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I'll be heading down to Tennessee to spend a few days riding in the Great Smoky Mountains national park area. I currently ride most of the time in Northern Indiana and southern Michigan, so I don't get that much practice climbing. I'm riding a 12 - 25 right now, but am uncertain whether I'll need a few extra gears for this trip. What do you recommend? Thanks.
 

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Easy answer

prs77 said:
I'll be heading down to Tennessee to spend a few days riding in the Great Smoky Mountains national park area. I currently ride most of the time in Northern Indiana and southern Michigan, so I don't get that much practice climbing. I'm riding a 12 - 25 right now, but am uncertain whether I'll need a few extra gears for this trip. What do you recommend? Thanks.
Not having a low enough gear can ruin your trip. Having a low gear that you never use is no problem. I've ridden in the Smokies and used a 26 granny gear with a 12-25 cassette and was very glad I had the granny, but I'm old, weak and slow.
 

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prs77 said:
I'll be heading down to Tennessee to spend a few days riding in the Great Smoky Mountains national park area. I currently ride most of the time in Northern Indiana and southern Michigan, so I don't get that much practice climbing. I'm riding a 12 - 25 right now, but am uncertain whether I'll need a few extra gears for this trip. What do you recommend? Thanks.
Triple with a 12-25 should work for ya.
I did Mt Mitchell with a 12-25 and a 53/42. it all depends on how much you mind mashing.
If you really really really love to spin, a 53/39, 53/42 with a 12-25 would be horrid. Then I'd recommend maybe even getting an MTB rear derailleur, they can fit up to like 36 teeth. That with a triple would give you a less tahn 1:1 ratio, you could spin up a vertical wall.
 

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It depends on:

(1) What kind of shape you are in, and
(2) Where you intend to climb.

I use a 12-25 and have thus far survived riding in the area. Your results may vary.

The climbs within GSMNP itself aren't that steep. Nor are many surrounding roads on the Tennessee side. I'm not very familiar with western North Carolina's roads.
 

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My double chainring equipped bikes are great for local, small mountain rides. I quickly loose my pride and grab a bike with a triple when I wanna do the long, steep stuff. While on my way up one of those big hills, I remember all too well that making it to the top is the goal and I'm really the only one who cares about my physical achievements.

I'm usually happy to finish a tough, long climb, regardless of how low a gear I had to use in order to get there.

If people want to think triple chainrings are for wimps, then let 'em. I appreciate someone who rides frequently and slow more than someone who's faster but doesn't ride often.

I will say that after often using a single speed bike (for the past 7 months), I do think about gearing quite a bit differently than I used to - in a good way. I enjoy both multi-speed bikes and single speeds - which bike I use often is determined by the route and my mood.

Ride safe, have fun,

Steel_SSer
:)
 

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I ride some in Western NC, and assume the Smokeys are similar. Rode Mt. Mitchell last week w/ a 26 cassette. I just switched from a 25 last year and honestly can't tell much difference. Husband has a 27. On our ride last week, only one person had a triple. She was a little behind me on the steep stuff, but climbed (pulled) strong on the long, steady climbs. Seems opposite, wouldn't you think? I guess having a bigger gear forces you to get the hell on up the road or die.

It might depend on how FAR you intend to ride. Friends who've done the 100 mile assualt on Mitchell tell me it's a different thing when you hit a steep grade after 70 miles already of moderate climbing. They said they were damn glad to have a triple.
 

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I did an 8 day training camp in the smokies 3 seasons ago. We stayed in a town called Townsend ,tn. and rode out from there each day. My smallest gear was a 39x23. The other 5 guys all had a 25 or 27. Trying to recall the specifics, most climbs were no problem in the 23. There was a 7 mile climb on "the parkway", 20 mile climb to Clingman's dome, and some road called"dragon's tail" or "snake" that was long with many racing motorcycles on it, but they were all do-able in 23. However, there was one climb, on a road called "said to be steep road" that I was severely disadvantaged in a 23. Of course, we did this route twice. We were all weaving across the road, back and forth to lessen the grade, and I was obviously less efficient than the guys in the 27. My recommendation: bring a 25 or 27, you may not have to use it but it is nice to have just in case.
 

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gears

If you live in N. Indiana or S. Michigan, you would be foolish not to get some extra gearing on your bike for riding in the Smokies. Even if you are naturally a good climber, you won't have the climbing muscles developed for the kind of grades you will find there.

You didn't say whether your bike has a double or a triple. If you have a triple, then your 25 gear would probably be just fine in the Smokies -- assuming it is properly adjusted and shifting properly. If you have a double, then I would get a 12-27 cassette (or higher if you don't mind swapping out the derailleur as well). Look at it this way, the last three gears on a 12-25 cassette are 21-23-25. On a 12-27, the final gears are 21-24-27. All you are doing with the 12-27 is widening the spacing of your final three gears, but that 27 will definitely make a difference on steep grades.

