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Hi, i just wondered if anyone could shed any light on what kind of gear ratios that the pros use in the mountains. Do they use a 39-tooth front cog or something smaller for those big climbs?

Any info would be appreciated, I am just getting into road biking, more of a MTB rider normally, and was a little surprised at the gear ratios on the road bike i just bought.

:eek:)
 

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When Lemond was here....

Don't know about the TdF, but Greg Lemond grew up around here and after his first or second Tour win, he ran a cycling camp in the Sierra foothills. I'm pretty sure this was back when the standard chainrings were 52-42, and in the literature they sent out to prospective customers, they urged to gear low in the back. Can't remember exactly how it was phrased, but it was something to the effect that you shouldn't put on your straight block and come up here expecting to impress the pros with your strength: "It's important to be able to turn the big gears, but it's more important to be able to turn them for a long time. Greg uses a 26."
I've climbed the same hills, and I use a 26, too. In front, to mate with my 30-tooth big cog in back....
As for the gearing on your road bike, a lot of people think off-the-rack road bikes are unrealistically geared for non-elite cyclists. There just aren't that many people who need a 53-11. I've put triples on my last two road bikes, and I'll never go back. I'd rather people see me riding in the granny than walking next to the bike...
 

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smolenice said:
Hi, i just wondered if anyone could shed any light on what kind of gear ratios that the pros use in the mountains. Do they use a 39-tooth front cog or something smaller for those big climbs?

Any info would be appreciated, I am just getting into road biking, more of a MTB rider normally, and was a little surprised at the gear ratios on the road bike i just bought.

:eek:)
On most of the big cols pro's use a 39 X 23 or 21 gear. Some of the bigger guys may need a larger rear cog. On some of the truly heinous climbs like the Zoncolon in 2003's Giro some pro's actually opted for a triple chainring set up.
 

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I think typical is a 39 small chainring and a 23 as the largest cog. I remember Phil/Paul/Bob making a big deal about riders using 25s on the l'Angliru climb in last year's Vuelta (Roberto Heras actually used a triple crankset on that stage - that's the first time I've ever seen that). Tyler Hamilton used a compact crankset with a 36 small chainring after he broke his collarbone in last year's Tour, but again, it was unusual enough that the announcers commented on it.
 

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39 X 23 for "normal" mountains
39 X 25 for tough climbs
39 X 27 or triples for "eye poppers"
 

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read them and weep...

While many pros today use the nearly ubiquitous 39 front chainring... a good number still go up these mountains in a 42x18-23. Believe me, I've counted the cogs! I remember reading that Poulidor and Gimondi typically used a 43x17 in even the toughest mountains -- I searched for the reference but could not find it. I did, however, find a site listing Robert Millar's gearing for the major climbs back when he was putting the hurt on the peleton in the mountains. Having ridden most of these in a 39x25, I can say that his gearing is pretty impressive!

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Here's Robert Millar's look at some of the major Tour climbs:
Col d'Izoard 2361 m
42x19 for the beginning, 42x17 for the top

Col du Galibier 2556m
42x15 or the big ring and 17 or 19
42x21 for the middle part, 19 for closing gaps
KOM sprint 42x17 or 15

Col du Croix de fer 2067 m
42x19 for beginning
42x 23 for steep section leading to tunnels
42x23 for last 6km- Millar notes he wouldn't think for sprinting for points up here as he's never been able to stand on the pedals for long enough.

Alpe d'Huez 1860 m
42x23 for 10% ramp at bottom
42x21 with some use of the 23 for middle 5km
42x23 for last 4km
52x15 or 17 for final KOM sprint

Mont Ventoux 1909 m
From base of climb, stand for 500 m to 1 km
42x22 or 23 after 5km
Millar comments that Delgado blew past him in the big ring while he was struggling in a 42x19 during the 87 Tour time trial
52x17 or 16 for KOM sprint

Col de la Bonnette 2802 m
40x22 on lower slope

Col du Tourmalet 2115 m
42x23 under the snow shelters and stand for along time
42x19 or 21 for KOM sprint
 

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philippec said:
While many pros today use the nearly ubiquitous 39 front chainring... a good number still go up these mountains in a 42x18-23. Believe me, I've counted the cogs! I remember reading that Poulidor and Gimondi typically used a 43x17 in even the toughest mountains -- I searched for the reference but could not find it. I did, however, find a site listing Robert Millar's gearing for the major climbs back when he was putting the hurt on the peleton in the mountains. Having ridden most of these in a 39x25, I can say that his gearing is pretty impressive!
My back always gives out well before my legs when I'm trying to do the big ring training/climbing. It sucks, but I can't justify training that way when there's a risk that i'll throw my other training days out of whack. I've been working specifically on strengthening my back just so it can handle the stress of that training and i'm hoping it pays off in the end. I remember Danielson commented to VeloNews that he mimicked Tyler's gearing when he dominated the Mt. Washington Hill Climb the year he broke the record. I don't think they meantioned the gears, but it was an interesting note.
 

