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Should I get lower gears for help in climbing?

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Should I get lower gears for help in climbing?

Old 04-08-20, 03:19 AM
  #26  
ZHVelo
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How is your terrain? Your lowest ratio is 1.21, not an expert and probably depends on your fitness level, too, but that does not seem very low to me to be climbing steep terrain for long (my lowest is 1.12 and I make use of it if it gets steep enough).
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Old 04-08-20, 08:25 AM
  #27  
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Originally Posted by woodcraft View Post
GMBN did a video: Which is harder? In which the mtn bikers set the parameters- power, & the road rider put out WAY more overall power, but the mtn bikers concluded that mtn biking is harder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBs5_Yf2hrg

What do you think?
It was hard to nail down what exactly they were testing. Unless the riders swapped roles and did the same rides, it was just a "I felt like I went hard, so it's hard". The roadie, Dan, raced road professionally for years and was in both the Giro and the Tour, so comparing raw numbers was going to show a power gap.

Their conclusion of "long endurance rides at low tempo will really be detrimental..." shows they have no knowledge of proper training techniques (which might explain why their heart rate didn't drop between efforts).
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Old 04-08-20, 09:46 AM
  #28  
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I'm just a 210 lbs recreational rider. I enjoy climbing now that I have more options with a 50/34,11-34 combo on my CF road bike. I do not burnout feeling overly stressed going up most grades like I did with the old 11-28 cassette on the same bike. There are the occasional 12%-18% short grades of 1/4 mile+ that are challenging. The 11-32 will undoubtedly give you an extra gear to make climbing more manageable.

However, as Maelochs mentioned above, I have learned to adjust my breathing, cadence, posture, standing on the pedals in the 25, 28 cogs and understand I am not racing to the top but enjoying the climb without fear of collapsing from fatigue. With that said, I recently started riding the same climbs with a heavier steel bike with a 50/34, 12-27 Ultegra 10 speed cassette using the same climbing techniques. Well, what do you know? I can ride the same hills and get to the top without destroying myself in the process and complete the rides.

So the answer for me is go ahead and get the 11-32 cassette, but just practicing new techniques will also help as your (my) conditioning improves.
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Old 04-08-20, 11:05 AM
  #29  
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Originally Posted by howardv View Post
Thank you everyone! I just ordered the Ultegra 11-32. Hopefully, it will fit with reigning back the B-screw as much as possible. And I never cross-chain, so chain length should be ok. I'll report back when it's all done and let you know how it worked out. Thanks for lots of good suggestions and advice.
I think you're going to be pleased with the 32t, given what you posted in the OP. An improvement doesn't have to be massive to be a very useful improvement, since anything that helps close the gap between what one can sustain and what's required by the current gearing and lowest acceptable cadence will noticeably extend how long one can go before ultimately reaching that fatigue limit. The gear-inch change you've made amounts to around 13%, which is quite a huge difference if you're comparing the difference between what's required and what you can sustain. At the very least it'll prolong the time you're able to meet the demand until later in the ride, and require less increase in fitness and endurance to close any remaining gap.

Imagine you had a bunch of money in the bank, and started a lifestyle whose cost exceeded your income by 20%. Eventually you're going to go broke. Now you get a raise of 13%. Doesn't mean you aren't still going to go broke, but it will take longer to get to that point because your reserves are being eaten up at a lower rate. It also means you only have to lower your cost of living by 7% to avoid going broke, instead of a 20% reduction. Much more doable.
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Old 04-08-20, 11:17 AM
  #30  
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
Yes, but power-to-weight can be different for different time intervals.

For example, while climbers can (obviously) usually beat sprinters to the top of a mountain, sprinters often have better power-to-weight in short bursts. Some of big dudes I know feel like they're going backwards when we tackle mountains together, but can destroy me on 30-second uphill efforts; as long as their oxygen holds, I get out-muscled.
We live in the same area. Around here there are few sprinter type hills. Most stuff is steep and moderately long. I am a track sprinter, so I understand that on grades under about 4-5%, I can have an advantage. Other than that, it advantage goes to the lighter riders. The output requirement increases exponentially as the% increases. so it is a losing battle.
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Old 04-08-20, 12:04 PM
  #31  
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Originally Posted by colnago62 View Post
I am a track sprinter, so I understand that on grades under about 4-5%, I can have an advantage.
I think you're either comparing strong sprinters to weak climbers, or you're visualizing "4%" as something shallower than 4%. Even if you're doing 20mph on a 4% gradient - which is on the order of a 6W/kg effort - a majority of your resistance will still be gravity. Track sprinters definitely do not have an advantage over road climbers in sustained situations like that.

