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Thoughts on gearing

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Thoughts on gearing

Old 06-29-23, 10:27 PM
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Thoughts on gearing

In the early days of MTBs and hybrids, many bikes came with a 22-32-42 crankset, gearing that might work well for steep ascents but was too short for pavement riding in the flatlands. A rider could be on the big chainring (such as it was) and a small cog, yet be "spinning out": pedaling a fast cadence but going slow.

I liked 26-36-46 chainrings because I could ride a respectable speed at a comfortable cadence, yet with a triple, I had plenty of range at the low end for climbs, even on the middle ring. When I developed stubborn knee problems (just tendonitis, nothing structural), I preferred 22-32-44. Eventually, with my knee problems improving, I found that running 28-38-48 seemed if anything to strengthen my knees. Those are the ring sizes I prefer these days; largest cog is 28. You can even ignore the two smaller ring sizes; around here, I never use the granny gear, and the middle ring is only for launching and the occasional hill (rare in these parts) or overpass. For me, a 46 big ring seems a touch too small on an MTB with 26" wheels, though it can be OK on a hybrid with 700C. When I was commuting in snow (a little bit of it, anyway) I didn't mind shorter gearing because the gyroscopic effect of a faster cadence helps keep the shiny side up.

My preferred gear sequence is: start on the middle ring and third largest cog, shift to the fourth largest cog, then shift to the big ring. These are the combinations I use almost all the time; I'll occasionally use the fifth largest cog, but not often. For climbs, such as they are around here, I drop to the middle ring and use either the third or second largest cog.

My idea of gearing is that at your normal cruising speeds, you are almost never using the two or three smallest cogs. This usually gives a straighter chain line as well as spreading wear over a larger number of teeth, thereby maximizing the life of chains and cogsets. I'm pretty sure that on one of my bikes, which gets ridden quite often, I'm still on the original parts after more than 15 years, and they ride good as new.

It's not unusual to see someone riding small/small (granny gear and smallest cog. It just hurts to observe that, and while I'm tempted to say something, I hold my tongue, remembering when my father explained to me that "unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated."

Just some observations on my journey with gearing. Feel free to share your own if you like.
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Old 06-29-23, 11:03 PM
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Gearing discussions always seem to devolve into "I'm so much stronger than you, I don't see why you'd ever need such a low gear" so I'll take the opposite tack. For myself I don't think I ever found 42:11 (roughly the equivalent of 50:13) to be too short on level ground. I still have an old bike with a 22-32-42 crank and an 11-28 cassette. I only spin out on descents but on rare occasions do wish for a gear a bit lower than 22:28 on steep climbs.

On my more modern road bike with a double I have the usual 50-34 chainrings up front and recently put a wide 11-40 cassette on the back. I like that range a lot, but honestly I'm pretty much never in a gear higher than 50:15 on level ground and replacing the crank with a GRX 46-30 would suit me even better.

On my MTB I run a low range 1x - 28T up front and 10-50 in back. This is low enough even for the occasional 30%+ dirt climbs (though 28:10 is short enough that I do sometimes spin out on level pavement heading to/from the trail). Still I'm never giving up the 28T. Just call me the High Priest of Low Gears.
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Old 06-30-23, 05:03 AM
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This is why I've been thinking about going to a 1X drivetrain for my bike. I was already planning on upgrading the drivetrain anyway Tourney/acera to a Deore. I almost never come off the high gear on the crank. There's just not that many steep hills in my area.
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Old 06-30-23, 05:17 AM
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I like low gears; my road bikes have 46x11 as the highest gear and my MTBs have 24/38 doubles.

Cadence is a big issue, I can spin 100 all day and hit 160 for stretches. I don't pedal downhill. I've noticed people on old bikes running a 54 ring while I'm going the same speed on my 32t.
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Old 07-04-23, 11:40 AM
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I have a 3x9 on 700C wheels: 44/32/22 triple on the front, which works best for me with 11-28 cassette, which gives me close enough gear spacing and all the range I need. When cruising on road, I'm usually in 32/11, 44/14 or 44/13 and doing 25-33 kph at around 70-75rpm. On forest trails it's usually between 32/21 to 32/12. The smallest chainring is only for very steep climbs, loose sand or other soft surfaces.
I recently did draft a truck and spun out at 63 kph, which is around 120 rpm. Of course, I can only dream of going that fast on a flat road without drafting, so my gears are more than enough for me.

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Old 07-05-23, 09:03 AM
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Gearing is very subjective and we all have our preferences and specific local riding environments. I agree with the observation that discussions about gearing often turn into a contest of showmanship or who's a "real" bike rider and who isn't, which can be unfortunate. We all should use what works best for our bodies and our riding situations.

Since you asked, I generally do prefer lower gearing, and I love 3x drivetrains. I've tried all of them, but 3x works the best for me. I usually use a 22/32/42 crankset on all terrain or all purpose bikes, and up to a 26/36/48 or similar on a fitness type bike (though I still prefer smaller). It's all about the gearing I want for that specific bike and where I ride it. I gear each bike so the middle ring suits 80% of my riding for that bike. I have the small ring for slower climbs and the large ring for fast descents, but most of my riding is in the middle ring, and I just tune my pedal cadence with the cassette in the back. I usually use a typical 11-28 in 7-speed, or 11-32 for 8-speed, or 11-34 for 9-speed, but I don't really go wider than that -- I just don't need or want the wide ratio in the back. I have the rings up front to change the gearing regimes, so I want the smaller steps in the back.
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