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Should I get lower gears for help in climbing?

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Should I get lower gears for help in climbing?

Old 04-07-20, 03:22 PM
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howardv
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Should I get lower gears for help in climbing?

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!

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!

Last edited by howardv; 04-22-20 at 12:58 PM. Reason: Update
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Old 04-07-20, 03:27 PM
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No shame in low gearing. I like to keep the cadence at a comfortable level. Gear according to your strength and endurance. Build off that. Enjoy and don't worry about what others are doing.
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Old 04-07-20, 03:45 PM
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Bigger gears in the back will definitely help climbing. Where are you located and what kind of grades do you normally see?

Something to ponder:

I raced mountain bikes professionally, but could barely hang on the roads. Road is a different kind of power. When I switched to road racing I had a lot of catching up to do, but when I gained all of the road fitness, my mountain bike climbing didn't improve nearly as much as I thought it would, but my endurance went up.

If you did a road climb with a normalized power of 300W and a mountain bike climb with the same NP, you'd see that the real average power for the MTB was lower. That's referred to as the "variability index" on TrainingPeaks (NP/AP). There's a lot more spikes and microresting in mtb power. Even within road bikes there's a difference in power profiles between good climbers and people that are good on flats, and it usually comes down to that variability index.

Give yourself a few weeks to acclimate to the road...it may save you some money.
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Old 04-07-20, 03:57 PM
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I have to recommend changing your front chain rings to what may be called a "sub-compact" crank set. 46/30 will help you a lot. If you need/want lower than that, I recommend a cassette change to 10/42 or 11/46. The gearing you have at present is not, in my opinion, for hills or mountains.I think that "road bike" is a term that intrinsically means "flat roads"...
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Old 04-07-20, 04:22 PM
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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 use a 11-32 cassette with my 50-34 chainrings. I learned to spin when I had knee problems, and not only is better on my knees, it's also faster.
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Old 04-07-20, 04:27 PM
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With a 50/34 crank you may need to go bigger than 11-32 in back to make a substantial difference in your climbing gears. This will probably mean a new RD that will handle the chain wrap and larger cogs.

As others have suggested, you may be better off getting a 46/30 crank (or smaller - 42/28 maybe) and pairing it with the 11-32 that you suggested.
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Old 04-07-20, 04:43 PM
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I have a 50/34 with 11-34 cassette and I use the 34-34 combo more often than I thought i would. Definitely nice to have. Some people don't like having gaps in the middle of the cassette but that hasn't bothered me.
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Old 04-07-20, 04:50 PM
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You could get an 11-34 105 cassette but would need a GS derrailleur (I iknow there used to be an Ultegra model .... I could check if there still is ....or you could.)

You could get a smaller crank set, depending on how fast you wanted to go on the flats. I have a 48-38-28 triple and 48 feels too low for flat roads .... and I am slow and weak.Part of it is no doubt, gearing, and some of it might be technique. See this thread: Muscle-glycogen bonk on hills in granny gear

I'd say, going to a 30-tooth cog would be a waste---it is like, less than a four percent increase? A 32 would be a difference you could feel .... but then you need a new derailleur. But a cassette and rear derailleur is probably a lot less than a new crank set.

I know you will hate me for saying this, but .... maybe hold off on new gear and try different cadences, gears, etc .... and maybe even tolerate having to rest for a couple weeks, and see if things change.

Climbing is not just mashing with max power, and not just spinning mad revs .... it is finding exactly how your body, in its current condition, best applies a sustained effort over the length of the climb. Sitting and spinning might work for some. For others, changes of pace and posture might help.

I know when i was really pretty fit, I could spin up just about any hill with any load I have had to Drastically adjust my technique now that I am the Michelin Man, and I am still learning to climb with my current self-induced infirmities.

But .... one can always get lower gears, and swap back as desired.
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Old 04-07-20, 05:18 PM
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Yes.
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Old 04-07-20, 05:52 PM
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Probably.

It doesn't make much sense to me to be willing to pay for Dura-Ace, but not want to deal with bottomed-out gearing. That's aiming for the tiny gains while getting the basics wrong, missing out on the low-hanging fruit.

The big questions are how bottomed-out you are, and where you expect your road fitness to end up.
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Old 04-07-20, 05:54 PM
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If you climbed at an effort which enabled you to do the whole climb without stopping, what would your cadence have to be? What would your speed be in that case? So knowing those two numbers, it's easy to use one of the many gear-inch calculators on the web to determine the gear-inch number which would have you doing that climb at say 83 cadence or whatever you think is your best cadence. Then you can use those same calculators to find the ring/cog combination which would enable you to climb at that higher cadence and the same speed. There's no need to guess at it.

