When looking at new equipment for your bike do the gears ever come to mind? We have so many options out there from 11/23 to 11/28 cassettes or standard and compact cranksets. What do you go with?
Not all of us live in flat land areas and more often than not the hills are calling to be ridden. So with that in mind, what gearing is best suited for most of us to use? It all comes down to efficiency and cadence plays a big roll in that. Even if you’re not racing and just riding to stay in shape and having fun on your bike a cadence around 85 to 95rpm is ideal and a good starting point for riding on the flats. If you are not sure where your cadence is it might be a good idea to get a basic cycling computer that has cadence on it. These can start at around $40. If you find it difficult at first to pedal this fast don’t worry. Give it a week or two and your body will start to adapt and soon it will become second nature. It may take some time but going a little slower and easier can help greatly.
Now getting into the hills is where gearing becomes very important. A lot of times, unless you’re a fast climber, we find ourselves pushing a hard gear with a low cadence. This is effectively like lifting weights and not very efficient. The problem with this at times is that we are already in our easiest gear! In a perfect world it would be great to have the same cadence as we do on flat gound or at least close too. So it’s not always perfect but if we can at least get to 80+rpms our efficiency will go up and take strain and fatigue away from our joints and muscles. If you are using standard gearing, most likely a 53 tooth big chainring and 39 tooth small chainring, a cost effective way to help maintain optimum cadence is by changing out your cassette. The gear ratio I suggest quite often is the 11/28 cassette. This still gives us plenty of harder gears for the flats and decents but also gives us a little relief going up hills. Since most of you are using 9, 10 or 11speed now, the spacing between gears won’t be a huge jump either.
If the 11/28 still isn’t enough help in improving cadence and you’re still grinding up the hills, I recomend the compact crank. This is a different crankset altogether and the big chainring is a 50T and usually a 34t small chainring. This smaller chainring provides us more easier gears that will help make spinning a higher cadence up hills much easier. So instead of having to press hard on the pedals with each stroke you can be pushing lightly on the pedals but much more frequently. As with working on a higher cadence on the flats, this too will take some dedication but the benefits will turn into huge efficiency payoffs. Now if you still want to go hard up the hills you have plenty of gears to do this.
I’m sure some of you are wondering, “what will this compact crank do for my top end speed when I go down hills?” If maintaining a 36-38mph pace you can still use the compact. Yes the 50 is smaller and you do lose some top end speed by going to the compact but by going with using a cassette with an 11 tooth cog you will only loose a slight amount of possible top end speed. Another thing to keep in mind is that the top end of the 50/11 combo is actually a BIGGER gear than the 53/12 combo. With that you now can spin easier than before up the hills and still being able to push the gear while rolling at 38+mph. Sure it takes some doing but as said before it can be well worth it!