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Discussion Starter #1
A middle aged man riding a standard 53/39, with 11-23 in back, asked for a new gear cluster at the LBS. He never uses the 11 or 12, but could use some lower gears, so wants a 13-26 or 13-27 to work with his Ultegra drivetrain. Well, a quick search determines that Campy is the only one offering a 13-26. All of the Shimano and Sram clusters available in US outlets start with a 12 or 11.

If only hard core racers use their 11 and 12s, why aren't 13 and even 14t. clusters more available? Most riders would be great with 14-27, but I found only one cluster with that range, a mid-level Campy 10 speed, 14-23 straight block, probably aimed at junior racers.

One of the guys at the LBS said "Get a compact crank, say 48/36." Is this the reason for compact cranks? So average guys can use their tallest gears?

Then I was thinking about how there's noticeably less rolling resistance with big cogs front and back, than with small cogs at the same road speed, because the larger cogs aren't spinning quite as fast, and the chain tension is being distributed over more teeth. This means the chain and the freewheel sprockets will last longer, and argues against compact cranks.

What are your thoughts on this?

1) Why aren't 13-27 or 14-27 clusters available and spec'd on roadbikes?

2) Are compact cranks a good way around this problem?

3) What would be your ideal gears, front and back, ones that you would use a significant proportion of the time?
 

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What are your thoughts on this?
Weight at the hub is less noticable than weight at the outer radius of the wheel. Gears with fewer teeth do wear a little faster but in the case of a compact crank the large ring is probably going to be used more often so its a wash.

1) Why aren't 13-27 or 14-27 clusters available and spec'd on roadbikes?
The bike makers spec bikes for "average riders" riding over "average roads".

2) Are compact cranks a good way around this problem?
Yes. Very good. I live near some pretty good sized mountains and ride 12-25 cassettes. One of my bikes has a compact crank the other has a triple.

3) What would be your ideal gears, front and back, ones that you would use a significant proportion of the time?
My ideal gears are the ones I've listed above. They are based on conditioning, weight, where I ride and how fast I ride.
 

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If What are your thoughts on this? The wear differences should be too small to matter much to me.

1) Why aren't 13-27 or 14-27 clusters available and spec'd on roadbikes? I think that mfgrs are standardizing cassettes and varying the crank sets - the opposite of the old days. I'll applaud this if we can buy chain rings, which are cheaper than cassettes and not get stuck buying crank sets which cost more than cassettes.

2) Are compact cranks a good way around this problem? I think so.

3) What would be your ideal gears, front and back, ones that you would use a significant proportion of the time? 55x42 in front 13,14,15,16,17,19,21,23,27,32. I have the 55 and it works well, giving me a gear to push on the down hills. My cassette is 9sp and comes pretty close to this setup with a straight block for the small gears and bail-out gears at the big end.
 

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Be Creative

Fredrico said:
1) Why aren't 13-27 or 14-27 clusters available and spec'd on roadbikes?
Marketing. The same reason you see carbon used in places it does not make sense, because that is what the market or marketing department wants. Very rarely will a stock bike have all the right parts. You need to specify what you want based on your riding style, ability and terrain. Your salesman should be able to help you with this if he knows what he is doing and is not trying to upsell you.

Since you ride Ultegra and I assume 9 speed you should be able to order one of the following 13-25, 14-25 or 12-27 Shimano cassettes. Once again this depends on terrain and ability. If it is not hilly you may find the 13-25 or 14-25 an ideal solution depending on your cadence and ability. Sheldon Brown has some creative custom combinations available too. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/k7.html#9cassettes

The 14-23 and 14-25 cassettes are aimed at Junior riders to allow them to meet USCF gear limitations but are certainly viable solutions for others. The advantage of the Campy 14-23 being in the mid range of their line is that the cogs are individual and you can mix and match to create a custom cassette. My son will ride the standard 14-23 in crits and might end up with a 14-26 in a road race with climbs.

Don't get too hung up on the model level, you can mix and match DA, Ultegra and 105 as long as they are all 9 speed. You may incur a little bit of a weight penalty but just take a long pee before you ride and the weight will even out.

Fredrico said:
2) Are compact cranks a good way around this problem?
Seems like an expensive way around the problem. Have your LBS order a cassette that fits your needs or contact one of the mail order houses that has a better selection. They wont make as much profit as selling you a new crankset but it will be cheaper for you. My initial reaction would be to use compact cranks to avoid the need for a triple but not just to allow you to use an 11-23. Cassettes are cheap(er) and consumable.

If you order a new cassette find out if you need a different lockring other than the one on your 11-23. This may not be an issue with Shimano but is something you need to be aware of with Campy.

