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Touring bikes with best gear ratios (new or vintage)

Old 07-21-23, 09:00 AM
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Touring bikes with best gear ratios (new or vintage)

To me, one of the most important things for a touring bike to have is really good touring gear ratios. Don't come at me that it's all about building muscle so that any bike will be fine. That isn't what I'm looking for.

I want a bike - new or old - that is just made to get up hills. I'm not in a race, I just don't want to run out of gears. And I know there are sites and formulas out there but to a novice bike enthusiast, that stuff is WAY over my head. It doesn't help that I had a fluke stroke 5 years ago caused by a change in medication that wiped out my ability to do math. That ability has come back, but it'll never be as good as it once was (I also lost my ability to write initially too so I probably have more typos than you would expect).

If there is a list of it somewhere - that info would be great too.
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Old 07-21-23, 12:01 PM
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You can change the gearing on almost any bike. I have re-configured 5 of our families' touring bikes with mountain bike gearing, and (shifter/brake) "brifters".

All our bikes run a triple with 22/32/44 chainrings, and a 11-34 cassette. This gives a gear range of 16.8 to 103.6 gear inches. This is a good touring setup.

This is my Bianchi Volpe set up that way.

Last edited by Doug64; 07-30-23 at 05:49 PM.
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Old 07-21-23, 12:42 PM
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As I suspect Doug64 did, plan on changing out your crank, or at least your small chainring. An amazing number of pundits and manufacturers don't see the need for low at or below 20 gear inches.

And don't discount the "two foot" gear. There are a number of hills I can't climb on a loaded bike. When I get off and push, there's very few in that category. Though I'll admit sometimes I want a soccer shinguard...
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Old 07-21-23, 01:49 PM
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A 22T chainring on a 34T rear cog is pretty damn low. I'd be happy with that. A triple chainring on 7-8 speed is pretty flexible.

As for 'new', I've gone for a Pinion 30T/30T on a Sturmey Archer CS-RK3 3 speed IGH, which basically means a linear range of 18 speeds in normal terrain, with 'overdrive' for descents over 40km/h, and a 4x4 style low range 'granny' gear for ascents over 8%.
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Old 07-21-23, 03:02 PM
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I know it probably sounds so basic to you all, but this is all a foreign language to me. I'm wanting to learn - which is why I ask so many questions.

It sound so simple to say you can change things, but if I get a bike that doesn't allow for such changes, then I wasted my time and money. And if I get a NEW bike, I don't want to spend more money... or is that just the reality even for designated touring bikes?
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Old 07-21-23, 04:54 PM
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I think there's no way of avoiding the basic math, because there's no list what bike has low gears and what bike has higher gears.

Let's ignore the wheel size and just focus on the smallest chainring (front sprocket) and largest cog (rear sprocket):

22 tooth front with 36 tooth rear is about a low as you can feasibly go, and I'm pretty sure it would be low enough for you.

Let's take 24t front and 36r rear - treat that like fraction 24/36, which equals 2/3 (or about 0.66).

Any front-small/rear-large that's less than 2/3 (or 0.66) will probably be low enough for you.

Take the smallest front sprocket tooth count and divide it by the largest rear sprocket tooth count (use a calculator or just type it into a browser) and if that number is less than 0.66 it will probably be low enough gearing for you.
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Old 07-21-23, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by mams99
I know it probably sounds so basic to you all, but this is all a foreign language to me. I'm wanting to learn - which is why I ask so many questions.
...
I typed a long post and then my browser crashed. Not trying to remember and then retype it all. This is the short version.

There are some good references on the internet for bike stuff.

Sheldon died years ago but his website is still maintained and occasionally updated. This is not specific to touring, but this is a good place to get an intro into gearing.
https://www.sheldonbrown.com/

The guy that hosts this web site and his youtube videos is pretty good. But, a lot of what he discuses is not cheap.
https://www.cyclingabout.com/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGa...2YK76rDI4IhCGg

My heavy touring bike has a lowest gear of 16.2 gear inches. With that when I pedal at a cadence of 72 (speed that I am pedaling the crankset in revolutions per minute) I am going 3.5 miles per hour, which is not much more than walking speed. If my heart rate gets up to an uncomfortable rate based on my heart rate monitor when I am in first gear at 3.5 mph, I stop and get off the bike and push it up the hill at a slower pace.

When i say 16.2 gear inches, that is the same as if I had my pedals directly attached to the wheel (direct drive) and the wheel was 16.2 inches in diameter. The wheel is much bigger than that, but the calculations are used to make comparisons to a direct drive, that is a way to compare different gears. When I say direct drive, think child tricycle with the pedals on the front wheel.

