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The Dominance of Ultra-Low Gear Racing Drive-trains

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The Dominance of Ultra-Low Gear Racing Drive-trains

Old 08-19-22, 09:20 AM
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The Dominance of Ultra-Low Gear Racing Drive-trains

Saturday, I started with the local training ride which is attended by many accomplished and current 50 and 60+ National Champions. Of course, most have new bikes with electronic shifting and disk brakes. But what struck me was that most of these guys and gals had huge cogsets. Many of them went to 34! Now compact cranksets have been popular for some time but 34 tooth cogs on a road racing bike? Makes me think of doing that to my modern bike.
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Old 08-19-22, 10:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Classtime View Post
Saturday, I started with the local training ride which is attended by many accomplished and current 50 and 60+ National Champions. Of course, most have new bikes with electronic shifting and disk brakes. But what struck me was that most of these guys and gals had huge cogsets. Many of them went to 34! Now compact cranksets have been popular for some time but 34 tooth cogs on a road racing bike? Makes me think of doing that to my modern bike.
I'm using a 50&34 crank with an 11-32 cassette on my lightweight road bike and this provides me the ability to climb at 5 mph with a 50 rpm cadence. On pavement, that's as big a cassette I need.

On my gravel bike I have a 46&33 cyclocross crankset with an 11-36 eleven speed cassette. I can climb a 20% grade on gravel and stay seated with a 40 rpm cadence.
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Old 08-19-22, 11:01 AM
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My cassette goes to 34 and I love it, also I have 50-34 in front. I only need to stand when the grade is 20+% which is almost never. Similarly the 50 in front is occasionally too small, but so what I'll just do 120rpm for a minute no biggie.
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Old 08-19-22, 11:10 AM
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inadequate gearing on road bikes - and poor rider position/fit - was a contributing factor to the growth of the 'mountain bike' in the 90's

most of the 'mountain bikes' never saw off road use

then many realized the heavy fat tire bikes were not ideal for road riding - and the pendulum swung back toward the road bike and the eventual move to the 'gravel bike' (with improved gearing and rider position etc)

this is of course an oversimplification - but summarized the movement
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Old 08-19-22, 12:08 PM
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Originally Posted by t2p View Post
inadequate gearing on road bikes - and poor rider position/fit - was a contributing factor to the growth of the 'mountain bike' in the 90's
As well as a contributing factor, in combination with uncomfortable OEM rock hard ass -hatchet saddles and narrow high pressure tires, to stunting, if not killing the so-called "bike boom" of the early 70's. The relative comfort of the 80's mountain bike for casual recreational riding regardless of road surface, as well as typical commuting or local transportation purposes, in comparison to the so-called "10 speed racers" was obvious to all but speed obsessed "enthusiasts."
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Old 08-19-22, 01:14 PM
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I put an 11-36T cassette on a few different wheel-sets, because the 11-34T was insufficiently low when paired with a 46/30 T crankset.

The latest example was with a 2X GRX derailleur for my wife. It was clear that there would be plenty of room to go lower, perhaps to 40 or 42T.

It is good to have options, especially around steep (> 20%) grades, and as age takes its toll.
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Old 08-19-22, 01:29 PM
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Yeah, even this born mountain goat is moving down in gear ratios as he ages. Still haven't gone compact double and super big cassette because I like triples too much but they all have 30 and smaller chainrings. (The 30 because it's a Campy Chorus on a race bike. Sweet crankset but I think 30 is as low as it gets,) Other bikes used to be 28s and are now 24s. With 28 cassettes and FWs, decently low.
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Old 08-19-22, 01:46 PM
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I bought a top-of-the-line production road bike, Motobecane Le Champion, in the early 1970s. It was a great bike at the time for me but as I got older it became less useful. Just too darn hard on the body. I tried mountain bikes (several and still own two) but even that wasn't enough to make riding any distance really comfortable. None of these had as wide a gear range as what I ride now. Drive components have come a long way if you chose wisely. BTW, the Motobecane went to a local charity that gave it to someone who needed transportation. It was back in the charity in short order as the first recipient couldn't stand the harsh ride either. I'm sure whatever he got on the second try didn't weigh 21 pounds.
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Old 08-19-22, 03:24 PM
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I have an 11-34 with a compact double and use the 34-34 combo more often than I thought I would. I'd probably use a 36 if I had one. I can't imagine climbing some of the hills around here with the typical road bike gearing available 20 years ago.
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Old 08-19-22, 04:48 PM
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The older tight-ratio freewheels probably had 6, maybe 7 gears. Nowadays, with 10+ gears, a wider ratio doesn't typically translate into huge jumps from cog to cog. Also, mashing has gone out of style. Look at pro races from the 70s -- those guys were mashing up hills regularly. Now, pros spin up hills except for the truly steep ones (like the 20% grades on some Giro climbs or something like that).
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Old 08-20-22, 09:30 AM
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In my 50s, I could climb everything with a 30 X 25
then I went to a 30 X 27
then to a 26 X 25
then to a 26 X 27
then to a 26 X 30, where I seem to have stabilized. My normal climbing cadence is 78-83. All of this gearing on my 5200 of course.

