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Lowest Gear Ratio (Choosing a New Bike)

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Lowest Gear Ratio (Choosing a New Bike)

Old 08-03-13, 02:43 PM
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BikeOnly
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Lowest Gear Ratio (Choosing a New Bike)

Maybe I should post this in the Road Bike section, but trying here first.

I will try to keep this simple by leaving out details about bike brands and models.

I am 65 and in good shape except for an annoying heart arrhythmia. Cardiologist says it is benign but that I should not overdo exertion. (I did get him to say he would recommend that to anyone my age including those in great shape with zero health problems.)

1. Current situation: My area is very hilly and occasionally I do a bit of mountainous cycling. I am riding a 26.5 lb. flat bar bike with lowest gear 28:28 (1.00). I prefer using this lowest gear for the many steeper hills that are on my ride. I have tried the next lowest gear, 28:24 (1.17) and I do fine with it but prefer the lower gear.

2. Future A: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:32 (1.06).

3. Future B: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:28 (1.21). This is the bike I prefer for a few reasons (one of which is color) but technically and price-wise either bike is suitable for my purposes.

My flat bar bike has 32 width tires and both drop-bar bikes have 25 tires. The wheels on the flat bar bike are also a good bit heavier.

So my question is about the higher lowest gear ratio on bike 'B'. I am sure that a lighter bike and lighter wheel set make the hills easier. But does anyone have a feel for how much more relatively difficult the higher gearing will be?
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Old 08-03-13, 02:55 PM
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Ive built up a Road Bike , fitted it with a 50,40,24 triple,
and still using the same Campag freewheel hub wheels I built up 30 years ago .

13~28t 7 speed ..

In short If you find a bike that fits, or can be made to, good, but the gearing is not right , Change It.
the brand is just paint on the frame , everything else is a parts pick choice ..

Bike companies make theirs , you can change some to suit your needs.

Example , popular now, the compact double , 50, 34t, you can mix a mountain RD and cassette and still have a 1:1
though it be a 34:34..

PS; Now 65 as well

Last edited by fietsbob; 08-03-13 at 03:00 PM.
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Old 08-03-13, 03:16 PM
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I re-geared my Felt F80 a couple of times before I got what I think is just right for me. (60 yrs old, 5'4" 190 lbs & losing) The original gearing was a triple front at 52-42-30 and 12-25 9spd rear cluster. I found the lowest of those gears was causing me to fatigue much too severely and quickly on my many hills. I next had an LBS put a 28T granny ring up front and a new 12-26 cassette on the rear. That helped some but I felt there were still some better options. The next series of changes I did myself after purchasing a tool set from Nashbar. I ordered a 41T for the middle up front and then a 11-27 rear cluster from Universal cycles. That was a great move but I still felt like I needed just a teeny bit lower gear for the hills. I next got a 29 for the top end of the cassette and a 13 final position gear. That now gives me a 52-41-28 up front and 13-29 rear cassette (drops by 2s & lowest ratio is 1:0.965). For my age and level of conditioning on the hilly routes here with normal winds in the 15 to 20mph range, I think this is perfect. Re-gearing may seem like a pain and a little pricey but it is still far less expensive than a new bike and I still have all of the take-off parts except that original cassette so I can change it all back (if I so choose) as I get in better shape and lose some weight.

Last edited by cruisintx; 08-03-13 at 03:20 PM.
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Old 08-03-13, 03:45 PM
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First, there are many types of arrhythmia. If your cardiologist says A-OK, then don't worry about it. I have a fairly common arrhythmia. The only time I ever think about it is on Bike Forums. In real life, it doesn't matter. For the record, I average 5,000 miles a year.

As for gearing, what's seldom discussed here is the psychology of climbing.

I find that no matter which of my bikes I ride, and no matter how they're geared, I'll always shift down to the lowest gear on that particular bike before I really start to "HTFU" in cyclist's lingo. (And the F-word is the word you think.)

I have lowest gear choices of 39-23, 34-27, 30-23, and 30-28. It doesn't seem to matter.

