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I used to live and ride in the east bay, california. Lots of very challenging hills; basically no flats anywhere to be found, even if you tried.

I was forced, as a beginning road rider, to become a mountain goat. My low gear was a 42/23. I LIVED in the small chain (42). I did use the big ring plenty (53) as there was always a screaming downhill to finish every ride.

So, my gearing was:

53/42
13-23 7 speed cassette

Now, gearing looks something like this:

racing gearing:
52/36
11-25 or 11-28

endurance/recreational gearing:
50/34
11-28 (fast recreational)
12-30 (10 speed cassette)
11-32 (climbing gearing)

So, from 1990 to the 21st century, a "low" gear has gone from:
42/23 to 34/32, an enormous difference.

As I recall, I don't remember seeing very many "older" road riders back then, and NEVER saw older riders riding mountain bikes in the east bay hills.

So, perhaps older riders just weren't physically able to do a lot of road riding in hilly terrain back in the day due to gearing?

Or, were there very fit road riders who were also older back in the day with "traditional" bigger/big chainrings (53/42)?
 

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So, perhaps older riders just weren't physically able to do a lot of road riding in hilly terrain back in the day due to gearing?

Nope, it's cultural. Not sure what "back then" and "older" mean to you but I doubt you would have seen many older people doing any sports for recreation.

And I remember having those gears in high school and would say it just made cycling suck more than it should have. Slower and less fun than having proper gears for the hills would have been. Cycling fitness is to generate power. There's nothing macho or of any training value to doing that inefficiently by grinding out an inefficient gear ratio.
 

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Nope, it's cultural. Not sure what "back then" and "older" mean to you but I doubt you would have seen many older people doing any sports for recreation.

And I remember having those gears in high school and would say it just made cycling suck more than it should have. Slower and less fun than having proper gears for the hills would have been. Cycling fitness is to generate power. There's nothing macho or of any training value to doing that inefficiently by grinding out an inefficient gear ratio.
plus the smaller range "back in the day" was largely driven by technology limitations.

and recreational riders would use a triple for lower gears.
 

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I spent 14 years racing category 3 and doing a lot of it all around the Northeast. I remember our low gear was a 39 x 23 and we always would say, "If you're in the 23, you're not winning the race." It seemed like a super low gear at the time and there were relatively few climbs where I actually needed it.

Now it's been 15 years since I last raced, and I'm a few years removed from actually riding much, but I too have wondered about all of the low gearing on "racing" bikes nowadays. I'm sure my 44 year old body would welcome some lower gears, but something in the back of my mind (or my pride) tells me that anything lower than a 39 x 53 up front is just kind of wussy. I might be willing to go 25 in the back, but I wonder what kind of wall from hell the guys in the grand tours must be facing when they need something lower than that.
 

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So, perhaps older riders just weren't physically able to do a lot of road riding in hilly terrain back in the day due to gearing?

Or, were there very fit road riders who were also older back in the day with "traditional" bigger/big chainrings (53/42)?
I think there is little evidence that elite riders are less physically fit today.

What has happened is an improvement in options and understanding. With what we have learned, choosing to select the 42/23 combo for climbing long 8% or steeper climbs is a sign of poor mental capacity / understanding rather than good physical fitness.
 

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Pride makes me an idiot, but I don't race and my legs can handle it still.

I DO live in the East Bay (btw ex_machina, why'd you leave, where'd you go, and how's the riding there) and it's definitely filled with great hills.

I'm just about to enter my 40s and have been riding road "seriously" for ~9 years.

When I started, because of the hills in the area and advice garnered from the Interwebs, I didn't think I had the legs for a 53/39 so when I bought my first bike I had it swapped for a compact. The result was a 10-speed 50/34 with 12-27 in the rear. At some point in time I swapped to 11-25 cassette. Rode that for ~3 years.

When my gf (wife to be) and I started to ride together, we were lucky and basically had the same fit soe she got my bike and my new ride was essentially the exact same bike except all the Ultegra upgraded to DA. So I had this nice 53/39 DA crank that I didn't want to get rid of and couldn't really change ring size for. Thus, now I was on 10-speed 53/39 with 12-27 in the rear. This was my primary ride for the next 4-5 years and I liked the gearing much more than the compact. Rarely missed the 34-27 or 34-25, but probably because I was in better shape compared to first few years. Side note: Wife was on the 11-25 when I thought she was on the 12-27 for a long time, the day I noticed that I realized she's much stronger than either she or I thought she was :) .