The output requirement increases exponentially as the% increases.

Power requirement to defeat gravitational drag at a given speed increases linearly with increases in gradient, not exponentially. And once the gradient is steep enough that gravity is highly dominant, the exact gradient doesn't matter so much in terms of comparing two riders of highly disparate climbing ability. A climber who drops a sprinter on a 7% climb usually won't beat that sprinter by a massively larger margin on a similar-elevation 15% climb, assuming both riders are adequately geared for the effort. (And assuming that they both put in a similar effort.)
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Old 04-08-20, 12:56 PM
  #32  
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
I think you're either comparing strong sprinters to weak climbers, or you're visualizing "4%" as something shallower than 4%. Even if you're doing 20mph on a 4% gradient - which is on the order of a 6W/kg effort - a majority of your resistance will still be gravity. Track sprinters definitely do not have an advantage over road climbers in sustained situations like that.


Power requirement to defeat gravitational drag at a given speed increases linearly with increases in gradient, not exponentially. And once the gradient is steep enough that gravity is highly dominant, the exact gradient doesn't matter so much in terms of comparing two riders of highly disparate climbing ability. A climber who drops a sprinter on a 7% climb usually won't beat that sprinter by a massively larger margin on a similar-elevation 15% climb, assuming both riders are adequately geared for the effort. (And assuming that they both put in a similar effort.)
g = G*M/R^2
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Old 04-08-20, 03:26 PM
  #33  
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I was able to mount a 11-40 cassette.
Compact 50-34 cranks
dura ace 9000 modded with a GS cage. a wolf tooth allows the clearance.
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Old 04-08-20, 03:47 PM
  #34  
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I was going to post about he wolf tooth road link but somebody beat me too it .

My road bike is also my gravel bike, mostly road, and I run a 46/30 and 11-32 on it. I'm fairly fit and don't NEED that 30 up front on the road , climbed ok with the 34, but it certainly doesn't hurt me any. It is pretty nice having a few extra bail out gears on really long or super steep climbs. And oh no I can't peddle at 40mph anymore because of the 46 tooth meh that is maybe 0.0001% of my normal road rid anyway and I can just coast in those situations until I get down to 32ish mph.

I went 46/30 up front because I wanted to maintain somewhat tight spacing on the cassette for road use and have the climbing gears for gravel.
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Old 04-09-20, 07:45 AM
  #35  
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Originally Posted by SSRI View Post
I was able to mount a 11-40 cassette.
Compact 50-34 cranks
dura ace 9000 modded with a GS cage. a wolf tooth allows the clearance.
That is ridiculous bordering on insane ..... I heartily approve.

Not sure of the spacing on the gears, but if I were doing 50/50 road and gravel with serious climbs, (or, weak as I am just really serious climbs) that would be a great option.
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Old 04-09-20, 09:08 AM
  #36  
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Originally Posted by howardv View Post
I'm mainly a mountain biker. My MTB has the SRAM 1x12 drivetrain and I can pretty much climb any trail in the granny gear (30T chainring x 50T). I'm in my 50's and do ok climbing trails. For example, based on Strava, I'm 2,000 out of 4,000 on climbing a local trail.

Due to the closure of trails, I've been riding my road bike in the canyons. I SUCK at climbing these steep roads. I have a Trek Emonda with a Dura-Ace drivetrain (50/34 chainring and 11-28 Cassette - 11 speed). On Strava, I ranked 3,700 out of 4,000 when riding these canyons (uphill sections). The granny gear just isn't enough as I sometimes have to stop and take a short break as I'm exhausted in the middle of a long and steep climb.

I think I may need lower gearing on my Emonda. Based on Shimano's website, there is a 11-30T Dura Ace cassette and an Ultegra 11-32T cassette. I'm thinking about getting the Ultegra 11-32 for more climbing power. Will this be a good replacement and help with my climbing the steep sections? And is this an easy replacement (meaning I don't need a new derailleur)?