Once I'm in that lowest gear, I'm happy as a clam and will climb without complaint no matter how steep the hill or how long. But until I'm in the lowest gear, Uh! The hill is too steep or too long (and generally both).

Last edited by tsl; 08-03-13 at 03:50 PM.
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Old 08-03-13, 04:03 PM
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I'd find out what it will take for bike B to accept a cassette with a 32-tooth cog, then decide.

My psychology of climbing is a bit different than tsl's. I like having a bail-out gear below what I'm climbing in. For example, on my tandem the largest gear ratio I can use while on my granny ring is pretty close to the lowest gear available on the middle ring. I'll usually opt for the granny so that I have lower options available rather than stay on the middle ring and have higher gears available for those inevitable less-steep areas. Maybe I'm just a coward at heart who fears running out of gears on a climb.
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Old 08-03-13, 04:27 PM
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Let me add that fatigue after rides is an issue for me. Since retiring I have been in the gym lifting weights many more days than out riding the bike (want to flip that). I tend to take everything to the extreme and had to use a trainer to help me reduce sets/reps/weight to moderate the fatigue.

I figure I can climb any hill in whatever reasonable gear I choose, but I am trying to do it differently in order to reduce fatigue after the ride.

On a side note, what is the standard way of stating bicycle gear ratios? For example, I stated 28:28 as 1.00 and 34:28 as 1.21. What is the standard way of expression?

Great replies so far! Thanks!
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Old 08-03-13, 04:51 PM
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Climbing is an individual skill. Many people prefer to get out of the saddle and work their way up an incline, I would rather bail out early, leave my ego at the bottom and crawl right up. But, after a lifetime of weight training I ain't light, so I'm not going to save any time or speed on any hill. I like the setup on my Hillborne, I have a 46/30 crankset with a 36/12 nine speed cassette. At the end of a mountainous charity event I have found myself pedaling right past a line of spandex hamsters walking their crotch rockets. It's fast enough to be fun and will handle any tree I'd like to climb.

Marc
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Old 08-03-13, 04:57 PM
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Those all sound pretty low to me. I usually run 28:28 on the mountain bike, but I have a 24T chainring I can swap in, and the derailleurs would handle 32T in back, if I every need it. On the road bikes I am limited to 26T in back and either 42 or 38 in front. Fortunately, as long as you have enough capacity in the derailleurs, it is pretty easy to swap chainrings and/or cogs to suit your personal situation.

I second the recommendation for either a compact road double or a triple up front, if you want seriously low gears.
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Old 08-03-13, 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeOnly View Post
Let me add that fatigue after rides is an issue for me. Since retiring I have been in the gym lifting weights many more days than out riding the bike (want to flip that). I tend to take everything to the extreme and had to use a trainer to help me reduce sets/reps/weight to moderate the fatigue.

I figure I can climb any hill in whatever reasonable gear I choose, but I am trying to do it differently in order to reduce fatigue after the ride.

On a side note, what is the standard way of stating bicycle gear ratios? For example, I stated 28:28 as 1.00 and 34:28 as 1.21. What is the standard way of expression?

Great replies so far! Thanks!
Gear inches. 1 to 1 works but many in the industry use gear inches. Here is how to figure it out. https://www.bikecalc.com/gear_inches
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Old 08-03-13, 05:24 PM
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I prefer to think in ratios not gear inches. YMMV. Either way, first thing to consider, what is the wheel size of your current bike? Is it 700c, or 26", etc? If it is 700c then the gearing will translate from bike to bike. If not you will need to correct for the wheel size difference. Everyone is different but my two road bikes both have compact cranks, 50/34, while one has an 11/28 and the other an 11/34 cassette. I live in a very mountainous area so I'm covered. Yes, I can ride any route on the 34/28 gear, but there are times it is nice to relax a bit or use an easier gear for a specific training purpose without having to look for less steep terrain.

