Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sensible “Wide-Ratio” Gearing

My leap back into road cycling, after way too long of an absence, began with fitting fat, road slicks onto my old Trek 4500 mountain bike.  It was a boatload of fun, I rode the snot out of the thing, and it was only when I was began to out-run the gearing that I felt the need for “Something more.”  So, I told myself it was time to seriously venture back into a bike shop for the first time in 14-years to seek out a proper road bike.  And venture, I did. 

Armed with some online knowledge, money, and many, many questions, I approached the bike I was interested in at the very same dealership I had purchased my mountain bike from in 1996; Southern California’s, Pasadena Cyclery.  As the initial inquiry about bikes began, the subject of gearing came up, as the salesman recommended I go with what he called “Compact Gearing.”  Being I had never heard that term before, I asked him to elaborate on the subject.  He queried if were a racer, and looking down at the size of my then stomach, I said “No.”  That was when he told me how gearing on road bikes had changed from the one-size-fits-all, to a much wider-range to make cycling a lot for fun for a lot more people.  Smart guy, he was.  Decision made, bike purchased.

So, with a new bike in hand, a 2010 Trek 2.3, I set out wheezing all over town in an attempt to get back into some semblance of physical shape, being I was not riding my mountain bike as much due to the gearing and work constraints.  I even remember climbing Glendora Mountain Road for the very first time with a 12-27 cassette, and my physique at the time left me asking for a whole lot more from my gruppo (as well as my legs).  Then, I began to hear a lot of talk in various circles about mountain bike-style gearing, 11-32 cassettes’, “WiFLi,” and the claimed imminent death of the triple.  People were looking for more out of their road gearing, which I agreed with at the time (and still do), so I personally took the plunge into wide-ratio gearing in early 2011. 

However, let me not get too far ahead of the story.

Truth be told, while a 53-39 big ring combo, along with an 11-23 cassette, may be good enough for the professionals, us mere mortals require all of the help we can get.  Enter the aforementioned wide-ratio gear set (wide, as in not only more gears in the range, but also larger steps between gears for more useable speeds.  The ratio part you will read about in a minute).  And, there is nothing wrong with some “Extra” help, either.  From 50-34 “Compact” gearing, up to 11-32 cassette’s, anything which helps someone enjoy riding more, over a wider range of terrain versus dreading it, is a really good thing for both rider and the industry as a whole.   

After reading an article in Road Bike Acton Magazine, penned by the illustrious “Kansas Bob” on the subject of building the ultimate climbing bike (“Apex Project Bike,” March 2011), I was very intrigued.  So, I set out to make my own efficient climber, i.e., more useable gears, and it was one of the best leaps of faith I have ever taken.  And, why not?  In the four-years since I rediscovered road cycling, while I may have indeed become stronger, I have not gotten any younger. 

A brief historical note: My trusty Trek 2.3 came stock with a Shimano 105 gruppo, including the previously mentioned 12-27 cassette.  While that was fine, I was a brand new (though, returning) cyclist, and truth be told, I sucked.  I simply wanted more gears for the hills than the bike had available.  That was when I came across that article in Road Bike Action Magazine, and I set out gather as much information as I could before jumping into what was to me at the time, a major modification.  Answers were then gleaned from many on-line forums and by simply asking shops if this could be done with the parts I had chosen to use. 

I chose a SRAM PG-1050, 11-32 cassettes from their then new Apex gruppo, and then I procured a Shimano 105 GS (long-cage) rear derailleur (plus a new, longer chain), and BINGO, an instant climber.  I had all of the ratios I needed for any condition, even that 32-cog in case I needed that oft-discussed, yet many are reluctant to actually try, “Bail-Out” gear.  And, it has made all the difference in my overall riding enjoyment.  

Since that time, I have now “Upgraded” to an Ultegra 6700GS, long-cage, derailleur, and it has been continued sweet, climbing bliss for me.  What I ended up with, in total, was a Shimano Ultegra 6700, 50-34 crankset, and the SRAM PG-1050 with 11,12,14,16,18,20,22,25,28,32-tooth cogs to pretty much go anywhere I liked.  I mean, with the 34-32 combination, I dang near have a 1:1 ratio, and you can about climb walls with that.  I mounted the cassette to a set of Mavic Ksyrium’s, and wow, does this bike want to go vertical!  Additionally, if I get the urge to save a few more grams (approximately 80 in this case), I could even go with a SRAM PG-1070 cassette.  However, now I hear Shimano has finally released an Ultegra 11-32 cassette, themselves.  Welcome to the party, Shimano!

So, while porn stars live by the rule of “Bigger is Better,” cyclists seem to think a smaller cassette is the true measure of a rider.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of arrogant cyclists about my gearing choices, such as “Is that a pie plate on the back,” and truth be told, I could not care less.  I am actually having a whole lot of fun. 

And on a final note, in regards to those still mocking my gearing, physical talents, and questioning my sanity, I quote the brilliant World War II Commander, General Anthony McAuliffe;


No comments:

Post a Comment