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Changing the Gearing on my Touring Bike

Old 06-07-21, 08:24 AM
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AMoney
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Changing the Gearing on my Touring Bike

I have a touring bike with a 48/36/26 crankset in the front and a 9 speed 11-34 cassette in the back. I don't like the size of the big chainring. I infrequently use it and almost never use the highest gear.

I am thinking about doing one of two things:
  1. Replacing the 48 tooth chainring with a smaller chainring, such as a 44 or 42 tooth chainring. Would either chainring work with a 36t middle ring and 26t granny ring? I don't want to get 32 and 22 tooth chainrings because I think that these would be too small for me.
  2. Taking off the big ring and making the bike a 2 x 9. I would either keep the 36 tooth ring or get a 38. I have a friction bar end shifter so I won't need a new shifter. If I do this, would I be able to keep the front derailleur and crankset?
The shifting on my bike is often finicky even when I adjust the cable tension and get the bike serviced by a mechanic. I was wondering if reducing the chain wrap and the length of the chain would require making fewer adjustments. Or is it just in my head?

Last edited by AMoney; 06-07-21 at 08:28 AM.
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Old 06-07-21, 08:53 AM
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If you go to a 2X system, you could replace the outer ring with a bashguard. But sticking with a triple and using a 44 or 42 I suspect make more sense, as you get more gear choices. But, and this is a big but, you really should put all your gear data into a calculator to figure out if you have any duplicate gears. If using a 44 gave you a bunch of duplicate gears where the 42 does not, then the choice is more clear. Maybe someone else can suggest a good on-line gear calculator to use to assess your gear ratio options. I do that with a spreadsheet that I created so I can't suggest a good calculator to use.

I use friction front shifter on several bikes with triples, and some of those bikes have front derailleurs designed for a double crank. Unfortunately a lot of the front derailleurs designed for a triple are designed for a specific change in teeth between inner and middle and also between middle and outer rings. Bottom line, you might find your derailleur works well, or it might not. On all of my bikes with triples, I have to slightly over-shift when shifting up to the middle ring from the small (or granny) ring. By over-shift, I mean move the shift lever slightly further until the shift is complete and then back off slightly. And making that shift takes a second or two to complete. Not a big deal and I am used to it, but it is not like a shift and forget type of shift like an indexed rear, thus slightly less convenient.

Before you make any changes, ponder this - I almost never use my two highest gears on my derailleur touring bikes, I have a 46T big ring and the two smallest sprockets are 11T and 12T. But, those gears are really nice on shallow downhills, so do not want to lose them. Most days do not use those two gears at all, and when I use them I only use them for a few minutes, but they are really nice gears to have. If I am in a rolling hills terrain where I am crossing lots of valleys, it helps me maintain momentum up the first part of the uphill sections.
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Old 06-07-21, 08:56 AM
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Your chain length is sized so that small/small results in no chain rub as it passes itself on the deeailleur. The derailleur is sized to allow big/big without excessive forces/self destruction.

Removing the big chain ring or using a big ring of a smaller number of teeth isn't going to do much but give you lesser potential top end speed.

The only reason I can think of to doing this would to still remain within maximum chain wrap spec's when switching to a larger/lower geared cassette...You'd still need to figure the max cog size the derailleur would accomodate if you went this route. But it's pretty pointless if you are just going to remove it because it isn't used very often.

If it were me, I'd leave well enough alone.
Maybe I'd also feed all the relevant tooth count & number of cogs/rings info into gear-calculator.com to see how everything relates so that I could figure out how/when is the apprporiate times to use the big ring. (Hint: It's for best chainline & longest chain/component life when in the 3 smallest rear cogs.)
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Old 06-07-21, 09:15 AM
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48x11 is a gear that nobody should use if they value their knees unless they need to keep up with the pro peloton (exaggerating, but only a little). IMO, a touring bike does not need a gear higher than 100 gear inches; yours is around 120", depending on wheel and tire size.