When I got my latest bike early last year, it was 11-speed 52/36 with 11-28 in the rear. I really feel like this is the sweetest spot for recreational riders. 36-28 allowed me to get up the steepest stuff with relative ease. Plenty of top end speed that I rarely use anyway on the big ring and 11 or 12. Everything in between shifted very smooth.

Yet as perfect as the setup was for me, an opportunity came along to get a set of DA9000 standard rings for a great price and I nabbed them. Recently during an overall upgrade of the bike I put them on so that I now have 11-speed 53/39 with 11-28 in the rear. So far on a couple Diablo junction climbs I haven't missed the 36 too much but I also haven't had the time to do any real riding because of new baby in the family. I'm hoping to get to Diablo summit, Mt Ham, Sierra/Felter/Calaveras, Morgan Territory, Palomares, Pinehurst loops, 3 Bears, and a few other fun roads around here before the summer is over. I know my legs will be able to handle it, but honestly I feel stupid that I'm on the 53/39 for no good reason when I have the 52/36 option available as well.

Seriously though, assuming the 11-28 in the rear is not going to changed, what are the technical reasons to have the 53/39 vs the 52/36? At my level of riding it's not about any sort of racing need or advantage. Does the less teeth difference between big and little ring lead to more or less usable gears / redundancy / shifting smoothness?

I was rarely in 36-28 except for bailout mode, and 39-28 is actually smaller than 36-25. But I still heavily debate switching back in my mind.

P.S. Funny how some of us let it be this pride thing while there are pros riding 50/34 with 11-32 in Grand Tours...
 

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So, from 1990 to the 21st century, a "low" gear has gone from:
42/23 to 34/32, an enormous difference.
Interesting. I just used Sheldon Brown's gear inches calculator, and put in 700 x 23 as the wheel size and 172.5 as the crank length.

Your 42/23 works out to 48 gear inches.

Your 34/32 works out to 27.9 gear inches.

That is a pretty enormous difference.

Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Gear Calculator
 

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Just because a bike might have a 34/32 combo, doesn't mean you have to use it. If your ego tells you to climb steep hills in your 50/11, by all means, go for it.
 

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There was a time when you only had one gear (two, actually, but you had to stop, take the wheel off and flip it around).

I used to frequent an LBS, run by an old guy, this was in Haverstraw on 9W, near Samsondale plaza. Every time I brought in my bike, he would go over it before taking it in the shop (it was a crowded shop so a lot of "consulting" got done in the parking lot). He would run through the gears, and he'd start counting rotations of the wheel vs the crank. He'd finally find a gear he liked (I think it was 42 x 15 or 16) and say to me "leave it in this gear, it is perfect for riding around here, you don't need any of these other gears". He'd been a racer, I have no idea how long ago - he was pretty old. Long gone now, of course. I wasn't very serious about riding back then, so I didn't really understand what he was talking about.

It's hilly around here, though no mountains. It's not hard to find climbs with pitches of 20%+, though they only last a couple hundred yards max. Most of the "steep" climbs are in the 7 - 10% range. Nothing like the OP is talking about, but still it is humbling to think of cyclists in the '30's riding around here in a 70 inch gear. I suppose there are some SS riders that still do that, I see some SS or FG riders coming across the GWB on the weekends sometimes.



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Can we have some data:
1. w/kg
2. cadence (for grade and gear selection)
I guess the cadence for all these strong people isn't 90-100 on those climbs, right?
 

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I'm surprised the Clown Prince of climbing in big gears hasn't showed up yet.

Anyway, here's an anecdote for you: This past weekend as part of a longer ride a small group of us climbed what some claim is the steepest paved mile in the US. Me and another guy, who's pencil thin and probably couldn't leg press a feather, ride up together and get to the top first. Me, who's kind of stocky and muscular, grinding away in 34 x 28 and him spinning pretty good using 34 x pie plate.

Is it because he's too wimpy to use a bigger gear like me? Or is it because I lack the ability to get any power out of spinning super small gears? Well he could do that climb all day and I was spend and he beats me by A LOT on Mt. Washington so take a guess as to who's the more powerful, efficient and successful at racing cyclist. Hint: It's not me. When they start giving time bonuses for pushing big gears I'll be pretty good but until then I'd gladly trade that ability for the ability to get good power from spinning 'wimpy' gears.
 