Any input other than "you need to work out more and get in better shape" is appreciated!
I would start by giving yourself some time to adapt prior to considering investing/spending on components. Time might just be the only thing you need right now and it doesn't cost a dime!

Of course, working out can help, but it's not always necessary. I decided to train my legs during winter this year and let me tell you that I see a huge difference right now.
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Old 04-09-20, 09:21 AM
  #37  
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I've never understood the "shaming" of riders with lower gears. I run an 11-34 all the time, and actually had a guy comment on my "cheater gears"...as I was passing him on a Cat3 climb.
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Old 04-09-20, 10:54 AM
  #38  
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Originally Posted by Rides4Beer View Post
I've never understood the "shaming" of riders with lower gears. I run an 11-34 all the time, and actually had a guy comment on my "cheater gears"...as I was passing him on a Cat3 climb.
Right? I run a 53/36 x 11-30 and have no shame. A harder gear is always available when climbing. Easier gears are more finite, and if a rider needs one they can be a lifesaver.

I start seeing a reduction in power once I begin dipping beneath 88rpm, so it benefits me to stay in the powerband with lower gearing. I'm eyeballing a 14-minute Strava KOM that I already hold with my old 39x28 gearing. My average cadence on the KOM for that climb was 67rpm (it's a steep'n), so I know I'll be able to shave a handsome chunk of time off with the new (lower) gearing merely by being able to sit on top of the gear.
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Old 04-09-20, 11:14 AM
  #39  
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Originally Posted by howardv View Post
I have to get a new derailleur if I go with an 11-32? Was really hoping I wouldn't.

And thanks for all the replies. I love my bike and would like to change as little as possible. Wanted to see how much of a difference an 11-32 cassette would make (hoping I wouldn't have to change anything else). Would rather not change the chainrings cause I like the 50T and would rather not change to 46/30. But if I do, would I need a new front derailleur?

I would rather do this in steps. Again, if possible, the simplest change would be just the cassette to 11-32 - only if I don't have to change the rear derailleur.
You cant keep it all dura ace and get any meaningful reduction in gearing.

One option is to change the rear DR to a Ultegra GS or GRX 810 and et a 11-34 cassette. If thats not enough then a smaller crank.
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Old 04-09-20, 12:00 PM
  #40  
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Originally Posted by colnago62 View Post
g = G*M/R^2
That's just the formula for the force of gravity. Given R in the case of the cyclist/Earth system is something like 9000 miles, the small difference in the gravitational attraction at the top and the bottom of a 5000-foot climb will be lost in the decimal places. The total work (energy) done to lift the mass of the rider and cyclist will be W = m * G * H, so the energy it takes to do the climb varies linearly with the mass (m) of the rider and bike, and H the height climbed. The question of how much of that climbing work is done per mile ridden based on the angle of the slope would relate to a sine function, but in a narrow range of low angles we'd reasonably be climbing at is approximately linear.

One can see this by taking the sine of angles we'd actually reasonably climb at on our bikes, and comparing them to see how they change. Just for kicks I took the sine(4), sine(6), sine(8), sine(10) and compared them to see how that value grows, and from each angle to the next angle 2 degrees later the sine only changed by a couple of thousandths. Those are shallow enough angles for linear growth to be a good approximation. That starts to break down with increasing angles, and if you were riding up a 25 degree slope you'd start to feel that departure from linearity, but to say that for typical gradients we ride the work done against gravity per mile ridden grows linearly with angle is a pretty good approximation.
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Old 04-09-20, 12:10 PM
  #41  
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Originally Posted by SethAZ View Post
The question of how much of that climbing work is done per mile ridden based on the angle of the slope would relate to a sine function, but in a narrow range of low angles we'd reasonably be climbing at is approximately linear.
Since we're usually discussing road slopes in terms of % gradient rather than angles, we don't even need that caveat. It's already in rise-over-run form.
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Old 04-09-20, 12:20 PM
  #42  
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
Since we're usually discussing road slopes in terms of % gradient rather than angles, we don't even need that caveat. It's already in rise-over-run form.
No doubt, it was just too early in the morning for me to do the extra step of looking at results of a sine function based on input of gradients rather than degrees. That being said, the difference in angle between a 5% gradient and a 15% gradient is under 6 degrees, so firmly in the realm of "small change in degrees at low angle to the horizon" where linear growth is a reasonable approximation.
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Old 04-09-20, 03:33 PM
  #43  
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
That is ridiculous bordering on insane ..... I heartily approve.