I think all your stated options are viable. Or one cheaper option: replace the 11 with a 12 . That also gets you a friendlier one-tooth step from the highest gear to the next one down, though it may not get your top gear down as far as you would like.

You might want to consider shifting sequence and duplicate gears if you choose to change chainrings. I did not do the arithmetic, but you might get a good step-and-a-half with a good choice of large ring, although you might also need to change the middle ring to meet all your gearing goals.

As for whether this change will make the package more reliable, my answer is "maybe".
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Old 06-07-21, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
If you go to a 2X system, you could replace the outer ring with a bashguard. But sticking with a triple and using a 44 or 42 I suspect make more sense, as you get more gear choices. But, and this is a big but, you really should put all your gear data into a calculator to figure out if you have any duplicate gears. If using a 44 gave you a bunch of duplicate gears where the 42 does not, then the choice is more clear. Maybe someone else can suggest a good on-line gear calculator to use to assess your gear ratio options. I do that with a spreadsheet that I created so I can't suggest a good calculator to use.

I use friction front shifter on several bikes with triples, and some of those bikes have front derailleurs designed for a double crank. Unfortunately a lot of the front derailleurs designed for a triple are designed for a specific change in teeth between inner and middle and also between middle and outer rings. Bottom line, you might find your derailleur works well, or it might not. On all of my bikes with triples, I have to slightly over-shift when shifting up to the middle ring from the small (or granny) ring. By over-shift, I mean move the shift lever slightly further until the shift is complete and then back off slightly. And making that shift takes a second or two to complete. Not a big deal and I am used to it, but it is not like a shift and forget type of shift like an indexed rear, thus slightly less convenient.

Before you make any changes, ponder this - I almost never use my two highest gears on my derailleur touring bikes, I have a 46T big ring and the two smallest sprockets are 11T and 12T. But, those gears are really nice on shallow downhills, so do not want to lose them. Most days do not use those two gears at all, and when I use them I only use them for a few minutes, but they are really nice gears to have. If I am in a rolling hills terrain where I am crossing lots of valleys, it helps me maintain momentum up the first part of the uphill sections.
Since I have friction shifting in the front, would custom combinations, such as 42-36-26 work? Also, if I decide to switch to a double, would having a 2 x derailleur help with front shifting? Or would it be unnecessary?
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Old 06-07-21, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
Since I have friction shifting in the front, would custom combinations, such as 42-36-26 work? Also, if I decide to switch to a double, would having a 2 x derailleur help with front shifting? Or would it be unnecessary?
Would a 3X system with a 42 big ring work? It likely would but might work best with a different front derailleur, you can only find out if you buy the chainring.

If you went with the 2X, your front derailleur would likely be moved down the seattube to get the derailleur cage closer to the chainrings. In that case, your front derailleur may or may not work well. I have never set up a bike with a front derailleur up far away from the chainrings, it probably would work just as well as it does now if you did not move it down the seattube after removing the big ring, but it might look odd.
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Old 06-07-21, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by base2 View Post
...
Maybe I'd also feed all the relevant tooth count & number of cogs/rings info into gear-calculator.com t....)
Thanks for posting the link.
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Old 06-07-21, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Would a 3X system with a 42 big ring work? It likely would but might work best with a different front derailleur, you can only find out if you buy the chainring.

If you went with the 2X, your front derailleur would likely be moved down the seattube to get the derailleur cage closer to the chainrings. In that case, your front derailleur may or may not work well. I have never set up a bike with a front derailleur up far away from the chainrings, it probably would work just as well as it does now if you did not move it down the seattube after removing the big ring, but it might look odd.
My front derailleur is a Shimano Alivio Triple. It works for both 48/36/26 and 44/32/22 cranksets. I assume it would work with 42/36/26, but would the gap between the big and middle rings be too small? I'm assuming that I have more options in terms of custom gears since the shifting is friction and not indexed. Is this assumption correct?
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Old 06-07-21, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
I have a touring bike with a 48/36/26 crankset in the front and a 9 speed 11-34 cassette in the back. I don't like the size of the big chainring. I infrequently use it and almost never use the highest gear.

