Compact Double or Triple? You Have Alternatives

My posts comparing triple cranksets with compact doubles continue to get a lot of views on an almost daily basis.  Clearly, riders are interested in comparing the two versions to try to determine which is best for them.

Now, I’ll offer some further confusion.

The choice doesn’t have to be between a triple — usually a 52-39-30 tooth crankset and a compact double — usually a 50-34.

SRAM came out with its Apex drivetrain this summer.  It’s a double crankset — you can’t get a triple from SRAM.  But what you can get is an 11-32 cassette, that will give you the range of a triple with the narrowness of a double.

The SRAM Apex 11-32 cassette and 50/34 crankset.

SRAM claims the wider range of gears offered on the ten-speed, 11-32 cassette give less redundancy between chainrings and smoother transitions between gears.  The chainrings come in three variations: 53/39, 50/34, and 48/34.  Couple a 34-tooth chainring with a 32-tooth cog and even the Bike Noob  ought to be able to climb most any hill he comes across.

Velo Orange, which caters to the long-distance cycling crowd, takes a different approach: they have a new Polyvalent crank with 46 and 30-tooth chainrings.  They suggest these would be great on city bikes and utility bikes, but I’ve seen randonneurs drool over it on their online forums.  Obviously, a 46-tooth big ring won’t let you get to the top end speed of a typical road bike, but for people who spend 12 or more hours in the saddle at a time, ease of pedaling counts for a lot.

The Velo Orange 46/30 crankset.

Either of these would be worth considering if you need help getting up the big hills on your cycling routes.  The VO Polyvalent is listed at $105.00 on the Velo Orange website; The Apex 50/34 crankset can be had at Amazon.com for $118, and the 11-32 cassette for $78.

Wire or Folding?

I was exchanging emails with a friend the other day, when he told me, “My Armadillo  came in today. I love the fact that it is already shaped and much easier to install.”

Already shaped?  Oh, he means he bought a wire bead tire, instead of a folding bead.

Folding bead tires.

What’s the difference?

Well, folding bead tires can be folded.  Wire beads, not so much.  The bead is where the tire contacts the rim.  Wire beads — formed by a thin steel wire — are old school.  They’ve been in use for decades.  The folding beads are usually made of Kevlar.  Wire bead tires are usually heavier, but they’re also usually cheaper than folding beads.

A lot of people think wire bead tires are lower quality than folding, but from what I’ve seen, that’s not necessarily the case.  Some tire companies make their wire beads to a lower spec than the folding ones, but some make exactly the same tire with two different types of bead.

There is also a common feeling that wire bead tires are harder to mount than folding beads.  Again, it depends on the tire.  Plenty of cyclists tell of headaches trying to mount folding bead tires.

So, which is better?

There’s no one right answer.  Wire bead tires are a little heavier, so you’re adding rolling weight to your bike.  Folding bead tires can be carried in a saddle bag or handlebar bag, in case you need to replace an entire tire on the road.  But except for hard core distance cyclists, I’m not aware of anyone who goes out for a ride with a whole spare tire.  Just a tube.

I look at the bike store’s collection of wire bead tires with envy — not because I aspire to own one, but because of their lower prices.  But I will continue to buy folders.  I get them via mail order since they’re cheaper than paying retail at a bike shop, and they ship more easily.  Otherwise, I don’t see a lot of difference.

By  the way, you can fold wire bead tires, as is demonstrated here.

Continental Grand Prix Attack Front Tire - Clincher Black-BW w/Black Chili, 700c x 22mm
When you buy tires for your bike, do you ever think about differences in the front and rear? If you look at the wear patterns and rates, you'll realize that each tire should be designed for specific u...
Brand: ContinentalMerchant: Backcountry
$75.00
$60.00
Continental Grand Prix Attack Front Tire - Clincher
When you buy tires for your bike, do you ever think about differences in the front and rear? If you look at the wear patterns and rates, you'll realize that each tire should be designed for specific u...
$75.00
$60.00

Do You Need Chamois Cream?

After cycling seriously for three years now, I like to think that my bottom has HTFU’d with the best of ’em.  But that isn’t always the case.

Earlier this month, I got rides in on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday — a rare occurrence for me.  And as I was getting dressed for the rides, I noticed that our trusty tin of Bag Balm was empty.  What the heck — I’ve HTFU’d — I’ll just ride without lubing my bottom.

The results were great.  Never had any rubbing while on the bike.  In fact, I never thought about my posterior contact point.  I figured I’d now be able to ride all the time without any kind of chamois cream, or bottom lube, or whatever you prefer to call it.

Three days later, things changed.

I woke up with a saddle sore.  Yes, one of those pimple-like things in the crotchal zone.  Irritating beyond belief.  Jeff Hemmel discussed them about a year ago.

I’ve had these things before, and they’re no fun.  But this time, I was lucky.  I put on some bike clothes and went for a ride, and it didn’t bother me at all.  So, it wasn’t the result of rubbing against the saddle itself.  When I got home, however, I sure knew it was there.

So for several days, I had this weird situation.  I could ride and not be bothered, but in street clothes — zing!

It went away in a few more days, and — knock wood — hasn’t been back.

And I still haven’t replaced the empty tin of Bag Balm.

How about you?  Are you tough enough to ride without lube?