Most of these modern gearing choices above are because the tech allows. I don't think anyone loved mashing, but that's what the tech demanded.
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Old 08-20-22, 09:56 AM
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If you want to get new buyers into the bicycle buying cycle = make it simple to ride the terrain. That means lower gears. Hills are hard.

For older experienced riders - lower gears (and clutched rd's) let us remember the legs we used to have on hard terrain when derailleurs would only handle a 14/26 cogset.


I have a 13/30 freewheel coming for a bike, largest cogset i will have ever ridden on a roadie.

edit: But I have a gravel bike with 46/30 chainrings. Sometimes I like to ride slowly.

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Old 08-20-22, 10:12 AM
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To see the progression of road bike "race" gearing, just look at the changes to Dura-Ace.

Several years ago, Dura-Ace was 10 speed, top-end bikes with Dura-Ace were shipped with 52-39 chainrings and 11-25 cassettes. Low gear ratio: 1.56.

The lowest 10 speed Dura-Ace was 50-34 chainrings and 11-28 cassette. Low gear ratio: 1.21.

Today, Dura-Ace is 12 speed, the standard is 52-36 and 11-30. Low gear ratio: 1.2.

The lowest 12 speed Dura-Ace available is 50-34 and 11-34. Low gear ratio: 1.0.
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Old 08-21-22, 08:40 AM
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I change gearing / bikes depending on the terrain and facts and circumstances surrounding my planned or impromptu riding. I will continue to do this even as industry evolves and improves brakes and drive trains.

I use my Cervelo R5 with a 50/34 and 11/32 cassette for general purpose riding and training. I have 11 speed SRAM red electronic shifting and the combination is pretty sweet for most riding. There is a couple of shift points where I seem to be constantly shifting to find the right cadence. But that seems like a small compromise. I took this bike and gearing setup on a 42 day cycling tour of Croatia, Italy and Greece and the combination worked great for long climbs and punchy coast riding as well as longer flatter rides with the wind at my back.

If I am doing a hill climb race or just climbing, I may switch cassettes to get a particular rear cog that suits my fancy that is not on the 11/32.

My newer gravel / road bike with disc brakes is 1/11 48 chain ring with an 11/40. I changed the factory setup from a 46 to a 48 Chain ring for a higher top end and put on the smallest rear cassette that would work with the mountain derailleur. What is missing is a 12t cog in the rear cassette for road riding. Shifting is DuraAce electronic.

My time trial bike is set up with 54/39 and sometime 54/44 with an 11/23 rear cassette 10 speed manual DA. In general, the stock setup is good for flat to rolling time trials and training and the 39/23 low enough for shorter power climbs along the coast.

What I see in time trials and on the road is reconfigured gearing and the use of 1x with wide range cassettes. And I could use a bigger front chain ring for some time trial courses that feature faster downhill sections with slight downhill.

At the track, the trend for fixed gear is bigger gears and slower cadence. Yesterday, I was riding the track in a 52/13 approximately 106 gear inches. Everyone seems to be spinning slower and gearing bigger.

Personally, I like simplicity and dependable shifting when riding assuming I can get the cadence I want for the terrain. Electronic shifting plus wide range derailleurs seem to work. I like the 1x setup of my gravel bike but miss the 12t. I do not miss the triples. When they worked, they were amazing and when they went out of adjustment and failed to shift properly, I hated them. I still have one on my tandem and would like to change to electronic shifting with a double and wide range rear cassette.
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Old 08-21-22, 08:47 AM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
To see the progression of road bike "race" gearing, just look at the changes to Dura-Ace.

Several years ago, Dura-Ace was 10 speed, top-end bikes with Dura-Ace were shipped with 52-39 chainrings and 11-25 cassettes. Low gear ratio: 1.56.

The lowest 10 speed Dura-Ace was 50-34 chainrings and 11-28 cassette. Low gear ratio: 1.21.

Today, Dura-Ace is 12 speed, the standard is 52-36 and 11-30. Low gear ratio: 1.2.

The lowest 12 speed Dura-Ace available is 50-34 and 11-34. Low gear ratio: 1.0.

and traveling backward - 12-23 cogset was common before 12-25

unfortunate it took too long

but in flat areas it was probably less of an issue (if no issue)
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Old 08-22-22, 05:14 PM
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50/34 with an 11 speed 11-34 for me. Tight spacing on the high end for getting a comfortable cadence on the flats and the 34-34 combo for the occasional short steep climbs. I have had to use the 34-34 combo once to grind my way home on the flat when a storm cell popped up behind me on the way out, it was not a fun grind home.
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Old 08-23-22, 06:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Classtime View Post
most of these guys and gals had huge cogsets. Many of them went to 34! Now compact cranksets have been popular for some time but 34 tooth cogs on a road racing bike?
[edit: Derp, I misread that post, thought it was about chainrings not cogs. Never mind...]