I am thinking about doing one of two things:[list=1][*]Replacing the 48 tooth chainring with a smaller chainring, such as a 44 or 42 tooth chainring. Would either chainring work with a 36t middle ring and 26t granny ring? I don't want to get 32 and 22 tooth chainrings because I think that these would be too small for me...
why would the 22 & 32 be too small? doesn't hurt to have a low gear for when it's needed someday.

instead of buying individual rings, check ebay to see what's on the slab.
should be able to find a 3x crankset for about the same cost as a couple rings.
something like a 22-32-40 maybe? or 22-32-42?
plug into the gear calculator linked above....
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Old 06-07-21, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
My front derailleur is a Shimano Alivio Triple. It works for both 48/36/26 and 44/32/22 cranksets. I assume it would work with 42/36/26, but would the gap between the big and middle rings be too small? I'm assuming that I have more options in terms of custom gears since the shifting is friction and not indexed. Is this assumption correct?
I really can't predict how a particular front derailleur would work. But keep in mind that the two examples you cited, both of which had a 12T difference between the big ring and middle ring, they also had exactly a 10T difference between the small and middle ring. You would be doing something different.
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Old 06-07-21, 12:09 PM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
I have a touring bike with a 48/36/26 crankset in the front and a 9 speed 11-34 cassette in the back. I don't like the size of the big chainring. I infrequently use it and almost never use the highest gear.

I am thinking about doing one of two things:
  1. Replacing the 48 tooth chainring with a smaller chainring, such as a 44 or 42 tooth chainring. Would either chainring work with a 36t middle ring and 26t granny ring? I don't want to get 32 and 22 tooth chainrings because I think that these would be too small for me.
  2. Taking off the big ring and making the bike a 2 x 9. I would either keep the 36 tooth ring or get a 38. I have a friction bar end shifter so I won't need a new shifter. If I do this, would I be able to keep the front derailleur and crankset?
The shifting on my bike is often finicky even when I adjust the cable tension and get the bike serviced by a mechanic. I was wondering if reducing the chain wrap and the length of the chain would require making fewer adjustments. Or is it just in my head?
It’s always best to start with the numbers. Each of the following compares to your current drivetrain. 44/36/26, 42/38/26, 36/26, and, just for giggles, 42/36/22. The 44/36/26 is interesting. I wouldn’t call it a “half-step” but it has some features of a half-step style gearing. It has the most unique gears with each step of the middle range splitting the gears of the upper range. If you can deal with the double shifts this would give you the most gears.

The 42/38/26 is a bit like a “cross over” (not to be confused with cross chaining). A shift of either the rear or front results in nearly the same gear. You can ride in the large ring until about the middle of the cassette and “cross over” to the inner ring. It has lots of duplicate gears but the shifting pattern is the simplest.

The 36/26 2x is probably the least interesting. The high gear is too low and you’d probably end up spinning out the gear on downhills which means you coast more. Being able to spin the gears with a little resistance helps keep the legs at least a little fresh for the inevitable climb that is coming.

And, just for giggle, changing the inner ring to a 22 will give you a much lower low than you have now. You can adjust the other gear charts accordingly to see what your gearing would be with a more comfortable low.

I’ve ridden something like the “cross over” and it’s really handy. It feels really linear and comfortable.
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Old 06-07-21, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
My front derailleur is a Shimano Alivio Triple. It works for both 48/36/26 and 44/32/22 cranksets. I assume it would work with 42/36/26, but would the gap between the big and middle rings be too small? I'm assuming that I have more options in terms of custom gears since the shifting is friction and not indexed. Is this assumption correct?
It shouldn’t have a problem. The gap between the big and middle ring seldom have much impact on the front shifting.
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Old 06-07-21, 12:14 PM
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Change gearing.