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I used to frequent an LBS, run by an old guy, this was in Haverstraw on 9W, near Samsondale plaza. Every time I brought in my bike, he would go over it before taking it in the shop (it was a crowded shop so a lot of "consulting" got done in the parking lot). He would run through the gears, and he'd start counting rotations of the wheel vs the crank. He'd finally find a gear he liked (I think it was 42 x 15 or 16) and say to me "leave it in this gear, it is perfect for riding around here, you don't need any of these other gears". He'd been a racer, I have no idea how long ago - he was pretty old. Long gone now, of course. I wasn't very serious about riding back then, so I didn't really understand what he was talking about.
I grew up going to that bike shop!! My father had a butcher shop just a few doors down. And Calabria Pizza was the best pizza in the world. Or at least it was when I was 12.
 

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I cycled back in the 80s.. 42/23 where the norm indeed. I much prefer the 34/28 I can use now. I took my TT bike on a small group ride recently and frankly I can relive the 80s with that bike.. 43/26 .. Ok for punchy stuff but if rather save what left of my knees and stay on compact .


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

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I used to live and ride in the east bay, california. Lots of very challenging hills; basically no flats anywhere to be found, even if you tried.

I was forced, as a beginning road rider, to become a mountain goat. My low gear was a 42/23. I LIVED in the small chain (42). I did use the big ring plenty (53) as there was always a screaming downhill to finish every ride.

So, my gearing was:

53/42
13-23 7 speed cassette

Now, gearing looks something like this:

racing gearing:
52/36
11-25 or 11-28

endurance/recreational gearing:
50/34
11-28 (fast recreational)
12-30 (10 speed cassette)
11-32 (climbing gearing)

So, from 1990 to the 21st century, a "low" gear has gone from:
42/23 to 34/32, an enormous difference.

As I recall, I don't remember seeing very many "older" road riders back then, and NEVER saw older riders riding mountain bikes in the east bay hills.

So, perhaps older riders just weren't physically able to do a lot of road riding in hilly terrain back in the day due to gearing?

Or, were there very fit road riders who were also older back in the day with "traditional" bigger/big chainrings (53/42)?
I've been riding a lot since 1974, when I was 7.

Did a lot of touring in the 70s and early 80s. then some racing late 80s and ealry 90s. Mostly in the midwest, except when we travelled to New England and Europe. And my parents owned a bike shop. In the touring scene, the riders were generally very experienced enthusiasts, with a wide range of ages from 20s to 60s and maybe a few in their 70s. There would always be a group averaging 20mph, followed by slower groups.

Common gearing in that period was 14-24 on the back, esp on low end bikes. likely 52-42 on the front iirc.

The enthusiasts played with gearing more of course. 13-21 for the racers. Heck even 13-19 blocks not uncommon. rarely saw more than 52 on the front until the 80s. Tourists put on a 14-24 or maybe a 14 28, though many got by with 13-21 IIRC

So yes, the gearing has become a LOT wider esp with compact 34T front and 32T rear. But that is possible largely due to having twice as many gears as in the 70s.

Back then we just grind along up the hills at low cadence. Not the efficient healthy way, I know. Sometimes we had to walk the steep hills - something I see in videos of Eroica rides even today.

I like compact, and wide gear range. Gears are close enough for me, though likely not for a racer.
 

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P.S. Funny how some of us let it be this pride thing while there are pros riding 50/34 with 11-32 in Grand Tours...
yes.

I mean with 22 gears on bike now, there is no reason to let pride disallow a non racer to run a 34-32 (or even lower) imho. Heck triples were common in the past - and good riddance too.
 

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I'm surprised the Clown Prince of climbing in big gears hasn't showed up yet.

Anyway, here's an anecdote for you: This past weekend as part of a longer ride a small group of us climbed what some claim is the steepest paved mile in the US. Me and another guy, who's pencil thin and probably couldn't leg press a feather, ride up together and get to the top first. Me, who's kind of stocky and muscular, grinding away in 34 x 28 and him spinning pretty good using 34 x pie plate.

Is it because he's too wimpy to use a bigger gear like me? Or is it because I lack the ability to get any power out of spinning super small gears? Well he could do that climb all day and I was spend and he beats me by A LOT on Mt. Washington so take a guess as to who's the more powerful, efficient and successful at racing cyclist. Hint: It's not me. When they start giving time bonuses for pushing big gears I'll be pretty good but until then I'd gladly trade that ability for the ability to get good power from spinning 'wimpy' gears.
Well your weight is the reason this light weight climber beat you up the mountain! Lifting only 10 pounds more up the grades would account for the difference. He required considerably less effort. He would have beat you up the hill no matter what gear or cadence you were in. :yesnod:
 

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I grew up going to that bike shop!! My father had a butcher shop just a few doors down. And Calabria Pizza was the best pizza in the world. Or at least it was when I was 12.

Martino's Meats? Garnerville guy, and I used to drink at Ferracane's.
 
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