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Gearing & 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
View Poll Results: What adjustments to gearing do you suggest?
Leave it alone, learn to climb you pansy!
15.63%
New crankset, compact double is where it's at.
6.25%
New cassette, a few more teeth in the back go a long way.
56.25%
Do both, you aren't man enough to spin those gears.
21.88%
Voters: 32. You may not vote on this poll

Gearing & climbing

Old 06-28-10, 07:04 AM
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Gearing & climbing

I just finished up my first Triathlon over the weekend, but did so on a road bike. I picked up a very nice used litespeed and after my first race this weekend I am starting to think the gearing may not be right for me.

I am a tall rider tipping the scales at just barely over 200lbs and road an extremely hilly Olympic length ride. The killer was the climb in the middle that had many sections at 10+% and lasted roughly 2.5 miles. My bike is set up with 53/39 chainrings and a 11-23 cassette. I had to grind through the whole climb with that 39-23 lowest gear.

I am wondering if I should look at changing cassette, cranks/chainrings, or both. I want gearing that will allow me to climb but also doesn't give away too much top end. My previous bike was a 50/34 compact double with a 12-25 cassette, there was a huge difference in the climbing on that bike. Although it was a much heavier bike the gearing made a world of difference on steep climbs.

Still relatively new to cycling, and well aware I picked up a great deal on a little too much bike for me, but I want to be able to to grow into it. What suggestions do you have, should I change out all the gearing or just one set or the other?
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Old 06-28-10, 07:18 AM
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I'd just swap the cassette first because that's the easy thing to do. If that's not enough go from there.
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Old 06-28-10, 07:22 AM
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Nobody knows what gearing you need, only you do. We don't know what your hills are like, how fit you are or what your most efficient pedalling style is.

If your bikes' gearing isn't suitable to you, you'd be an idiot not to change it.
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Old 06-28-10, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by clyderider727
. I want gearing that will allow me to climb but also doesn't give away too much top end.
Start with the cassette, it's cheapest and easiest.

But if you decide you need a compact, don't worry about the top end. 50/11 is good for 44mph at 120 rpm. If you're going any faster than that on a downhill section, you're likely better off stopping pedaling, tucking in very aero, and recovering anyway.

Only time you'd need a bigger gear than 50/11 would be if your course and fitness were such that you were sustaining 36-40 mph on shallow downhills for extended stretches. This is not going to describe many people or many courses.

The more relevant concern with a compact is not top end, it's spacing and cross over points, but that's a different topic.
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Old 06-28-10, 08:22 AM
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I agree with swapping out the cassette first. 50/34 11/23 still probably won't give you enough gearing for steep 10% hills.
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Old 06-28-10, 08:25 AM
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You'll need to swap out the cassette anyway, so start there. Note that you may need to lengthen your chain by a link as well.
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Old 06-28-10, 08:29 AM
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I chose the "both" option, not because you aren't man enough but because 34x25 is great if you hit something really hard at the end of a ride. That being said, I run a compact with an 11-23 cassette.
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Old 06-28-10, 08:42 AM
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I have a 34 X 28 (brand new SRAM red). I was using this gear on a long climb yesterday sustaining 300W at 90 rpm. I never thought I'd want to go this low, but it was my fastest climb up the route to date. It's not about being "man enough."
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Old 06-28-10, 08:59 AM
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Originally Posted by ericm979
Nobody knows what gearing you need, only you do.
+1. Think about the question and this is the only answer other than the obvious "Which is easier to swap?" Going up the hill at any particular speed is the same rate of work no matter how you gear it. So you should ask, for your competition and your body is it better to push harder or to spin more? It sounds like you already know the answer.

I haven't filled out the poll. I don't compete. I ride for conditioning and recreation, so I'd rather have lower gears and give up the highs. But your answer will be very different because your purpose is different.
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Old 06-28-10, 09:16 AM
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I said new cassette, but honestly "I had to grind through the whole climb with that 39-23 lowest gear" doesn't really tell us much. A new lower cassette will help but may or may not be enough. Start there, try it out, and see if you need more. That plus more training will help a lot.
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Old 06-28-10, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by umd
I said new cassette, but honestly "I had to grind through the whole climb with that 39-23 lowest gear" doesn't really tell us much. A new lower cassette will help but may or may not be enough. Start there, try it out, and see if you need more. That plus more training will help a lot.
Very nice.
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Old 06-28-10, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by jimmuller
I ride for conditioning and recreation, so I'd rather have lower gears and give up the highs. But your answer will be very different because your purpose is different.
I have a 50/34 and 11/28. I used to have a 53/39 and 12/25. My low end is obviously lower, but my 50/11 is actually higher than the 53/12. I'm not giving up the high end.

For me, I'm approaching age 50 and will never be a pro racer. Thus, switching to a compact and lower gearing is advantageous for me. Living in Colorado and liking to ride mountains, a wide cassette is also useful. I'm working on my fitness and still need to lose15 lbs, so my speed up hills will improve. Nevertheless, I'd rather spin and push big gears, so the lower gearing is helpful to me. It's hard to "man-up" to using a 28 (I'd still prefer a 27), but this feeling is off the bike, not while suffering up a long, steep hill.

The best idea to give a setup (cassette) a try. If you don't like it, sell the cassette on ebay.
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Old 06-28-10, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by jimmuller
so I'd rather have lower gears and give up the highs. But your answer will be very different because your purpose is different.

This is the misnomer I was trying to correct above. The choice isn't between getting lower gears or giving up the highs. You can have both.

The choice is between tighter spacing, but less range, or wider range and wider spacing.
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Old 06-28-10, 11:56 AM
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I agree that only you can decide on what gearing you need.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is what type of riding you will be doing....if you will be doing lots of long climbs like you described, you should consider a new cassette and maybe even compact gearing (i.e. smaller front chainring).

On the other hand, if these types of climbs are going to be done rarely, you can probably get by with what you have.
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Old 06-28-10, 12:01 PM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
The choice isn't between getting lower gears or giving up the highs. You can have both.

The choice is between tighter spacing, but less range, or wider range and wider spacing.
To put it more succinctly: Higher high, Lower low, Tighter spacing over some or all of the range.
Pick any two.

Of course, with newer gearing, i.e. enough gears, you certainly can have all three.

It wasn't clear whether the OP was asking about the easiest modification to make or the best gearing for his performance.
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Old 06-28-10, 01:11 PM
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OP, 39/23 up a 10% grade should be doable (if not painful) for someone who's race-fit (and not, like me, old).

If you're in a race, and using lower gearing, you'd still be pushing yourself just as hard to make it up a hill. The question, then, is if you would be any faster with lower gears. You might even be slower, because you run the risk, if you don't have a lot of endurance for long climbs, of spinning yourself out of energy.

The only way to know what lower gearing would do in such a situation is to experiment.
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Old 06-28-10, 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by ericm979
nobody knows what gearing you need, only you do. We don't know what your hills are like, how fit you are or what your most efficient pedalling style is.

If your bikes' gearing isn't suitable to you, you'd be an idiot not to change it.
bingo!
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Old 06-28-10, 04:09 PM
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How long is your crank? If you're very tall and heavy, you want something longer than a 170, for sure...
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