Originally Posted by Sluggo View Post
48x11 is a gear that nobody should use if they value their knees unless they need to keep up with the pro peloton (exaggerating, but only a little). IMO, a touring bike does not need a gear higher than 100 gear inches; yours is around 120", depending on wheel and tire size.

I think all your stated options are viable. Or one cheaper option: replace the 11 with a 12 . That also gets you a friendlier one-tooth step from the highest gear to the next one down, though it may not get your top gear down as far as you would like.

You might want to consider shifting sequence and duplicate gears if you choose to change chainrings. I did not do the arithmetic, but you might get a good step-and-a-half with a good choice of large ring, although you might also need to change the middle ring to meet all your gearing goals.

As for whether this change will make the package more reliable, my answer is "maybe".
I use a 48 x 11 gear on my touring bike all the time on downhills when going 35 mph. I have been using a 120" gear on my touring bikes since 1985, and have yet/ ever have any knee issues at all. weee all the way down.
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Old 06-07-21, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by saddlesores View Post
why would the 22 & 32 be too small? doesn't hurt to have a low gear for when it's needed someday.

instead of buying individual rings, check ebay to see what's on the slab.
should be able to find a 3x crankset for about the same cost as a couple rings.
something like a 22-32-40 maybe? or 22-32-42?
plug into the gear calculator linked above....
The thing I like about the 36 tooth middle ring is that I can spend the majority of my ride in that ring. I also don't have to worry about cross-chaining as much when I'm using the middle ring. Is there even any need to worry about cross-chaining in the middle ring? With a 32t middle ring and a 42 tooth large ring I think I would be doing more shifting between the big and middle rings, which I would prefer not to do. Also, having a low gear of 26/34 is sufficient, even when I'm biking up a hill on a fully loaded touring bike (I like to climb!).
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Old 06-07-21, 09:20 PM
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I can see a high of a 44 x 11 but I personally wouldn't want my highest gear any lower than that, but that's just me. Can you slap a 44 on your crankset? Would be cheap to do if the if the BCD is available.
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Old 06-08-21, 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by headwind15 View Post
I use a 48 x 11 gear on my touring bike all the time on downhills when going 35 mph. I have been using a 120" gear on my touring bikes since 1985, and have yet/ ever have any knee issues at all. weee all the way down.
I spin the 90" top gear up to about 30 mph, then tuck (and whee!). Or coast. Or move my legs without pedal resistance to keep the blood flowing.

Whatever works for you.
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Old 06-08-21, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by robow View Post
I can see a high of a 44 x 11 but I personally wouldn't want my highest gear any lower than that, but that's just me. Can you slap a 44 on your crankset? Would be cheap to do if the if the BCD is available.
There are a lot of 44 tooth big chainrings. There are some 42 tooth big chainrings. For me, 44t would still probably be too big though it would still be better than a 48t ring. That is why I am more likely to get a 42t ring OR convert my touring bike from a triple to a double by removing the big ring.
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Old 06-08-21, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Sluggo View Post
I spin the 90" top gear up to about 30 mph, then tuck (and whee!). Or coast. Or move my legs without pedal resistance to keep the blood flowing.

Whatever works for you.
What size chainrings and cassette do you have on your touring bike just out of curiosity?
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Old 06-08-21, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
What size chainrings and cassette do you have on your touring bike just out of curiosity?
Rohloff with 40x18. Gear range is 16.5" to 86.5".

That's not very helpful under the circumstances. My sportier rando-style bike has a high gear of 12x46 (99.6") on fat 650bs.

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Old 06-08-21, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
and, just for giggles, 42/36/22. ...
I’ve ridden something like the “cross over” and it’s really handy. It feels really linear and comfortable.
My current setup is 42/36/22. My cassette is 12-36. I enjoy it. Most days I'm just on the 36 chainring, but the 42 is great for tailwinds and the 22 essential for tough climbs.