In general terms, for touring it is a general rule of thumb that you want a lowest gear to be at or below 20 gear inches. My light touring bike has a lowest gear of 20.7, but I carry less weight on that bike than I carry on my heavy touring bike that has a lower lowest gear. Some people that are packed extraordinarily light will be able to get up hills with a much higher lowest gear, but they are traveling lighter than average.

I am sure that there are some good books on touring and equipment, but I have no idea where to look. And I am sure there are some bad ones too. If you are interested, ask, others here may be able to recommend a book or two or three with some of the basics.
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Old 07-22-23, 01:01 AM
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Originally Posted by mams99
I know it probably sounds so basic to you all, but this is all a foreign language to me. I'm wanting to learn - which is why I ask so many questions.

It sound so simple to say you can change things, but if I get a bike that doesn't allow for such changes, then I wasted my time and money. And if I get a NEW bike, I don't want to spend more money... or is that just the reality even for designated touring bikes?
simplest option if you don't want to bother studying up on gear ratios..................

buy a quality mountain bike that fits you well. i'd go with a slightly older model that's got a 3x9 drivetrain (22-34-44 front and 14:34 rear) and eyelets for racks and fenders. add some bar ends, and switch out to some lighter and thinner tires. you don't need slicks, but get rid of the aggressive profile. something with a smooth center tread for pavement and bumplies on the sides for dirt and gravel.

you now have a touring bike with proper gearing.
enjoy!
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Old 07-22-23, 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by mams99
To me, one of the most important things for a touring bike to have is really good touring gear ratios. Don't come at me that it's all about building muscle so that any bike will be fine. That isn't what I'm looking for.

I want a bike - new or old - that is just made to get up hills. I'm not in a race, I just don't want to run out of gears. And I know there are sites and formulas out there but to a novice bike enthusiast, that stuff is WAY over my head. It doesn't help that I had a fluke stroke 5 years ago caused by a change in medication that wiped out my ability to do math. That ability has come back, but it'll never be as good as it once was (I also lost my ability to write initially too so I probably have more typos than you would expect).

If there is a list of it somewhere - that info would be great too.
Bicycle gearing is fungible. You can change it as you like and the range of derailers given by manufacturers is often very conservative, especially the front. The range on rear derailers are generally close to the actual range but front derailers can handle an astoundingly wider range than what is published. I never stick with the gearing that comes on the bike but, then, I seldom stick with anything on the bike that comes OEM in general.

For example my road touring bike (originally a gray T800) came with a 48/38/28 crank with an 11-34 cassette. That didn’t last long. I swapped the crank out for a 46/36/22 crank with an 11-34 cassette. I’ve since gone to a 44/32/20 crank with an 11-36 cassette with a 110” high and a 15.2” low. A 20 tooth ring is requires a little bit of surgery to get it to work but it it’s worth the trouble.


This is my bikepacking bike that now has ridiculous gearing. It has a 44/32/20 crank and an 11-40 cassette. That’s a 110” high and a 13.0” low! It’s a mind numbing 800% range! How bunches of people will tell you this just can’t be done. It’s possible, you just need to experiment.




Originally Posted by Doug64
You can change the gearing on almost any bike. I have re-configured 5 of our families' touring bikes with mountain bike gearing, and (shifter/brake) "brifters".
All our bikes run a triple with 22/32/44 chainrings, and a 11-34 cassette. This gives a gear range of 16.8 to 103.6 gear inches. This is a good touring setup.

This is my Bianchi Volpe set up that way.
Something wrong with your math. I calculate your range as 17.7” to 110”
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Old 07-22-23, 09:26 AM
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For comparison purposes, a Pinion P1.18 + 30T chainring on CS~RK3 with 30T sprocket gives 11.1 to 128.5 gear inches.
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Old 07-22-23, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Xavier65
For comparison purposes, a Pinion P1.18 + 30T chainring on CS~RK3 with 30T sprocket gives 11.1 to 128.5 gear inches.
This is a thread posted by a person who says gearing "is all a foreign language to me".

The odds that such a person is going to buy a gearing system that costs maybe $1,500 more than the most expensive derailleur set-up (and weighs a couple pounds more than that derailleur set-up), and then is also going to buy a new super-expensive bike with the special frame that this extremely esoteric gearing system requires (almost no examples of which are sold in the US), and then, in order to maintain this system, is also going to learn advanced bike mechanic skills or else move to one of the maybe two or three US cities where there is a mechanic that has ever worked on Pinion gears, are so close to zero that your posting twice in this thread about the virtues of Pinion gearing is a complete waste of everyone's time.

