emergencies.

Nowadays, with various 7, 8 and 10 speed setups, I'm still picky about gaps and replace perfectly good freewheels and cassettes just because one particular shift annoys me. Mostly I notice it on spirited group rides when, say, I'm often shifting back and forth around the middle cogs and find myself needed to adjust my cadence between 60-90 rpm to maintain the same speed and/or effort.

I think I'm more annoyed now by manufacturers of 7-speed and 8-speed freewheels/cassettes with 11 or even 12 tooth smallest cogs. I almost never need those, even for downhills unless I'm riding solo and trying for a PR with a tailwind. Even on fast group rides most folks I ride with coast downhill, so I've never come close to spinning out with a 52/13 gear on our modest slopes. I'd rather have a 13T smallest cog and better spacing without awkward jumps in the middle cogs. It's always the middle cogs that make the difference between a satisfying and annoying spirited group ride on our usual modest roller coaster terrain.

Reminds me, I just bought a nice used wheelset that included a Shimano 8-speed cassette with 12-23 cogs. While I'd rather have a 13-25, it'll be interesting to see whether this cassette spacing suits me for faster group rides on our modest rollers. I'll probably prefer a 25 to 28 tooth big cog for my solo rides west of town where the hills are more frequent and steeper. Hopefully I'll need to do less double shifting between the 53 and 39 chainrings.
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Old 09-19-21, 07:25 AM
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It also seemed while looking at these old bike tests (thanks for posting those for us) that Univega had some of the better gearing choices. It was also interesting that even various triple chainring tourers had non optimal gearing. If ever optimal gearing was called for, it would seem to be with the touring crowd. As a group, I bet there is quite a bit of attention paid to gearing, and even back in the day, I could imagine it factored into the new bike purchase.

Those interesting road tests didn’t seem to have many negative comments on gearing choices, but often had praise for better gearing. Then as now, it is better not to offend your advertisers.
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Old 09-19-21, 02:33 PM
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If the freewheels and cranks were purchased from the same supplier, MAYBE, there'd be something "better".

Unfortunately, that was rarely the case, so you get the cheapest (highest volume) component from each of two suppliers and slap it on the bike. It is more important to have product in hand than for it to be perfect.

If the user is an enthusiast (few were), they could change it to whatever they wanted. Heck, enthusiasts would find it fun to do so.
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Old 09-20-21, 10:35 AM
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If I can recall correctly, there was "California Gearing" in the BMX world of yesteryear (early 80's?)-

The idea was that if you ran simultaneous "bigger" gearing it was faster (greater rollout) even though the gear inches were the same.

Example- a 42-14 (60GI) was faster than a 39-13 (60GI) because the chainwheels/sprockets were "bigger" and that is faster. Makes sense to a kid.

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Old 09-20-21, 09:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Erzulis Boat View Post
If I can recall correctly, there was "California Gearing" in the BMX world of yesteryear (early 80's?)-

The idea was that if you ran simultaneous "bigger" gearing it was faster (greater rollout) even though the gear inches were the same.

Example- a 42-14 (60GI) was faster than a 39-13 (60GI) because the chainwheels/sprockets were "bigger" and that is faster. Makes sense to a kid.
Turns out that theory had some validity. Gear for the pros now leans toward larger pulleys, sometimes larger chainrings and cogs to avoid extreme bends in the chain to reduce drivetrain drag just a bit.

I've noticed some gear combos on my road bikes *feel* more efficient when I'm in the big ring and one of the larger cassette cogs, rather than the small chainring and smaller cog, despite being the same in gear inches/ratio.

Ditto my bike with newer rear derailleurs and 12T pulleys compared with my older RDs with 11T pulleys. I feel a difference, but it doesn't work out to consistently faster times. Although switching to slicker sealed bearing 11T pulleys reduced the differences between those and the 12T Centeron pulleys.

It might work out to a few Watts improvement in efficiency. My engine is too old and slow to notice much.
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Old 09-21-21, 08:02 AM
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Erzulis Boat
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
Turns out that theory had some validity. Gear for the pros now leans toward larger pulleys, sometimes larger chainrings and cogs to avoid extreme bends in the chain to reduce drivetrain drag just a bit.

I've noticed some gear combos on my road bikes *feel* more efficient when I'm in the big ring and one of the larger cassette cogs, rather than the small chainring and smaller cog, despite being the same in gear inches/ratio.

Ditto my bike with newer rear derailleurs and 12T pulleys compared with my older RDs with 11T pulleys. I feel a difference, but it doesn't work out to consistently faster times. Although switching to slicker sealed bearing 11T pulleys reduced the differences between those and the 12T Centeron pulleys.

It might work out to a few Watts improvement in efficiency. My engine is too old and slow to notice much.
The theory was rollout relevant to one revolution of the crankset. The thought was that a larger combination (front/rear) of identical gear inches was actually different in practice because the larger diameter combos went "farther" to complete the task of each revolution, basically tricking the bicycle into giving you larger diameter wheels past the 20 inches. So, even though another combo was identical in gear inches mathematically, the more teeth/diameter of the chainwheel and rear cog increased the actual rollout. Did it?

According to this theory, you don't really have any duplicate gears in a multi-speed setup, even though gear inches are the same/close.

Last edited by Erzulis Boat; 09-21-21 at 08:05 AM.
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