This is a good one: Bicycle Bike Gear Ratio Speed and Cadence Calculator
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Old 04-07-20, 06:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
If you climbed at an effort which enabled you to do the whole climb without stopping, what would your cadence have to be? What would your speed be in that case? So knowing those two numbers, it's easy to use one of the many gear-inch calculators on the web to determine the gear-inch number which would have you doing that climb at say 83 cadence or whatever you think is your best cadence. Then you can use those same calculators to find the ring/cog combination which would enable you to climb at that higher cadence and speed. There's no need to guess at it.

This is a good one: Bicycle Bike Gear Ratio Speed and Cadence Calculator
Yep. And you might pick gears lower than what's needed for a maximal effort, since you'll want those lower gears when you either don't want to or can't do a maximal effort.

I landed a hill climb KOM two days ago on my Emonda (50-34 11-28 Shimano 2x11), spending a decent chunk of time in the 34-23 but never going lower. On most occasions when I climb that hill on that bike, I'll spend the steeper spots in my lowest gear, the 34-28.
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Old 04-07-20, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
I'd say, going to a 30-tooth cog would be a waste---it is like, less than a four percent increase? A 32 would be a difference you could feel .... but then you need a new derailleur. But a cassette and rear derailleur is probably a lot less than a new crank set.
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.
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Old 04-07-20, 06:33 PM
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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.
The answer to this is "maybe." You'd be exceeding the specified capacity of your current rear derailleur (in terms of both max cog size and chain wrap), but if you screw the b-screw really far in, it might work.

With your current chain, it's possible that shifting to the big-big combination with an 11-32 cassette would damage your rear derailleur. You might need to either be very careful to avoid shifting into this gear combo, or use a longer chain (while still keeping in mind that this may make your drivetrain go slack if you shift to the smaller cogs while in the small chainring).
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Old 04-07-20, 06:34 PM
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It sounds like you're happy with your climbing abilities in MTB, so this doesn't sound like a suck it up, put in the time, and get fitter kind of thing. Also, spinning is better for your knees long term.
​​​​​​
Originally Posted by Cypress View Post
If you did a road climb with a normalized power of 300W and a mountain bike climb with the same NP, you'd see that the real average power for the MTB was lower. That's referred to as the "variability index" on TrainingPeaks (NP/AP). There's a lot more spikes and microresting in mtb power. Even within road bikes there's a difference in power profiles between good climbers and people that are good on flats, and it usually comes down to that variability index.
​​​​​​This is a really insightful comment.

I feel like I did well on a climb if I made it to the top, which is a pretty low bar. Naturally blessed or maybe cursed with sprinter genes. I can be fast on the flat and even more so on rolling terrain (get aero on descents and rest/recover for the next effort). I can do the constant grind thing, but I'm not going to be the fastest one up. @Cypress just explained exactly why.
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Old 04-07-20, 07:01 PM
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I have a compact 50/34 Shimano r7k w/gs rear derailleur and 11/34 cassette. I switched over from the 11-28 cassette and ss derailleur. I'm glad I went all in on the 34 tooth, rather than the 32. I find myself using the 34/34 often. Sometimes I wonder if a 36 tooth in the rear would have been even better. If you're debating between a 32 and 34 cassette, def go 34.
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Old 04-07-20, 07:09 PM
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i will reiterate what mwat said, i think you should just work up to it. i had a hill that killed me and i needed to take three rests before i crested it. now it is a piece of cake, actually it is my favorite ride now.

don't let the hill beat you, in time you will beat the hill.

-scott
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Old 04-07-20, 07:20 PM
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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 had an Ultegra drivetrain with 11-32T in the rear and 50/34T in the front.

I found I could put an 11-36T (sram) or 11-34T (Ultegra) in the rear, and a 46/30T (GRX) in the front without having to change anything else. I don't know how much the Dura Ace derailleur can take, but the official upper-limit for the Ultegra medium-cage derailleur was 32T. The ratings are conservative.