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Old 07-22-23, 10:35 AM
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What this makes me realize is that I need to 1. find a really good bike mechanic who is willing to experiment the bike and 2. learn all of this myself. The latter is not going to happen most likely - The cost of that for one bike would be more than paying someone to do it.

And finding a bike mechanic who has the time and knowhow is not easy. It's not cost effective for them to tinker on one bike for long and that is completely understandable. I need to find a local hobbyist I can trust!
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Old 07-22-23, 11:10 AM
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Many of us here use this web app to examine potential drivetrains and the gear ratios they produce:

Bicycle Gear Calculator

Gives you a nice graphical view of how different chainrings and cogs result in easy or difficult gearing - we usually talk about "easy or difficult gearing" in terms of gear inches. Many of us older folks like our gear inches to be under 20.

Here's the web app displaying my current gearing setup (nice and easy low gear under 19 gear inches):

Bicycle Gear Calculator

One thing you can ask a potential mechanic is "how would you modify this bike to get the gear inches under 20?"

Ideally you could find a bike that already has the gearing you want, using the mentioned web app to understand the gearing the bike has. You could plug in (via drag and drop) the gearing of a bike you have now just to understand the gearing you're dealing with now, and this will give you something to compare against potential bikes.

Originally Posted by mams99
What this makes me realize is that I need to 1. find a really good bike mechanic who is willing to experiment the bike and 2. learn all of this myself. The latter is not going to happen most likely - The cost of that for one bike would be more than paying someone to do it.

And finding a bike mechanic who has the time and knowhow is not easy. It's not cost effective for them to tinker on one bike for long and that is completely understandable. I need to find a local hobbyist I can trust!
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Old 07-22-23, 11:20 AM
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Originally Posted by mams99
What this makes me realize is that I need to 1. find a really good bike mechanic who is willing to experiment the bike and 2. learn all of this myself. The latter is not going to happen most likely - The cost of that for one bike would be more than paying someone to do it.

And finding a bike mechanic who has the time and knowhow is not easy. It's not cost effective for them to tinker on one bike for long and that is completely understandable. I need to find a local hobbyist I can trust!
A bike mechanic at a large shop is someone that replaces parts and adjusts them after they figure out what part needed to be replaced. Very few shops cater to touring, thus very few shops have expertise in low gearing. And mechanics are very unlikely to install something on your bike that the specifications do not call for.

A bike shop mechanic that is asked to go outside the norms of what that shop typically does will be fearful that a week later a very angry customer will come in and complain. The best way in their mind to avoid that is to stay within industry norms and only install new parts that are the same or similar specification to what was on the bike before.

I hope you find what you want, but it may take some time. You might get lucky at a small shop to find a mechanic that is quite knowledgeable, but sometimes you find ones that pretend to be knowledgeable too.
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Old 07-22-23, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute

Something wrong with your math. I calculate your range as 17.7” to 110”
You are correct. I had Mike Sherman's Gear Calculator on the wrong tire size. When I changed it to 32 mm tires it came out to 17.4 to 107.7. Close enough
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Old 07-22-23, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by ignant666
posting twice in this thread about the virtues of Pinion gearing is a complete waste of everyone's time.
I was principally addressing the thread title “best gear ratios (new or vintage)”.

In terms of ‘vintage’, having had an ‘80s tourer for donkey’s years, with derailleur gearing, I’m happy to join the choir in singing the praises of a good low range derailleur gear combo, e.g. a 20-26T chainring onto a 34-40T sprocket (7-8 speed). And moreover, that a 3x is better than a 1x.

In terms of ‘new’, having had a new tourer for a few months, I’m continually impressed by the gear range provided by the Pinion P1.18 + CS-RK3.

As ‘everyone’ includes all those interested in the thread title, there is zero risk of wasting everyone’s time, let alone doing so completely.

Do you feel the OP should be sheltered from knowing about non-derailleur based gear systems, e.g. Pinion, Rohloff, Sturmey-Archer, etc.?
​​​​​​
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Old 07-22-23, 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb
And don't discount the "two foot" gear. There are a number of hills I can't climb on a loaded bike. When I get off and push, there's very few in that category. Though I'll admit sometimes I want a soccer shinguard...
"Two foot" gear top tip: removable pedals. MKS Ezy Superior, Wellgo QRD II, others


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Old 07-22-23, 05:55 PM
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A simple list of past bike models made to get up hills, and one where you won't run out of gears, isn't perfectly useable, because those gears could have been changed by a previous owner.