The setup works well overall with one caveat. Most derailleurs are setup for 10ish teeth jumps between rings. With the odd steps between rings, the derailleur needs to be positioned to clear the 36, which leaves it riding high on the 22 and 42. I use a chain-keeper along side the inner ring and I am very attentive to the high limit screw.
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Old 06-08-21, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
My current setup is 42/36/22. My cassette is 12-36. I enjoy it. Most days I'm just on the 36 chainring, but the 42 is great for tailwinds and the 22 essential for tough climbs.

The setup works well overall with one caveat. Most derailleurs are setup for 10ish teeth jumps between rings. With the odd steps between rings, the derailleur needs to be positioned to clear the 36, which leaves it riding high on the 22 and 42. I use a chain-keeper along side the inner ring and I am very attentive to the high limit screw.
I ran a 48/42/22 that gave the same shifting pattern and did zero adjustments to the front derailer. I just bolted the new chainring into place and started riding. It shifted flawlessly. The only issue was that the gearing was. Little higher. The front derailer, by the way, was a road front.
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Old 06-08-21, 03:08 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
I ran a 48/42/22 ....
That is not much different than my 46/42/24 half step with granny, in back I have a Sram eight speed 11/32 cassette. I have that on two different touring bikes, a 26 inch and a 700c. On both of those I am using a front derailleur from a road double crank, friction front bar end shifter.
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Old 06-09-21, 05:42 AM
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FWIW, I set up an old bike crit race bike that had a 7 speed cluster for a coast to coast tour with ultra light gear. I decided I wanted to use a 12-28 cluster and wanted an ultra compact double on the front. To that end I used a triple with the big ring removed. I wound up with a 39/26 and a 12-28, So I had a range of 87.8-25.1 gear inches. It worked out great for very lightly loaded touring (self supported with UL backpacking type gear). Base gear weight was 14# on that first San Diego to Pensacola trip and the gearing was fine.

Shifting was fine with 1990 vintage105 Shimano downtube shifters and front derailleur. There was a Deore RD. Every shift was crisp and clean and the range was adequate.
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Old 06-09-21, 06:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Bulette View Post
My current setup is 42/36/22. My cassette is 12-36. I enjoy it. Most days I'm just on the 36 chainring, but the 42 is great for tailwinds and the 22 essential for tough climbs.

The setup works well overall with one caveat. Most derailleurs are setup for 10ish teeth jumps between rings. With the odd steps between rings, the derailleur needs to be positioned to clear the 36, which leaves it riding high on the 22 and 42. I use a chain-keeper along side the inner ring and I am very attentive to the high limit screw.
If I swap the 48 with a 42, would the front derailleur ride high on the 42 chainring? is there any need to have a chain keeper the inner-side if I keep the 26 tooth chainring? Do you have friction or indexed shifting in the front?
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Old 06-09-21, 06:51 AM
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Originally Posted by AMoney View Post
If I swap the 48 with a 42, would the front derailleur ride high on the 42 chainring? is there any need to have a chain keeper the inner-side if I keep the 26 tooth chainring? Do you have friction or indexed shifting in the front?
I use friction shifting for my triples; thumb-shifters can be had for under $20, though the finish on the $30-50 models are much higher quality.

The chain keeper is mostly (in my experience) helpful when there is a large drop from middle to small ring - the chain can miss the small ring and can be difficult to get unstuck. The first time you wrap a chain around the bottom bracket and frame, you'll wish you had one.

The derailleur might ride high on any non-standard rings. There is a reason Shimano makes several cranks with near perfect 10-tooth steps: the derailleur swings out and over each ring with (relatively) small clearances. That said, from the anecdotes here, and my own experience, it is not a practical problem - at least, for touring.
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