Fredrico said:
3) What would be your ideal gears, front and back, ones that you would use a significant proportion of the time?
It varies depending on time of year, where I am riding and who I am riding with. Get the tools and learn how to change your own cassettes, it is really easy. Have a few cassettes around and adapt to your planned ride.

Get yourself a gear chart so you can figure out what combinations you want. If you are good with Excel spreadsheets you can create your own. My preferred chart allows input of cadence and the output is the speed in mph for each gear combination.

(edit) If I was not married to a cyclist and therefor not allowed to have a basement full of bikes and parts and I was not racing then my bike would probably have a 53/39 with a 13-26. The 26t is enough for me to climb anything I want and it gives me both a 16t and 18t tooth cog for use in most of my riding range.
 

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my take...

No use trying to figure out why manufacturers do what they do. They have their reasons and unless a huge number of complaints are registered, nothing will change.

If you want lower gears across the board a compact (110mm bcd) double crank is the answer. Compacts (like a 50/34) often make a very small change to the big ring and a larger change to the little ring, which lowers all the gears, but also increases the range and creates more cog-shifting after a chainring shift.

To avoid more cog shifting, a 48/36 or 46/34 is needed to provide the same percentage difference between the chainrings as the now standard 53/39. Unfortunately, these combinations are not sold as standards. FSA does make all of these rings, but the closest combination they sell is a 46/36. This combination actually reduces the gearing range by providing a percentage difference that's similar to the old standard 53/42. At least with all the rings sold by FSA it's possible to get the same gear ratios as using larger cogs. A 46/12 for instance, is nearly identical to a 53/14.

I wouldn't worry about the tiny difference in the wear rate.

As for ideal gears, that entirely up to the user's ability and the terrain he rides. My needs for the Colorado mountains are hugely different from a Florida flatlander. Everyone should use what they need.
 

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Excel spreadsheet

Keeping up with Junior said:
Get yourself a gear chart so you can figure out what combinations you want. If you are good with Excel spreadsheets you can create your own. My preferred chart allows input of cadence and the output is the speed in mph for each gear combination.
I have one that I created that you input your cadence and cog combos, and it graphs MPH and gear ratios for you automatically. Just email me at surveyor12 @ comcast . net and I'll send it.
 

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Fredrico said:
...wants a 13-26 or 13-27 to work with his Ultegra drivetrain...
...All of the Shimano and Sram clusters available in US outlets start with a 12 or 11....
Just shopping at Excel and found 9 speed Shimano cassettes that don't start with 12 or 11. A 105 13-25 cassette for $33. Also an Ultegra 14-25 cassette for $49. The 14-25 was not on the page, but appeared as an option when you used the popup selection menu.
 

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Shiamno casettes

Fredrico said:
All of the Shimano and Sram clusters available in US outlets start with a 12 or 11.
Well, if 9 speed there is a 105 13x25, and a Tiagra 14x25. You can make a 13x27 by swapping out cogs on an ultegra cassette, and the loose cog 105 and tiagra casetttes can be modified by swapping out some bigger cogs from 8 speed shimano cassettes. A compact crank is another relative inexpensive option.
 

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Compact cranks solve all middle-age gearing problems

I've typed this so many times my fingers are hoarse, but: I'm a 60-next-Thursday rider who does from 2000 to 4000 miles a year in the mountains around Reno, where the passes go way over 7000 feet. After decades of living with "standard" road gearing (used to be 52-42 with no more than 26 in back, now 53-39), I built up my Atlantis four years ago with a 46-36-26 triple and 11-28 cassette.
From the standpoint of a (late) middle-aged guy who doesn't race, it has NO disadvantages--shifting is fine, spacing is acceptable, there's at least one gear for every condition and I can climb anything the tires will stick to. I still rarely use the small cogs with the big ring (anytime I need more than 100 gear-inches, I'll be coasting anyway), but if most of us looked at the gears we REALLY ride in, we'd be embarrassed to admit how seldom we need our top four or five speeds.
 

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Yeah, but even at 56 I like going fast

. I still rarely use the small cogs with the big ring (anytime I need more than 100 gear-inches said:
I agree that I seldom use the big gears, but I don't coast unless I can't make the bike go any faster due to rough, wet or winding roads, cars, or occasionally exceding my maximum cadence. Once I get up to speed, I give it back grudgingly. There are times when 42x32 leaves me climbing Connecticut's hills at a slow cadence, but that's ok.

A 48-36 compact with an 11-32 mtb cassette would certainly work great, but I got 55 and 44 tooth chainrings for $18.00 and put the 55 on a road bike, replaced the 42 on my fixie with the 44 and now use the 42 with the 55. With a couple of old cogs I made a 11-32 into the 13-32 and life is good.
 