Here's a bike with (insert technical details here) gearing that offers an ~18 gear-inch low: https://www.bikesdirect.com/products...disc-brake.htm

At 40rpm (quite slow) on the cranks, you'll be going ~2 miles per hour - a speed slower than what most folks can balance a bike at.

3x something. Multiple sizes in stock. Charge card --> delivered to your door.

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Old 07-22-23, 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by mams99
What this makes me realize is that I need to 1. find a really good bike mechanic who is willing to experiment the bike and 2. learn all of this myself. The latter is not going to happen most likely - The cost of that for one bike would be more than paying someone to do it.

And finding a bike mechanic who has the time and knowhow is not easy. It's not cost effective for them to tinker on one bike for long and that is completely understandable. I need to find a local hobbyist I can trust!
A bike mechanic that has been around for even 10 years should have way more experience and knowledge than needed to help you select gearing thst works for you and the bike you end up buying.
It may be a foreign language to you, but it isn't rocket science either.

A couple hours of internetting will get you info- just read forum posts about gear ratios and what is compatible.

What isn't helpful is everyone list g a bunch of random bike models that are new and old. Who knows if you have one near you in your size and budget? That's a waste of everyone's time.

Just find a touring bike that fits and is in good cosmetic and mechanical condition. Ride it. Then ask a mechanic to swap the cassette and a chaining out if you need easier gearing to climb hills.
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Old 07-22-23, 07:32 PM
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Originally Posted by ignant666
(almost no examples of which are sold in the US),
I agree with your point that the OP is unlikely to get a Pinion bike first off. They are available from Co-Motion, they are out on the west coast US somewhere. Expensive bikes. I followed Darren Alf, the so-called “Bicycle Touring Pro”, on his travels thru much of Europe on how Pinion equipped bike. He had nothing but good things to say about the system, but a noted they are very expensive,
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Old 07-23-23, 07:37 AM
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One thing not being covered in this discussion is the way these systems feel in use, and IMO that's an important factor.

So, I'll poke at the usability differences between two extremes - a 1x or 3x system... and how they feel on the ride.


For the 'modern' take, you can run a 1x system - one chainring up front, with 10-12 speeds in the back. Sure, it's simple, easy to maintain, and less to think about, but since it's only 10-12 gears, there will be 'gaps' between them. And, if you are in between gears, you won't have a pleasurable spin - you'll either feel like you're constantly spinning out because it feels too easy, or muscling a too-hard gear. Will this be an issue on your tour? Maybe, maybe not. But it's the option that will be the easiest to get started with and (every few thousand miles, when you get a tune-up) the easiest to maintain. And, it's ideal if your touring is more about short, punchy climbs and descents, like gravel-bike bikepacking.

For the 'classic' take, you can run a 3x system - three chainrings up front, with 9-12 speeds in the back. It means it's a little more fussy with the gearing, since you don't really have 3x the gears, since there's overlap. What it does mean though, is you'll shift the front into the general range of the climb you are doing, then dial it in precisely with the rear. Think of the front shifter as 'modes' - most of the time you'll be in the middle, but you'll downshift into the 'granny' for steep stuff and the 'big gear' when you're on a downhill or on a flat with a strong tailwind. It'll take a bit more effort to get used to, but when you settle in to a long, long climb, you'll be able to get your cadence to a perfect spot - so you're maximally efficient for your effort to speed. This is ideal when your tours include long, long grades - we're talking 30 minutes or so - like on the side of a highway, or mountain pass, created for cars.


There's a lot of flexibility in between these two extremes, but I hope you get the picture.
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Old 07-23-23, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by schnee
One thing not being covered in this discussion is the way these systems feel in use, and IMO that's an important factor.

So, I'll poke at the usability differences between two extremes - a 1x or 3x system... and how they feel on the ride.


For the 'modern' take, you can run a 1x system - one chainring up front, with 10-12 speeds in the back. Sure, it's simple, easy to maintain, and less to think about, but since it's only 10-12 gears, there will be 'gaps' between them. And, if you are in between gears, you won't have a pleasurable spin - you'll either feel like you're constantly spinning out because it feels too easy, or muscling a too-hard gear. Will this be an issue on your tour? Maybe, maybe not. But it's the option that will be the easiest to get started with and (every few thousand miles, when you get a tune-up) the easiest to maintain. And, it's ideal if your touring is more about short, punchy climbs and descents, like gravel-bike bikepacking.