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The Human G-Nome said:
I remember Danielson commented to VeloNews that he mimicked Tyler's gearing when he dominated the Mt. Washington Hill Climb the year he broke the record. I don't think they meantioned the gears, but it was an interesting note.
I read that Tyler Hamilton used a low gear of 39/25 when he broke the Mt. Washington record. Genevieve Jeanson used 39/28 to set the women's record a couple of years ago.
 

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climbing gears

Millar's gear ratios were pretty standard back in the 70s and 80s. 42-21 was standard for racing, adding a 23, 24, 25, or 26 for mountains. Inner chainrings less than 42 or 41 teeth were seldom used: it wasn't that hard to crank a 21 or 22 pound bike, what racing bikes weighed at the time, up hills in 42-21. Everybody did it. A sissy might cheat with a 22 or 23. Short cage racing derailleurs wouldn't accept any cog larger than 24 or 26. The best racing crank spiders wouldn't accept chainrings smaller than 42 or 41 teeth.

I climbed Mt. Wilson near LA on a 22 pound bike with a 44-22 lowest gear. The first time was a real challenge, but I made it. The next weekend I could stay on top of that gear almost all the way up. Eddy Merckx apparently preferred a 44 when climbing mountains.

Seems like a 155 pound rider could push a 17 pound racing bike up any mountain in 42-23, anyway, and anything lower would be inefficient, unless you can pedal really fast, like Lance. He passes everyone spinning his 39-26 above 90 rpm and just keeps going like the Everyready bunny.

In contrast to mountain bike trails, the roads are graded for horse drawn carriages and cars. Roadbikes are so light and fast. So it isn't necessary to have gears below 39-26, or a really wide selection of ratios like on a mountain bike.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
thanks

thanks for your replies guys, very interesting!

I haven't really had a chance to get out and see what it is like on a big climb on my road bike yet, was just a little surprised that my MTB has a 22-34 lowest gear and the road bike is 39-25, it seemed a massive difference. Guess I will find out soon enough. Glad I have a 25 on the rear cassette though!
 

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What the pros use is not what you need to use. MTBing is different, there aren't any gravel climbs, roads are less steep than trails.

I laugh when I see new roadbikes sold here with 39-23 on them and the new roadie runs into the hills on Sunday only to fall off half way up!
 

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The Human G-Nome said:
I remember Danielson commented to VeloNews that he mimicked Tyler's gearing when he dominated the Mt. Washington Hill Climb the year he broke the record. I don't think they meantioned the gears, but it was an interesting note.
I don't know what Tyler used, but I'm pretty sure Tom Danielson used a 30 chainring with a 23 largest cog. I thought I'd heard he used a single chainring, but if you look at the pictures here (http://tomdanielson.com/photos_mtwashington.html) there are two - looks like about 30/39.
 

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It really sounds like there is a combination of:

a) In the past the pros favored climbing with really low cadence, and that is possibly changing.

b) Lots of rec cyclists and racers have very poor climbing skills which makes the pros exploits seem even more amazing.

If you spend a lot of time & effort on your climbing you will realize the pros gear selections really aren't "ridiculous". My first year cycling I did some pretty good mountains in a 39x25 on my 20+ lb bike without real difficulty.

It seems like most cyclists even lower level racers don't spend much time at all in the mountains and/or fear big climbs. And the more you avoid big climbs because "I'm not a good climber", the more your climbing ability degrades.

All the pros can spin at big speeds, they could all pedal at 95rpm up the mountains like Lance if they wanted to. 95rpm hardly requires a special ability.

Ben
 

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It does not matter what the pros use

Us mortals need gears to climb mountains. I climbed Haleakala in Maui a couple of months ago. 10,000 feet of elevation change in 35 road miles. If the bike I rented did not have a triple I would never of made it up. I spent half the climb in 34 front and 30 back. And even then I had to stop for 15 minutes at 8000 feet to wait for the cramps to subside. They were so bad that I just had to stand an straddle the bike for 5 minutes until the pain went away enough that I could throw my leg off the bike.

The pros are a completely different species of animal.
 

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pros/Lance

smolenice said:
Hi, i just wondered if anyone could shed any light on what kind of gear ratios that the pros use in the mountains. Do they use a 39-tooth front cog or something smaller for those big climbs?

Any info would be appreciated, I am just getting into road biking, more of a MTB rider normally, and was a little surprised at the gear ratios on the road bike i just bought.

:eek:)
Keep in mind that pros make 400-500 watts on even long climbs, plus they are probably lighter than the average rec cyclist. That means, in addition to it being a race, that they are likely going twice as fast as we do. If you would be going 10 mph up a hill, they are going 20! They therefore don't need gearing nearly as low, even if they are spinning 100 rpms up the hills. A 39x23 gearing will allow 100 rpms at 13.4 mph. My bet is that Lance is never going that slowly in Tour climb.

I read that Lance always uses a 53/39 on his road (not timetrial) bike, and uses an 11-23 or 11-21, except for rare hill climb timetrials, where he'll use a custom 11-22. I read that Hincapie always uses a 12-25 in offseason training and an 11-23 for racing.