I used to ride a 53/39 crank here but I just can't put in the time I need to ride those gears now, where I live. Bottom line is 200 watts are 200 watts whatever gear you're in, but the metabolic cost can be quite different even though the speed will be the same. Sometimes I want to ride 50 rpm up a grade, but I don't want to have to do that because my gear is too tall. Having an option is always good.
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Old 08-03-13, 05:46 PM
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Sometimes a low gear is a hindrance

Go to the Sheldon Brown website at Harris Cyclery and enter the information into the gear calculator https://sheldonbrown.com/gears/ for each bike. It takes into account wheel size, crank arm length, chainrings and gears on the cassette. It will tell you exactly how much difference there is between the bikes. I like using gear inches since that translates easily between bikes and is visually easy to comprehend. I keep reading about recumbent trike riders trying to get lower and lower granny gears but they fail to realize you can get such a low gear that you spin to the point of exhaustion and don't go anywhere. I climbed some pretty hard hills this morning on a trike that weighs considerably more than the bike you are looking at and rarely even had to go below 36 gear inches. I would have been way more tired using lower gears up the hills.
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Old 08-03-13, 06:05 PM
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What rear derailleurs are on future bikes A and B? It may be easy to have the same or even lower gearing on B as what comes standard on A. It may be as simple as changing cassettes, but may also require a derailleur change. The cost can be somewhat offset either by an exchange with your dealer or by selling the original parts.
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Old 08-03-13, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by VegasTriker View Post
Go to the Sheldon Brown website at Harris Cyclery and enter the information into the gear calculator https://sheldonbrown.com/gears/ for each bike. It takes into account wheel size, crank arm length, chainrings and gears on the cassette. It will tell you exactly how much difference there is between the bikes. I like using gear inches since that translates easily between bikes and is visually easy to comprehend. I keep reading about recumbent trike riders trying to get lower and lower granny gears but they fail to realize you can get such a low gear that you spin to the point of exhaustion and don't go anywhere. I climbed some pretty hard hills this morning on a trike that weighs considerably more than the bike you are looking at and rarely even had to go below 36 gear inches. I would have been way more tired using lower gears up the hills.
I just switched my set up on my Klein to a 11x28 cassette on the rear of a standard road crank. 52-38. That makes my best low gear 35.8. But that isn't my favorite climbing bike. I would have to see a Garmin, Strava, Ridewithgps posting of the ride to see what is considered a pretty hard hill. To me a hard hill is 14 miles with a few 6 to 7 percent bumps in a 5+ average grade. For such a hill I dig out the climbing bike with one of three cassettes that give me a bailout gear of under 28.
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Old 08-03-13, 06:25 PM
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The bike I prefer (this is a road bike) has a Shimano R565, 34/50 crankset with a Shimano Tiagra 12x28, 10-Speed cassette.

Does anyone know which cassettes with, say, 34 or 36 teeth would be compatible?

I am thinking about buying the bike, using it as is and having a backup plan for a replacement cassette with lower gearing if needed. (Thanks cruisintx for the idea.)

Here are a couple cassettes with low gear but I have no idea if they are compatible with this road bike.

https://www.performancebike.com/bikes...86_-1___000000
https://www.performancebike.com/bikes...94_-1___000000

Does anyone know? If I can get to the LBS next week I will ask them about this idea.

Guess I should say my objective is not to exceed my cardio zone on long steep hills.
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Old 08-03-13, 06:40 PM
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I say, get the lowest gear you can.

This is based on Groth's law:

There's always a steeper hill!

- Ed
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Old 08-03-13, 06:41 PM
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I think you will need to change the rear derailleur to use a cassette with a big cog >30 teeth. Most shimano road derailleurs have (or had, I heard that some of the new ones are 30 max) a max recommended of 27 or 28 as I recall. Some people talk about using a 30 with the B screw turned around to get clearance, but you would be pushing it to go higher than that. However, getting a mountain derailleur is not all that expensive, you should be able to replace the cassette and derailleur for something at or under $100 (less if you are willing to watch E-bay or Craigs List).
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Old 08-03-13, 06:46 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeOnly View Post
..snip..

1. Current situation: My area is very hilly and occasionally I do a bit of mountainous cycling. I am riding a 26.5 lb. flat bar bike with lowest gear 28:28 (1.00). I prefer using this lowest gear for the many steeper hills that are on my ride. I have tried the next lowest gear, 28:24 (1.17) and I do fine with it but prefer the lower gear.