For the 'classic' take, you can run a 3x system - three chainrings up front, with 9-12 speeds in the back. It means it's a little more fussy with the gearing, since you don't really have 3x the gears, since there's overlap. What it does mean though, is you'll shift the front into the general range of the climb you are doing, then dial it in precisely with the rear. Think of the front shifter as 'modes' - most of the time you'll be in the middle, but you'll downshift into the 'granny' for steep stuff and the 'big gear' when you're on a downhill or on a flat with a strong tailwind. It'll take a bit more effort to get used to, but when you settle in to a long, long climb, you'll be able to get your cadence to a perfect spot - so you're maximally efficient for your effort to speed. This is ideal when your tours include long, long grades - we're talking 30 minutes or so - like on the side of a highway, or mountain pass, created for cars.


There's a lot of flexibility in between these two extremes, but I hope you get the picture.
I really love the youtube channel - path less pedaled. Russ has a wealth of knowledge and his and Laura's riding is more how I think most people's are - party pace - it's just getting out there to have fun - to do whatever. He's done a lot of stuff about the gear range recently and it makes sense. I'm TOTALLY fine with the 3 by something. I "know" them. I know how it should feel. I understand how and when to shift and when not to do it. I use a three by on my bike trainer too.
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Old 07-23-23, 12:16 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by mams99
I really love the youtube channel - path less pedaled. Russ has a wealth of knowledge and his and Laura's riding is more how I think most people's are - party pace - it's just getting out there to have fun - to do whatever. He's done a lot of stuff about the gear range recently and it makes sense. I'm TOTALLY fine with the 3 by something. I "know" them. I know how it should feel. I understand how and when to shift and when not to do it. I use a three by on my bike trainer too.
Cool! Then in my humble opinion, really your choice is about getting the right ratios.

The triple on my Vaya is typical for 2013, a 52/34/30 crankset and 11-30 cassette, but you can easily go lower now. (MicroShift R10 goes to 34 teeth on the back, for one.) But, after a certain point, that gearing that will be not worth it, because it'll be more productive to get off the bike and push, since maintaining balance at such a slow speed is more taxing than just standing on the ground and pushing. It depends on the load of your bike and fitness. So, like others are saying, some test riding is in your future.

Some 2x cranksets go even lower than a classic triple. Since you're a fan of Russ, I know you probably have some leads from his channel. The thing there is that having a really small chainring on the front double could create a situation where the speeds and grades you most commonly encounter will fall half on the small ring, and half on the big ring, meaning lots of shifting front *and* back gears to keep the same pace. Really, really annoying. You can 'bake' a double that works well, but you'll basically lose the top gears and 'spin out' whenever you're blessed with a false flat downhill and/or a tailwind. A minor problem, really, but it might take a bit of experimentation to get there.

That's why I like a classic triple crank with a 10-34 cassette so much, you spend 80% of your time in the middle chainring, so it mostly feels like a 1x. Then, the other 15% is in the granny gear, and every once in a while get in the big ring and haul ass.
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Old 07-23-23, 03:26 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by schnee
That's why I like a classic triple crank with a 10-34 cassette so much, you spend 80% of your time in the middle chainring, so it mostly feels like a 1x. Then, the other 15% is in the granny gear, and every once in a while get in the big ring and haul ass.
That's just it.

The middle chainring is for cruising the plains, and for handling the majority of the terrain, i.e. minor inclines down to gentle descents.
The large chainring is for the >40km/h descents.
The small chainring is for the steeper ascents, i.e. > 5%.

Assuming a 11-36T cassette...

Tourers, with heavier loads, are therefore going to be heading for a small chainring of 20-26T.
If it is desired to pedal beyond 40km/h, then a >50T chainring is appropriate.
What's left is the middle chainring, e.g. 34-44T.

One must bear in mind, that with a very small chainring, it is likely that some gears will be unavailable due to diagonal and loose chain, e.g. 20T+11T is not going to work. However, these gears are not really required. The small chainring is for ascending, i.e. to be used with 36/32/28/24T rear sprockets. Similarly, one is unlikely to use the descending chainring on the large rear sprocket. Thus, the chain should be sized on the big-big cogs, such that the derailleur system can just about stretch to cope with big-big, but is not expected to be used on it.

You then end up with the front chainring derailleur lever being used to select between ascent/cruise/descent mode, and the rear derailleur lever for fine tuning the gear in that mode.
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Old 07-23-23, 03:32 PM
  #25  
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All you really need is a large enough rear cog that in combination with the small front cog provides a low enough gear ratio to go up any grade regardless of how steep or how long it is. Whether it takes 10 minutes or 12 minutes to get up a grade is not important. When touring a put a larger cog on the freewheel or cassette and so instead of a 24 x 39 I have a 28 x 39 lowest gear. 4 more teeth may not seem like a big deal but it provides a 16 percent lower low gear and that makes a great deal of difference in the effort/strength required to move the bike up a hill.
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