Adjusting My Bikes Gearing For Climbing
- Replacing the chain, break pads, tires, and shoe cleats.
- Adjusting the derailleurs and cables.
- Either converting to a compact crank or replacing my rear derailleur and changing from an 11–26 to a 11–32 rear cassette.
The first few bullets I’d suggest everyone do each season if you ride your bike any decent distance. Your bike parts wear out, stretch, and slowly fall out of adjustment over time, especially the more you ride.
- Your chain wears and stretches causing gears to change slower, miss entirely, and can wear out your crank and rear cassette faster.
- Your break pads wear thin after each use and without proper maintenance can spell breaking disaster.
- Your tires travel over a variety pack of surfaces and weather significantly (especially on a trainer) throughout the season.
- Your cleats are your lower bodies connection to the bike and underscore your power transfer … any wearing there and you risk loss of control and a reduction of power (i.e. forward motion).
- Your cables are the ligaments and muscles of your bike, without adjustment you won’t make it up those hills or through that 20 mph headwind without serious pain or perhaps walking.
As for the last thing I’m doing to my bike, the new cassette or crank … that’s purely a “want” with a mix of a little need. After last years HHH ride I realized I really do need more gears for climbing.
Yes, I use my mid and high gears to traverse the pancake flats of Illinois but I really do enjoy climbing hills … crazy ahe?
Given my annual ride(s) to the Wisconsin Rockies (insert lots and lots of steep short hills in a row) for the HHH and Dairyland Dare I’ve decided to invest in some proper gears for said terrain.
Per usual one of the first things I did to help in deciding what made sense was nerd out and research the topic. After digging around Sheldon Browns site I decided to create my own gearing spreadsheets to really understand the ranges, gaps, and ratios of my gears. Without boring you too much I’ll just show you a few pictures of the sheets.
The left tables are my current setup, the middle are swapping out the derailleur, and the right is changing to a compact crank. The columns of data here are:
- Gearing — the number of teeth in the front crank / the number of teeth in the rear cassette.
- Gear Inches — corresponds to the diameter (in inches) of the main wheel of an old-fashioned penny-farthing bicycle with equivalent gearing.
- Metre Development — corresponds to the distance (in metres) traveled by the bicycle for one rotation of the pedals.
- Gain Ratio — is the ratio between the distance travelled by the bicycle and the distance travelled by a pedal, and is a pure number, independent of any units of measurement.
- Front / Rear — is the ratio between the front crank tooth count to the rear cassette tooth count and is a pure number, independent of any unit of measurement.
I know, that’s a lot of data … did your eyes glaze over reading? If you’re interested in the spreadsheet shoot me a message in my new contact form and I’ll send it out.
So what does it all mean and what am I looking for? Ideally I’d like to find a nice distribution of gears without any huge gaps that let me climb as well as hammer on the flats. I’d like to do this without a huge amount of gear overlap as well, I mean what’s the point of 20 gears if half your gears are duplicates? In the spreadsheets above I’ve denoted duplicate gear combinations by coloring the cells with the same color that are duplicated.
Translating those requirements into the spreadsheet means I’m looking for the holy grail of gearing. Well not really, but at least something that works for a wannabe avid cyclist like myself who doesn’t have a full time mechanic to change out my drive train before each and every ride.
Some things I’ve noticed toying with the numbers:
- Swapping out my crank is more expensive than swapping out my rear derailleur and cassette, that’s kinda surprising to me. I expected something with more moving parts like a derailleur to be more expensive than a hunk of steel.
- Converting to a compact (50/34) crank and keeping the same 11–26 rear actually only gives me one additional goto gear for the hills, the 34/26. In exchange I lose my top end 54/11 which I’m actually not in that often so it’s not too much of a loss.
- Converting to a 11–32 rear and a new derailleur (SRAM Force can only handle up to 28) gives me two additional goto gears for the hills, the 39/28 and 39/32. That certainly would have paid dividends on the HHH Blue Mound climb last year. In exchange for these new lower gears I dont lose any top end (the 54/11 is still there) but I swap some middle gears out and widen some gear gaps to account for the additional 6 teeth on the 32. How that will effect my comfort on an average ride is unknown, only time will tell.
As you might have deduced, I’m leaning toward the rear derailleur option but there’s one problem. The current make & model derailleur to match my other bike parts doesn’t yet support up to a 32 tooth cassette. “Yet” being the operative word as they made an announcement very recently of a new SRAM Force WiFli model coming out in June (that’s today) designed just for this purpose. When it actually makes it to a store for purchase is another matter entirely but I have high hopes. My second option is to buy the lower end SRAM Apex which does support that gearing today but the Fred in me would prefer the matching set, I know lame right?
I think I’ll give it a few more weeks of training and research to see if I can find somewhere to buy the new derailleur, and if not then just pull the trigger on the Apex a few weeks before the big ride. That way I have some time to get used to the new gearing on a few rides before putting it into battle.
How about you, are you making any gearing or equipment changes in your fitness program?
Update: I heard back from SRAM and it turns out the Force WiFli won’t be available in the U.S. until August 15th, the week after my race. Looks like the compact is my only viable option though I may go compact 50/34 with a 11–28 rear cassette so as to get an extra low gear … $$ which suxors.