2. Future A: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:32 (1.06).

3. Future B: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:28 (1.21). This is the bike I prefer for a few reasons (one of which is color) but technically and price-wise either bike is suitable for my purposes.

My flat bar bike has 32 width tires and both drop-bar bikes have 25 tires. The wheels on the flat bar bike are also a good bit heavier.
..snip...
The new 34-28 low gear is right between a 28-23 and a 28-24. So ride your 28-24 second low gear on some steep climbs. It'll be slightly easier, but very close to the new 34-28.

It sounds like that works OK on most hills for you now. Going to a wider 11 or 12 to 32 wide range cog set will mean larger gaps in the middle range where you'll do more of your riding. So I would skip a 32 unless I was riding long, steep hills.

(The larger 35c tires affect the gearing a little. Smaller diameter wheels with 25c tires are slightly easier for any matching gear combination.)
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Old 08-03-13, 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeOnly View Post
..snip..

1. Current situation: My area is very hilly and occasionally I do a bit of mountainous cycling. I am riding a 26.5 lb. flat bar bike with lowest gear 28:28 (1.00). I prefer using this lowest gear for the many steeper hills that are on my ride. I have tried the next lowest gear, 28:24 (1.17) and I do fine with it but prefer the lower gear.

2. Future A: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:32 (1.06).

3. Future B: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:28 (1.21). This is the bike I prefer for a few reasons (one of which is color) but technically and price-wise either bike is suitable for my purposes.

My flat bar bike has 32 width tires and both drop-bar bikes have 25 tires. The wheels on the flat bar bike are also a good bit heavier.
..snip...
The new bike's 34-28 low gear is right between a 28-23 and a 28-24. So ride your 28-24 second low gear on some steep climbs. It'll be slightly easier than, but very close to the new 34-28.

It sounds like that works OK on most hills for you now. Going to a wider 11 or 12 to 32 wide range cog set will mean larger gaps in the middle range where you'll do more of your riding. So I would skip a 32 unless I was riding long, steep hills.

(The larger 35c tires affect the gearing a little. Smaller diameter wheels with 25c tires are slightly easier for any matching gear combination.)


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Bike weight
The lighter bike won't make a huge difference on your climbs. For instance, 2 full 24 ounce water bottles weigh 3.1 pounds. It's very hard to notice an easier climb if the bottles are empty!

Last edited by rm -rf; 08-03-13 at 06:57 PM.
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Old 08-03-13, 07:02 PM
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The lighter tires & wheels? should be worth a gear.
I'm 65 with emphysema. I'd much rather have 1 gear lower than I'll ever need, than to be caught a gear short.
On my Hybrid, I use a triple that I've swapped out the largest ring to something I can actually use.
22-32-36 with a 12-23 9 speed.
I don't "do" hills, but I've ran into strong enough head winds where the granny was VERY useful. It also gave me close spaced gears there too, so as to best optimize my cadence. Cross chaining be damned!
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Old 08-03-13, 07:07 PM
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You didn't say what rear derailleur you have, but assuming it is Tiagra, you can definitely use a 12-30 cassette and I would bet that a 12-32 would work. If you really want more, a switch to a 9 speed Shimano MTB RD will let you use up to a 34 or even 36 tooth cassette. Do not use the newer Dynasis 10 speed RDs as they will not work with your road shifters. The 9 speed versions will work with any Shimano road shifters from 6 speed to 10 speed.
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Old 08-03-13, 07:23 PM
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I just purchased a Specialized Rubaix Elite Apex. It had a low of 34/32. I live in central PA. Smack in the middle of coal country. Mountains are a fact of life. You want to ride, youse a gonna climb. I just took the Apex rear components off. I put an X9 series 1 derailer with a PC1070 11/36 cassette and a new PC1071 chain on. Believe it or not it shifts way better than the Apex. I'ts smoother and quiter. The chain was a KMC10X and a PC1050 cassette.

The difference is astounding. I know I only gained 4 teeth and a reduction around 12%. But the difference is pronounced. Well worth the 300$ it cost me.