Not sure of the spacing on the gears, but if I were doing 50/50 road and gravel with serious climbs, (or, weak as I am just really serious climbs) that would be a great option.
The spacing are not great but is do-able.
I am currently working on a custom mix and match cassette.
Keeping the 3 cogs that makes the pie pan as bail out gears, mating it with the 1st 8 cogs on an 11-25 cassette.
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Old 04-09-20, 03:36 PM
  #44  
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If you want some crazy low gear, a MTB Rd is the easiest way to go.

9 speed shadow Alivio RD. Had to add links to the chain.
Currently is on a 40T cassette, but I have enough chain and space for a 42T.

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Old 04-09-20, 04:42 PM
  #45  
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What is not linear are the effects of fatigue ....
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Old 04-22-20, 01:03 PM
  #46  
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Just FYI, I have updated my original post with the changes I made. Didn't want the results to get lost in the thread and make it easier on others who are contemplating the same change.
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Old 04-26-20, 03:49 PM
  #47  
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Looks like you made the right choice. I’m a big fan of lower gearing. I remember when I was shamed way back from my 28T cassette. I spend all of my time in the hills. I got tired of lugging low cadence on the really steep hills with my 34/28, so now I’ve got 33/33 and love it. Running high cadence is great. Have fun with the new gearing!
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Old 04-26-20, 08:01 PM
  #48  
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Everyone is different so just do what works best for you. I have a 50/34, 11-34 (cassette) and just for a challenge I decided last year to try never to use my small front chain ring. I almost gave up but kept at it and
now I go up 95% of hills with the large chain ring and use the 25 or 27 cassette gear. My co-riders (pre Covid) think I'm crazy but they are also surprised now much stronger a climber I am now.
Only if the climb is long and above 10% or I've already put in a lot of miles that day do I use the small front ring. I average 75 feet of elevation per mile. Started riding 8 years ago at age 60 and I sucked at hills until last year.
Of course once in a while climbing at 34/34 is really fun too so trying different approaches would be my advice.
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Old 04-27-20, 10:45 AM
  #49  
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Originally Posted by howardv View Post
Update - April 22, 2020 - I replaced the 11-28 Dura-Ace with a 11-32 Ultegra. Replacement of the cassette was straight forward and simple. Without any other modifications or adjustments, I could change gears and everything worked fine except for the large-large combo (which is cross-chaining). The problem with the large-large combo was the chain being short. If I accidentally changed to this gear while riding, it could cause damage to the derailleur. So I thought it would be best to replace the chain since I was putting on a new cassette. I measured the new chain same as the old and added one link. Now all gears work fine, including the large-large combo.

I've done two canyon rides with this new set-up. It has made a material difference. A wild guess would be 15-20%. I can bike up the same canyon without having to take any breaks! I'm very happy with this new change and the results! Thanks to all the replies and advice. Much appreciated!
Question -- Which RD do you have, and do you need to change to the GS version to accommodate the 32T cog proprerly? I'm running Ultegra R8000 with a standard RD and 11-30T. Would like to go to 11-32T and am hoping to get by with just a chain replacement, not an RD replacement. I'm good to 8% on my current setup, but anything above truly exhausts me.
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Old 04-27-20, 10:55 AM
  #50  
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Question -- Which RD do you have, and do you need to change to the GS version to accommodate the 32T cog proprerly? I'm running Ultegra R8000 with a standard RD and 11-30T. Would like to go to 11-32T and am hoping to get by with just a chain replacement, not an RD replacement. I'm good to 8% on my current setup, but anything above truly exhausts me.
My bike has the full Dura-Ace drivetrain. Only thing changed was the cassette (from Dura-Ace 11-28 to Ultegra 11-32) and the chain. RD was not changed and works perfect with the new cassette. Here is my bike's full original specs: https://archive.trekbikes.com/us/en/...r_8_h2/details
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