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note quite the usual "should I get a compact?" thread

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note quite the usual "should I get a compact?" thread

Old 04-07-08, 10:28 AM
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Bob Ross
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note quite the usual "should I get a compact?" thread

This is almost going to be one of those Compact Crank vs Normal Crank questions, but with a twist, so please bear with me. I'm contemplating a change in the future, and so need help from folks older than I to help with some fitness predictions.

Heres the deal: I am currently 47 years old. I've been cycling all my life, but only been a "serious" roadie for a little over two years. My current road bike, that I've been happily riding for most of those two years, has a compact crank (50/34 chainrings).

And, if I do say so myself, I can fly uphills. In all modesty, I seem to have a gift for climbing. I'm not some überlight waif, I'm 6' tall and weigh 175lbs. I've never been involved in any regular physical activity, never been too concerned with diet or fitness...I'm just really really lucky. No doubt the 50/34 makes climbing like the proverbial bat outta hell easier, so I certainly do appreciate the low end of my drivetrain. (Cassette is 12-27, though I've almost never used the 27 tooth cog.) However, I'm running up against one of the common complaints of compact crank owners: When cruising in the 19-21mph range, one is forced to do more front derailleur shifting than is optimal.

So I'm thinking about getting a conventional 53/39 crank on my next bike.

The problem is -- and here's where we get to the actual gist of my question -- my next bike won't be for quite a few more years. About six to be exact; I ordered a custom bike from a well respected builder with a very long waiting list. So I'm going to be 53 years old when I get my next bike.

Considering my current cycling ability and age, is there anyway I can predict whether my fitness will still warrant a 53/39 crank when I'm 53 years old? (I realize the literal answer to that question is "no", but I'm wondering if folks here have had any similar experiences & personal histories?) Does it seem foolish to get a bike that in all liklihood will last me the remainder of my cycling life and may well be the last bike I ever buy equipped with a drivetrain that is typically suited for 20 year old racing pros with 3% body fat? Or is it feasable that my good fortune fitness- and skill-wise will stay with me for quite a few more years, and that I'd be better suited with the 53/39 so I can continue putting the hammer down well into my 60's?

And no, I don't have to choose which crankset will be on this new bike until it's much closer to the completion date, so this is more a thought experiment than a desperate time-sensetive plea for a solution...but any insight would be appreciated.
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Old 04-07-08, 10:42 AM
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Here is the not quite the usual answer.

With today's external bearing bottom bracket systems, why not buy both. Don't invest in uber expensive cranksets, rather get something like a matched set of Shimano Ultegra/R700's or a set of SRAM Rival cranksets. They will be virtually interchangeable (you may need to keep a spare chain with an extra link around) with just a few minutes work. This way you can have the best of both worlds.
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Old 04-07-08, 10:43 AM
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I have no use whatsoever for a chainring larger than 50 teeth. My top gears on my road bikes are 47/13 (98 gear-inches), 50/14 (96), 49/14 (94.5), and 45/13 (93.5). How do you define "more front derailleur shifting than is optimal"? I run either half-step or 1.5-step gearing on all of my bikes, which demands far more frequent front shifting than a crossover setup might. The dirty little secret about crossover gearing is that you still have to double-shift, and right in the middle of your gear range you suddenly have to shift across several rear cogs while changing to the other chainring. This is no big deal with linear action shifting (barcons, thumb controls, or downtube levers, indexed or not), but it does not work well with STI.

I recommend staying with the 50-34 compact double and selecting a tighter range in back. If you no longer need the lowest gear, replace your 12-27 casstte with a 12-24, which will reduce a three of your step sizes.
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Old 04-07-08, 10:54 AM
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I'll answer in two ways. First if you keep riding and training reasonably hard, you won't lose that much fitness with age. Nor will you lose climbing ability. I actually was much faster and could climb better at 53than 47.

The other thing is don't worry about what equipment is avilable in six years. Hardly anyone heard of compact cranks six years ago. 10 speed cassettes were just available. Shimano will have widely available electronic shifting in another couple years. What you pick now likely won't be what you want on a new bike in six years.
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Old 04-07-08, 11:08 AM
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I have been fortunate in being able to ride pretty well at 47 and now at 56. I think I did my fastest century when I was 50. Of course, even then, I don't think I could reel off a 5 hour solo century like I used to be able to do. But I can still do a century without much trouble and I can still ride pretty fast.