Last edited by Bob Ross; 08-24-22 at 08:03 AM. Reason: brain-fart
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Old 08-23-22, 06:56 AM
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I use a 53/39 and 11-32 sram 11 speed cassette on a couple of road bikes. I use 50/34 and 11-32 on my gravel/touring bike. Most of myroad riding uses a 1X setup AXS with 48T and 11-34 12 speed cassette although I do mount an 11-39 for hilly conditions....not ideal but not bad either. Currently trying to figure out a new bike or finding one available. I am probably going with 48/35 and 10-33 if SRAM and 52/36 and 11-34 if Shimano. Both would be fine for me as most of my hills are 9-11% with a few in the 13-16% range

It really comes down to preferred cadence and W/Kg you are willing or able to put out.
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Old 08-23-22, 09:23 AM
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I just watched a stage of the TdF and saw some riders on 34/32 and a few on 34/34 for the hilly stage I attended in Mende. Modern compacts are in the Pro Peloton for most hilly stages and all mountain stages.
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Old 08-25-22, 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by redcon1 View Post
I just watched a stage of the TdF and saw some riders on 34/32 and a few on 34/34 for the hilly stage I attended in Mende. Modern compacts are in the Pro Peloton for most hilly stages and all mountain stages.
That is quite the change from early 1970s stock Peugeot PA/PR/PX-10 gearing of 52-45/14-15-17-19-21

I have ridden 50-42 / 14-16-18-20-23-26 for the past 30 years, but I really need my mountain bike's lower gearing (46-38-28/12-13-15-17-19-21-24-28) for a couple of steep and long local climbs. Today's lower gears do make physiological sense, and, as pointed out above, we now have enough ratios to provide both reasonable ratiometric development and range, instead of trading one against the other, as we did in the Bad Old Days.
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Old 08-25-22, 06:50 PM
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I ride old bikes and I like triples. For serious climbs, I like a 28 running on a 24 or a 28. For my local rides a 38/24 works fine but there is nothing steeper than a 10% grade locally and those climbs aren't too long.

One of the reasons I like fixing up old French bikes is that many of the stronglight cranks that came stock on those bikes let you run smaller chain rings, simplex RDs can generally handle larger freewheels, and there is generally clearance for a 28 or even a 32c tire. So some of the design choices we see on modern bikes have been around for a while in some fashion or other (and even before the mountain bike).

This is my 1982 Peugeot PXN 10: 50/38 rings, 13-28 6 speed freewheel, and 28c tires. The rear derailleur that came stock on the bike can handle up to 30 teeth.



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Old 08-25-22, 06:52 PM
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BITD, when a pro racer cracked on a climb, he lost huge time because he couldn't turn the cranks over. Cracked meant something, physically and mentally. Destroyed. Done.

Now they downshift, recover, and carry on.
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Old 08-25-22, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by t2p View Post
and traveling backward - 12-23 cogset was common before 12-25
unfortunate it took too long
but in flat areas it was probably less of an issue (if no issue)
iff'n you wanna go way back, 1st gen DuraAce was 10 spd (I mean the THE REAL 10 speed !) crank was 53/42 and freewheel 5 spd 13,14,15,17,19, as came on my Fuji 'The Ace'. Truly a leg breaker for any road courses. We all rejoiced when 6 spd freewheels became available - Ultra 7 ? impossible !!! could it get any better ???
LOL!
Ride On
Yuri
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Old 08-26-22, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
iff'n you wanna go way back, 1st gen DuraAce was 10 spd (I mean the THE REAL 10 speed !) crank was 53/42 and freewheel 5 spd 13,14,15,17,19, as came on my Fuji 'The Ace'. Truly a leg breaker for any road courses. We all rejoiced when 6 spd freewheels became available - Ultra 7 ? impossible !!! could it get any better ???
LOL!
Ride On
Yuri
Yup, my days of 52/42 cranksets and "corncob" 5 speed cassettes are well behind me now, along with my 27" X 19mm tires.
Now, it's a Rival 46/33 with a 10-36 12 speed cassette and nice, comfy 700C X 32 tires.

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Old 08-27-22, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Classtime View Post
Saturday, I started with the local training ride which is attended by many accomplished and current 50 and 60+ National Champions. Of course, most have new bikes with electronic shifting and disk brakes. But what struck me was that most of these guys and gals had huge cogsets. Many of them went to 34! Now compact cranksets have been popular for some time but 34 tooth cogs on a road racing bike? Makes me think of doing that to my modern bike.
OTOH they will never have to get off and push their bikes up a really steep hill.
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