As background, I'm 54 in reasonable shape. I had a heart attack March 13th of 2012. I weigh 190 currently. I have a pronounced heart rate limit of about 165BPM. That's where the drugs I'm on clamp down on me. Anything over 155 is not good. I feel queasy and start to hurt in the chest. So standing and pounding up a hill is a BIG NO-NO. I have to spin up a hill. My older Fuji has a 26/28 for a low gear. I can climb most any hill around my home with these ratio's.

Whatever bike you end up with I reccomend at least 1/1 or slightly less. The 34/36 seems to work well for me. I'd certainly entertain the idea at least. Best would be a road triple with a new inner ring of 26 teeth. And an 11 0r 12/28 cassette. You will have the gears and a decently close ratio rear. The mountain cassette has some big jumps between gears. I can live with it. But the old Fuji is more comfortable with the gaps in ratio's.

Good luck in you're search.

Mark Shuman
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Old 08-03-13, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeOnly View Post
Maybe I should post this in the Road Bike section, but trying here first.

I will try to keep this simple by leaving out details about bike brands and models.

I am 65 and in good shape except for an annoying heart arrhythmia. Cardiologist says it is benign but that I should not overdo exertion. (I did get him to say he would recommend that to anyone my age including those in great shape with zero health problems.)

1. Current situation: My area is very hilly and occasionally I do a bit of mountainous cycling. I am riding a 26.5 lb. flat bar bike with lowest gear 28:28 (1.00). I prefer using this lowest gear for the many steeper hills that are on my ride. I have tried the next lowest gear, 28:24 (1.17) and I do fine with it but prefer the lower gear.

2. Future A: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:32 (1.06).

3. Future B: A drop-bar road bike, weight 22.5 lbs., with lowest gear 34:28 (1.21). This is the bike I prefer for a few reasons (one of which is color) but technically and price-wise either bike is suitable for my purposes.

My flat bar bike has 32 width tires and both drop-bar bikes have 25 tires. The wheels on the flat bar bike are also a good bit heavier.

So my question is about the higher lowest gear ratio on bike 'B'. I am sure that a lighter bike and lighter wheel set make the hills easier. But does anyone have a feel for how much more relatively difficult the higher gearing will be?
It depends on where your riding, on my MTB, for example the lowest gear is a 24:36 or .65, and it takes a lot of hill to stop it. The road bikes lowest is 42:28 (or 1.5 and that takes a lot of steam up some hills). I would talk to the bike shop, and see if they can do a cassette swap, if you can get a cassette with a 34 tooth low gear, then you can get your 1.0 ratio back, although it would be hard to notice a 6% difference, the weight difference is more then double 6%.
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Old 08-03-13, 08:52 PM
  #23  
B. Carfree
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Originally Posted by groth View Post
I say, get the lowest gear you can.

This is based on Groth's law:

There's always a steeper hill!

- Ed
There must be some corollary about the same hills becoming steeper over time.
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Old 08-03-13, 09:56 PM
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Hard to walk in the OP's shoes not knowing his definition of hills and mountains. How long are the OP's rides in the aforementioned hills and mountains. I'm 67 y/o, 6', 200 lbs and use a 52-39-30 with a 12-30 cassette. I can ride up one of most any climb (e.g. 3000' in less than 10 miles with plenty of steep stretches). I can use this combination for 100K rides with 4000' of climbing, but for a century I'd go with my 11-36 to save my legs for later in the ride. Even on today's 100K I probably would have been stronger at the end with a lower gear.
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Old 08-04-13, 01:35 AM
  #25  
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@BikeOnly- the lighter bike will have a small effect on your climbing speed. But it's small. You will need the same gearing on climbs. Is there a triple option? If not, you can fit a MTB deraillleur and a 12-36 cassette. Having "too low" a gear does not hurt anything other than larger gaps between gears and a tiny bit more weight- if you don't need it on a particular climb you can shift up.

On the very climby and steep 200k organized ride I did saturday (probably the same ride as RD above) I was thinking that many riders would be better served with triples. I'm a very strong climber and used a 34x28 low. A friend who is the same speed used 34x32. I could have used a 32 in a few places. The average rider is significantly slower up hill yet they're using the same gearing I am.
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