But I have ridden with a group for years. Most of the people were in their forties and early fifties. A five years ago I remember doing a century with a large group of fast riders. Most of that group has quit riding. Some of them have merely slowed down a tad.
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Old 04-07-08, 11:13 AM
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If I were a good climber this is what I would do. I would swap out the current 34 ring for a 36 and perhaps get a tighter cassette.
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Old 04-07-08, 11:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Bob Ross View Post
. . actual gist of my question -- my next bike won't be for quite a few more years. About six to be exact; I ordered a custom bike from a well respected builder with a very long waiting list. So I'm going to be 53 years old when I get my next bike.
Might you satisfy a bit of curiosity and say more about the six-year bike and builder?
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Old 04-07-08, 11:37 AM
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It really depends on your power output, endurance, cadence ability and the terrain you climb. If you check out my post today Coastal Classic, we climbed the first 3.5 mile climb at about 9.5 mph. I think I used my 30/19 or 30/21. However, the goal was to climb and spin between 75 - 80 so I was focused on cadence. Both my wife and I are at a racing age of 59 and had no problems doing that. I am 6 feet, 168 pounds. I could have used my 39/25 but since I had the triple, preferred to use the range offered by selecting the 30 to optimize cadence. For the high speed pace lines, I used the 52/whatever spinning at 95 to 105 cadence.

I could not agree with you more that the 53/39 is the best setup. I am getting a new road bike in a couple of months and I have been holding off with the goal of getting a D/A gruppo equipped with a 53/39 double. That is.....Assuming I keep increasing power as I have over the last three months. Note I am measuring my performance gains in months similar to when I was much younger. YMMV.
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Old 04-07-08, 11:38 AM
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I can't undersatnd this compact requires more front derailler shifting argument. I have compacts on the two road bikes I ride and I am either in the 34 or the 50. Rear cassette is 12/27 by the way. The road bike I no longer ride has a triple and I did most of the riding in the 42. Rarely did I get onto the 52 unless it was downhill. But at the start of hills- I mean hills and not slopes- I would be in the granny and waiting to change down on the rear cassette as required.

On the compact I ride on the flat in the 50. The 34 only comes in on the hills (Not the slopes) I even ride steep long slopes on the 50/25 so don't quite crosschain.

If I were to go 39/53 I would probably do most of my riding in the 39 and only get to the 53 downhill.

It depends on your hills- length of ride and how strong you are. No hills and mainly flat- Go for the 39/53. Hills up to 15% then get the compact. Over 15% then get the third alternative
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Old 04-07-08, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Bob Ross View Post
Does it seem foolish to get a bike that in all liklihood will last me the remainder of my cycling life
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Old 04-07-08, 12:20 PM
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I missed the part on why this decision has to be made now. If you're ordering a frame to be delivered in 6 years, can't you decide then? They won't finalize anything until they start the build anyway -- geometry, tubing choice, etc.

The bigger issue is, what are you going to do w/all the bikes you buy between now and then when your dream bike finally arrives?
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Old 04-07-08, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Bob Ross View Post
Does it seem foolish to get a bike that in all liklihood will last me the remainder of my cycling life
It depends. Don't expect to buy a bike now that will still be cutting edge in 10 years. But then again, I have an early '70s American Eagle/Nishiki that carried me many 10s of thousands of miles and is now being restomodded with upgrades. That bike will be ridden for fun. Its getting period upgrades like a Brooks saddle and barcon shifters. I should have that bike all my life. But other bikes? They may stay a bit more current.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by gcottay View Post
Might you satisfy a bit of curiosity and say more about the six-year bike and builder?

There's more than one?

I ordered a Sachs late last year.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:23 PM
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"...(Cassette is 12-27, though I've almost never used the 27 tooth cog.)...."

It's the "almost" part that bites you. Are you willing to "almost" never have to push it uphill?
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Old 04-07-08, 01:25 PM
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I ride a 50/36 compact with a 13/26 or 12/25 cassette. I almost never go onto the 36. There are only a few hills in NYC that I need that low a gear. When I go to the hills I use it more, and when I need it I appreciate having it.

And 6 years tests my limits of patience. There are a lot of builders out there, as well as off the shelf frames.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
I missed the part on why this decision has to be made now. If you're ordering a frame to be delivered in 6 years, can't you decide then? They won't finalize anything until they start the build anyway -- geometry, tubing choice, etc.
See the last sentence of my original post: "And no, I don't have to choose which crankset will be on this new bike until it's much closer to the completion date, so this is more a thought experiment than a desperate time-sensetive plea for a solution."


Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
The bigger issue is, what are you going to do w/all the bikes you buy between now and then when your dream bike finally arrives?
Heh...Well, if I still haven't moved into a house with a garage by then, I'll have to sell them. Not enough room in the apartment for a stable.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:29 PM
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Originally Posted by StanSeven View Post
The other thing is don't worry about what equipment is avilable in six years. Hardly anyone heard of compact cranks six years ago. 10 speed cassettes were just available. Shimano will have widely available electronic shifting in another couple years. What you pick now likely won't be what you want on a new bike in six years.

Great point, that really puts my whole "thought experiment" into the proper perspective! Thanks.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
"...(Cassette is 12-27, though I've almost never used the 27 tooth cog.)...."

It's the "almost" part that bites you. Are you willing to "almost" never have to push it uphill?

Well, that's the crux of my question: if I was talking about a ride this coming Saturday I'd say "no problemo!" But I'm talking about some Saturday in April 2014.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Bob Ross View Post
See the last sentence of my original post: "And no, I don't have to choose which crankset will be on this new bike until it's much closer to the completion date, so this is more a thought experiment than a desperate time-sensetive plea for a solution."
oops, sorry, i missed that. reading too fast while having lunch...

sounds like a fun project. i had some similar thinking when i had my "dream bike" built for me last year, though in my case i was more concerned about frame geometry (since that can't be changed) than gearing. whatever you own when you're 53 is going to get worn out well before you're 60 in any case, so even your "future" bike may go through a number of incarnations in its life.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:53 PM
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The final paragraph says it all. You don't have to decide this now, you just want to think about it.

When you get right down to it, you don't even need to choose. If you get a 110 BCD crank, you can install 50/34 rings or you can install 53/39 or any number of other combinations. But if you get a 130 or 135 BCD crank, you are stuck with a 38 or 39 tooth minimum.
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Old 04-07-08, 04:09 PM
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OK, I will say what many must be thinking...

You plan to wait six years for a custom build?? Why not wait until it is six months until delivery and then decide? (By the way, I have a 50/34 compact double and I love it!)
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Old 04-07-08, 04:26 PM
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Six years is a long time. Who knows, you may have discovered the joy of fixed gear riding by the time your custom build is ready. Instead of gearing decisions, you may instruct the builder to hold the rear dropouts in favor of trackends.

Speaking of waiting, I had completely given up astronomy by the time my name on a waiting list came up for a deposit request on a telescope I was interested in purchasing. That was a 6 year waiting list just to place an order.
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Old 04-07-08, 05:25 PM
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I will also answer in a backwars fashion. I rode a 52/42 front for years, and then 'graduated' to a 53/39. I used that for about 16 years. Three years ago, when I turned 50, I got 'permission' to buy a new bike. Based on the riding I was doing, I was getting dropped by guys 15-20 years younger than me on the hills. I decided I wanted something that would improve my hill climbing (which was not that bad--just that I was getting dropped by these youngsters). I decided to try a 50/34. I got a great deal on the gruppo--9 speed ultegra because they were trying to get rid of them--with 10 speed being the new 'norm'. Long story short, I wasn't getting dropped as badly with the new lower gears. Meantime, I started using my fixie for just a bout everything--including centuries and hills--and that made me a lot stronger.

Now, looking back, I like the 50/34 a lot. I have a 12/27 (new--I had a 12/25 before) on the back, and I don't miss the top end gear, as the fixie has made me a better spinner. I rarely go below the 21 in the back, but the way the gearing is, I can use the 50 with the 21 and not have the horible cross-chain effect, so in essence, it has given me better 'middle gears' to use. Most of my riding is in the 50-- between 14 adn 19. The 21 is my 'hill gear' and the 12 or 13 is my push gear.

So, realizing that we are getting older, I would say you are better off sticking with the 50/34--which you are used to now.

(I actually would suggest you get a fixie-- lots of fun)

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Old 04-07-08, 08:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Artkansas View Post
It depends. Don't expect to buy a bike now that will still be cutting edge in 10 years. ...
Bicycle technology does change over time, but how many of the changes are truly in any way important for a recreational or transportation cyclist? Electromechanical shifting does sound kind of cool, because it will open up all sorts of creative options for controls -- think automotive paddle shifters, etc., but most of us can rationally take or leave most of the other recent and planned changes.
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Old 04-07-08, 09:24 PM
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What am I missing? In six years your cell phone will be the size of your finger nail, razors will have 24 blades and Shimano will have 14 speed electronic shift rear. Me thinks you worry too much.

You would be more likely to predict the Dow average in 6 years. I broke my ankle 6 years ago so my fittness that cycling season was zero. In other words, alot can happen both good and bad in 6 years.
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