Other tours have steeper climbs than the TdF, so riders use lower gears there. They may well use a triple 30x25 combo, but that allows them to spin where we'd be standing and traversing in that gear.
 

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Ben and Doug are right, of course, climbing in a 30-26 is easier than pushing 39-21. But working against gravity, losing momentum between each pedal stroke, is still honest work, no matter what gear you're pushing. Overcoming gravity 90 times per minute takes alot more determination than motoring along a flat. Its more efficient to walk up the grade with slow, deliberate pedal strokes, like one per second. That works the fast twitch muscles in the quads, powerfully pushing down, then relaxing and recovering on the upstroke.

It's admirable to be able to spin past your buddies in your 39-26, them laboring with their 39-18 or 20s, and beat them up a hill. But when was the last time you climbed a mountain for 2 hours and kept your cadence above 90 rpm?
 

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Most (mortal) people need a 25 for big hills

Spunout said:
I laugh when I see new roadbikes sold here with 39-23 on them and the new roadie runs into the hills on Sunday only to fall off half way up!
This always amazes me too. When I go to my LBS to buy a bike or help a friend purchase a new bike, I always ask does the bike have a 25 cog on the back. Without fail the guy responds with "no-one uses a 25". I then proceed to tell him which roads I ride up and he shuts up pretty quickly. Moron!

CHEERS.

Mark
 

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Fredrico said:
Ben and Doug are right, of course, climbing in a 30-26 is easier than pushing 39-21. But working against gravity, losing momentum between each pedal stroke, is still honest work, no matter what gear you're pushing. Overcoming gravity 90 times per minute takes alot more determination than motoring along a flat. Its more efficient to walk up the grade with slow, deliberate pedal strokes, like one per second. That works the fast twitch muscles in the quads, powerfully pushing down, then relaxing and recovering on the upstroke.

It's admirable to be able to spin past your buddies in your 39-26, them laboring with their 39-18 or 20s, and beat them up a hill. But when was the last time you climbed a mountain for 2 hours and kept your cadence above 90 rpm?
Not for two hours since there are no mountains in the northeast which would take me 2 hours to climb, but I go up big climbs all the time trying to keep my cadence 90rpm or higher. (There are only a handful of climbs in the NE which would take an hour even )

I completely disagree with it being more efficient to stand and push a tall gear at super low RPM. Standing up at all will raise your HR 10 beats or so, if you are anywhere near the edge or the mountain is steep standing too long will cause you to blow up. If you can't spin the gear at a normal/high cadence you're better off to grind away seated rather than standing.

Best example is if you were going up a mountain and have to go around a right hand switchback, unless you can use the whole road, the far right edge of the road is the steepest path. If you stand up to get through the switchback, you could very well blow up and not be able to recover on the straight afterward and have to stop to recover.

Ben
 

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one more thing

benInMA said:
Not for two hours since there are no mountains in the northeast which would take me 2 hours to climb, but I go up big climbs all the time trying to keep my cadence 90rpm or higher. (There are only a handful of climbs in the NE which would take an hour even )

I completely disagree with it being more efficient to stand and push a tall gear at super low RPM. Standing up at all will raise your HR 10 beats or so, if you are anywhere near the edge or the mountain is steep standing too long will cause you to blow up. If you can't spin the gear at a normal/high cadence you're better off to grind away seated rather than standing.

Best example is if you were going up a mountain and have to go around a right hand switchback, unless you can use the whole road, the far right edge of the road is the steepest path. If you stand up to get through the switchback, you could very well blow up and not be able to recover on the straight afterward and have to stop to recover.

Ben
One more consideration is that low gears, even at the same speed, allows you to save your legs. Mashing fatigues leg muscles, joints, and burns more sugars. If you are doing a really long event, whether it be a hilly double century or the Tour de France, spinning saves your legs for later. Lance has specifically said that that is part of his spinning, as it saves his legs for the next day or so. Of course, it helps to actually train this way, too, so that your cardiovascular system can sustain higher rpms efficiently.

Having done lots and lots of hilly doubles, Climb to Kaiser, the Death Ride, and Furnace Creek 508, I can tell you for certain that I do much better over all using the lowest gears possible. While I could mash away up that 3,000 foot climb, I'll pay for it later.
 

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Again, you guys are right on.

I mistakenly used "walking" not to describe standing on the pedals, but to mean what you said, "Grind away seated." Work at about 60 rpm, pushing with deliberate flexing of the quads. It feels more like stepping up a flight of stairs than turning a crank in a circle. That's the way most people climb, isn't it? The quads are the biggest muscles of the legs, so they end up being called upon to do the work.

Doug is quite right that spinning saves the legs and is therefore more efficient, but it has to be learned, consciously practiced mile after mile, in all kinds of terrain, and often relearned after a long layoff, or at the end of a racing season. Working the crank 90 rpm or faster fills in the dead spots of the stroke, transfers the load to all of the muscles in the legs and buttocks, not just the quads. It also trains and conditions the nervous system, heart and lung superbly well. But it's hard work, and is often forgotten in a crunch, like hanging with a relentless, fast moving paceline, or climbing a difficult grade.
 
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