(For reference, I live in the hills in Coastal CA.)
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Old 04-07-20, 08:10 PM
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I'm one of those who believe in doing what one can do now. I.e. gear for current strength and fitness. If that means a big cassette and new RD, fine. A RD suitable for larger cassettes also works fine with smaller ones. So if the OP gets stronger and wants a closer ratio cassette, put on a smaller one. He'll need the larger one again in 10 years anyway - that is if we're still using 11 speed, fat chance, huh. I have quite a pile of cassettes I've used or put on for different terrain, having used the same drivetrain for many years.
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Old 04-07-20, 08:37 PM
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If Dura-Ace is rated for 30 teeth max, it Should do 32. I would not expect it to handle 34. Your money, your choice---test it and see. If you forget what gear you are in and shift to big-big and rip the derailleur off, you will know it didn't work.

If I were you I might consider a GS derailleur and a 34- or 36-tooth-max cassette (Never looked at SRAM but I hear they are Shimano-compatible.) You might even shop for a New Old Stock 5800 GC derailleur---it will weigh a few grams more but will pretty much work the same, and if you later decide you don't need it ... take it off and save it for when you do (I doubt CarbonFiberBoy would need extra gears, but we humans will eventually. )

The other thing to do is just try different approaches to the hill. Look at it as a challenge and use different tactics.

I am serious. I used to be fit and lean with huge lungs and a heart which could pump gallons per second. Then i got fat and had heart issues (easily corrected with minor surgery.) However, when I got back on the bike, i couldn't spin up hills---heart said No---and I couldn't attack hills---or rather, i could, but i couldn't sustain the attack and would either die at the top or die trying.

Now I take hills at a slightly slower cadence, staying steady, and paying a lot of attention to breathing. I stand up every now and then for a few strokes, just to refresh my muscles. I take five-second pedaling pauses to catch my breath and rest my legs (and clear clogged blood.) I look at hills (short, sadly, and not steep) more ad middle-distance runs than sprints, where the goal is to stretch my resources all the way out to the top of the hill. it is a lot less satisfying, but at least i can get up the hills now.

And yeah, spinning is better than mashing, but ideally you shouldn't really be doing too much of either. I never mash. I simply don't have the power, nor the VO2, nor the heart capacity to mash. I would burn out every system almost immediately. But I cannot just sit and spin---I cannot breathe fast enough nor flow enough blood to keep my legs spinning, even though the load (fuel and waste) is less.

I have to vary the pace. Some riders hate variation, and prefer to set a tempo and just grind it out. Some can stand and spin a tiny gear for hours. Find which works for you.
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Old 04-07-20, 10:42 PM
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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.
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Old 04-07-20, 11:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Cypress View Post
Bigger gears in the back will definitely help climbing. Where are you located and what kind of grades do you normally see?

Something to ponder:

I raced mountain bikes professionally, but could barely hang on the roads. Road is a different kind of power. When I switched to road racing I had a lot of catching up to do, but when I gained all of the road fitness, my mountain bike climbing didn't improve nearly as much as I thought it would, but my endurance went up.

If you did a road climb with a normalized power of 300W and a mountain bike climb with the same NP, you'd see that the real average power for the MTB was lower. That's referred to as the "variability index" on TrainingPeaks (NP/AP). There's a lot more spikes and microresting in mtb power. Even within road bikes there's a difference in power profiles between good climbers and people that are good on flats, and it usually comes down to that variability index.

Give yourself a few weeks to acclimate to the road...it may save you some money.


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.


What do you think?
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Old 04-07-20, 11:53 PM
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No New Derailleur

I ride a Domane with Ultegra and a Madone with Dura Ace. The Domane I am running an 11-36 cassette and Dura Ace an 11-32. Trek’s have long derailleur cages that allow Shimano to run larger than recommend.
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Old 04-08-20, 12:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
It sounds like you're happy with your climbing abilities in MTB, so this doesn't sound like a suck it up, put in the time, and get fitter kind of thing. Also, spinning is better for your knees long term.
​​​​​​


​​​​​​This is a really insightful comment.

I feel like I did well on a climb if I made it to the top, which is a pretty low bar. Naturally blessed or maybe cursed with sprinter genes. I can be fast on the flat and even more so on rolling terrain (get aero on descents and rest/recover for the next effort). I can do the constant grind thing, but I'm not going to be the fastest one up. @Cypress just explained exactly why.
How much do you weigh? Climbing is really more about power to weight.
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Old 04-08-20, 12:10 AM
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HTupolev
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Originally Posted by colnago62 View Post
How much do you weigh? Climbing is really more about power to weight.
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.
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