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Cassettes

For my Shimano bike I have 13-25, 13-26, and 13-27 9-speed cassettes that I assembled from various parts. The 13-26 gets ridden the most, the bigger cogs are from an XTR cassette and are very light because they are titanium. My wife rides a 14-28 9-speed I slapped together with some extra parts from http://www.sheldonbrown.com.

As others have pointed out, you can order an Ultegra 9-speed 13-25, an excellent choice for general purpose riding.

My Campagnolo bike has a 13-26 10-speed, my very favorite.

Al
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Hardly ever see 55t. chainrings!

rusa1586 said:
... 55x42 in front 13,14,15,16,17,19,21,23,27,32. I have the 55 and it works well, giving me a gear to push on the down hills. My cassette is 9sp and comes pretty close to this setup with a straight block for the small gears and bail-out gears at the big end.
So you opt for large rings, away from the compact crank concept. 42 is about as far away from 55 as I'd want to get, to be able to pick up the cadence without double shifting.

That's an ingenious customization, presumably using a 10 speed mountain bike cluster, with a long cage derailleur. With 9 speed, you could get by without the 32. 42-27 would get most riders up most hills on a sub-20 pound road bike. Ya gotta work to overcome gravity, no matter what gear you're in!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Sensible advice, thanks.

Keeping up with Junior said:
.. Very rarely will a stock bike have all the right parts. You need to specify what you want based on your riding style, ability and terrain. Your salesman should be able to help you with this if he knows what he is doing and is not trying to upsell you..
Almost all but the high end pro shops, that sell framesets and custom build them with your choice of components, want to sell the bikes with what comes on them. Usually the only component first time buyers want swapped out is the saddle, and the shop will sell them another one, adding it onto the cost of the bike. But they seldom know enough about gearing to have any idea what they want. When I bought my first real road bike, I obsessed about getting a 13 tooth top gear, while most of what I was looking at had 14s. I mistakenly thought that the 14t. bikes weren't designed to go as fast as the 13t. ones. I fully expected that in a year or so, I'd master that higher gear, and go faster! But it never happened, and I've been riding for 20 years.

I'm tempted to conclude that equipping mid-range road bikes with 11 and 12 tooth cogs, not to mention 13, the marketers are buying into a conceit, the unspoken message being, "This bike is fast, man! It has an 11 tooth high gear! If you buy it, you'll be able to ride like Lance!" That just ain't true, most of the time.

Thanks for the link to Sheldon Brown. I'll pass that along to the guy looking for the better gearing fit. He is running 9 speed Shimano, and would appreciate a 13 or 14-26.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Fantastic!

Keeping up with Junior said:
Just shopping at Excel and found 9 speed Shimano cassettes that don't start with 12 or 11. A 105 13-25 cassette for $33. Also an Ultegra 14-25 cassette for $49. The 14-25 was not on the page, but appeared as an option when you used the popup selection menu.
I'll pass this along to the guy! Thanks! His problem is solved.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Yeah, get those chainrings closer.

I noticed riding a friend's bike with 53/39 and a 12-23 cluster, that every time I shifted chainrings, I had to go one or two cogs at the back, to pick up the cadence. I much pefer my old 53/42 combo, where the gears overlap. Working hard on a flat, a 53/44 combo is great! The shift is instantaneous down to the 44, your legs easily pick up the cadence, and you don't lose momentum. I imagine a 48/39 would have the same advantage, if you could be happy with the 39 on hills. At the speeds I go, 13-20 mph, close ratio chainrings work better. But used with close ratio freewheel gears, you're either giving up some high gears or some low gears. So you have to spread the cluster gears out to reach your desired upper and lower limits.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Got a year on ya, Cory!

My favorite freewheels were 14-23 and 14-26. They eliminated the 13, which I never used, and added a 16, which was one of my favorites. That was back in 6 speed days.

If I could let go of a persistent conceit that a 13 might still come in handy drafting in a fast paceline, my ideal gears would be: 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 26, add a 25 and go to 27 if 10 speed, with 52/42 up front. I'd use all those gears.
 

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55's are available for time trial bikes with smaller wheels.

I got mine from Chuck's. I use a 32 on my 9speed. A 10speed would let me replace my 18 with a 17 and a 19. You're right about the long cage derailleur.
 

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I Hate to say it. .

Cory said:
I still rarely use the small cogs with the big ring (anytime I need more than 100 gear-inches, I'll be coasting anyway), but if most of us looked at the gears we REALLY ride in, we'd be embarrassed to admit how seldom we need our top four or five speeds.
But you hit it on the head Cory. . for me, I live in a almost flat area, but it's near the ocean so it's normally WINDY. . In my 53/39; 11-23 cassette I've never used the last two. Not many dudes can spin 90-105 RPMS (where I stay for hours) in a 100+ inch gear.
 
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