Ignore the macho climber dudes who say all you need is a 23 or 25. They probably live and ride on hilly roads all of the time. If you mainly ride on flat roads, you will suffer on the hills with inadequate gearing. I live in the Piedmont of NC and ride on hilly roads all of the time, but I wouldn't attempt to ride in the Smokies or Blue Ridge mountains with anything less than a 27 for my biggest gear.
 

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Townsend is a nice place to stay and get into the Park.

I've been there a number of time, but not with my bike. Been thinking about going again this Summer with the bike, although knowing how crowded some of the roads get during summer, I may just opt for the hiking boots again. Thanks for the suggestions on gearing.
 

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Regarding the roads, traffic is really an issue in Great Smoky Mtns National Park. The best place to ride there is Cades Cove, and it has bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on weekends and even some weekdays. I've ridden the Cades Cove loop, as well as the road from Visitor's Center on Tennessee side to Cades Cove. Traffic was OK on weekdays, but ridiculous on weekends. I wouldn't even attempt riding US 441 up to Newfound Gap and Clingman's Dome due to the traffic. If you bring your bike, your safest options for riding are really the Blue Ridge Parkway, which starts near Cherokee NC, or the Foothills Parkway in Tenn. Also, Cades Cove is closed to car traffic one or two days a week for several hours, perhaps mornings. That is really the best time to ride there. Even when traffic isn't heavy it is hard riding in Cades Cove because many of the tourists stop their cars dead in the tracks every time they see some deer or a pretty view. I actually was passing cars the last time I rode Cades Cove loop.

If you do some hiking, a great trail is either route to Mt. LeConte -- either the Alum Cave trail off 441 or the ridge trail starting at Newfound Gap. Last time I hiked it, we started at Newfound Gap and took the ridge trail to Mt LeConte and came back on Alum Cave trail, then hitched a ride back up 441 to the gap for our car. Bring some good rain gear. It's not unusual to have rain day after day after day up there.
 

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I agree on the traffic in the Park.

That's why I have never tried to ride up there. I've done all the Mt. Leconte trails, there's a third that comes up from just outside Gatlinburg (Rainbow Falls, I think) that isn't quite as steep as Alum Cave, but is about 2 miles longer. The Alum Cave / Mt. Leconte / Clingman's Dome route is around 14 miles, if I recall, and I did that the last time I was up in the Park. I don't ever go out hiking up there without raingear and even take fleece when going up to Mt. Leconte as sometimes the fog closes in and it can get real cool, even in July.
 

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Great advice given and I agree,you'll need a 39/27.

You should definately check out the Foothills parkway in Tellico,Tenn.,You can do the backside of the Tail of the Dragon,Butterfly Gap or the Wall.These climbs offer grades of over 25% at spots.

I would definately recommend checking this area out on the weekdays,as the crotchrockets take over on the weekend.Have fun!
 

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I have lived in East TN my entire life, but I have no idea where "the wall" is. I have heard people talk about it though. Can someone tell me what road this is on?

BTW, I am not the strongest climber in and I was ok with my 27 on the Foothills Parkway (actually kept it on the 24 the entire time). But there are lots of roads with steeper grades. Since you live in a flat area, I would definitely recommend a 27.
 

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I live in Okinawa where there isn't a flat piece of land. I ride a Double with 50/38 up front and 12-27 out back and it works for all but the steep of the steep, 18% and up gets a little rough. Those are the only times I wish I had a 34 up front.

If you are in good shape 53/39 with 12-27 will do you just fine. 27 is the largest that you can go with a standard der. After that you have to go mountain.

Later,
stalter
 

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Most locals I ride with don't ride in the park that much. I highly recommend the Foothills Parkway ride over to Chilhowee Lake. Then turn left on hwy 129 and that will take you to the Dragon. One of the best rides around. Lots of motorcycles (the racing type) so do it on a weekday or weekend morning.

The Cherohala Skyway has about as much climbing as the park and MUCH less traffic. highly recommended.

Also, there are great rides all over Blount County. For cue sheets try www.smwbike.org. There's a very nice rolling loop around Chilhowee Mt./Bluff Mt. Also there are paint marks from the Tour de Blount (metric) starting behind Heritage H.S.

The steepest climbs are the access roads to the top of Foothills Pky, probably close to 20% (easily avoided-- actually they may be hard to find even if you want to do them). The parkway itself and most of the long climbs around are 5% or not much more- but they can go on and on.
 

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I have ridden..

Around Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge are as well as the 3 State 3 Mountain in Chattanooga, with the only HARD Climb in the challenge being Lookout/Burkhalter Gap Rd.
I used a 50x36 with a 12x25 cassette both times and was ok. There are some very steep climbs around the Gatlinburg area. I rode the road to our cabin and was struggling a good deal at times, they were so steep in places you could not see the road over the hood of the vehicle, but made it.
Either way it is some great riding with some gorgeous views in places.
 
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