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 for $118, and the 11-32 cassette for $78.


  1. johnt says

    I was toying with the idea of getting a triple but the cost is way to much. This is the solution. I wonder how much to install the crank set?

  2. amazer98 says

    I believe that you also need to buy at least the Apex rear derailleur, which has a longer cage than the standard Shimano derailleurs. I think the standard derailleurs can handle a rear cassette whose lowest gear is 27 or 28 teeth, so the innovative part of the Apex line, so to speak, is that it uses an extra-long cage.

    That said, it should be pointed out that Apex is SRAM’s entry-level line. I don’t know how its longevity or shifting precision stacks up to, say, Shimano 105… but it is considerably less expensive, which should tell you something.

    Still, conceptually, it is an excellent idea for cyclists who need to pedal through hilly terrain and want the simplicity of a double chainring, yet are not Tour de France pedaling machines.

  3. Mel Hughes says

    When I was rebuilding my bike a couple of years ago, I was tempted to go the compact crank/larger toothed rear cog route. But I had been riding a triple crank on an early hybred, a Bianchi Tangent, since the late 1980’s and really liked the range as well as the shifting. So I went with the Ultegra 6603 triple crank, brakes, and shifters.

    Recently, I revisited the same question. I was getting ready to go to the new Shimano Ultegra shifters and brakes. The improvement in shifting and braking over the Ultegra 6600 series was pretty incredible to me. This gave me another opportunity to look at compacts and the newer, wider ranged cassettes available.

    In the end, I decided to stay with the triple. The reasoning was twofold. When you use a triple (to paraphrase Mike Jacoubowsky, a partner of
    Chain Reaction Bicycles who has written some excellent articles about just this subject) “you essentially have three overlapping “ranges” of gears.” Mike feels the shifting “is a lot cleaner” and that “your’re never in a situation where you feel like you want to switch back and forth and/or up & down to get the right gear for a given climb.”

    The second reason has to do with our move to middle Tennessee, right up against the Cumberland Plateau. I have come to the conclusion there are no flat roads around here. So riding the triple was essential for me when I started riding up here.

    I have found that the more I ride and the stronger I get, the less I need the small chain ring. But it is there when I need it. It lets me keep the 12-28 rear cassette in place as well as keeping the 53 tooth large chainring for screaming down hills and very briefly keeping up with the real racers. (Slightly overweight, older men can accelerate at an incredible rate given good wheels and gears!)

    Granted, I could get the same low gearing with a 34 tooth chain ring and the 32 tooth rear cog, but for now, I opted to keep the triple I have and go with the Ultegra 6703 shifters. There is not that much weight difference between the triple and the double crank. It was certainly cheaper for me to stay with the triple.

    I’ll be interested to see what others’ experiences are.

  4. Tim says

    interesting…an 11-32 cassette.

    Are there any issues with rear derailleur compatibility?

    Great post Noob! As always.

    • says

      you are right on.. love my 39 ring.i had a compact set up on one of my bikes but the 34 ring was only good on the hills.i always had to run the 50.this was no good to me.with the triple you add the 30 for steep hills.I JUST LOVE THE TRIPLE !!!.I hope shimano starts making more triple set ups in the future and scraps compacts.

  5. says

    I knew that better wide-range compact-double gearings were coming when I finally got a road bike, but I decided I didn’t want to wait and got a triple Ultegra 6700 instead. So I’ve got a 30/39/52 crank and an 11-28 cassette in back.

    The part I wasn’t expecting that much is that I pretty much leave the bike on the middle 39 ring the whole time unless I’m riding up a real mountain. Every now and then I’ll run off the top and need the big ring, but I find that I use the little ring more frequently. So I suspect I’d actually be quite content with the VO Polyvalent double, were I to build a bike up from scratch.

    (Of course, I *am* a randonneur and utility cyclist at heart)

    I’ve also chatted with some riders who got sick of the troubles of dealing with a front derailleur entirely and just use a wide-range cassette in back and a single ring in front.

    I’m going to echo Mel’s comment. The nice thing about a triple is that you have three overlapping ranges of gearing instead of two. While it’s arguably harder to get smooth shifting with a triple, you don’t need to shift as often.

  6. Mel Hughes says

    Two points here: First, for those who are interested in using the triple, the front shifting with the Ultegra 6703 shifters is excellent. I am using a Dura-Ace 7800 series front triple derailleur which the newer Ultegra 6703 shifts beautifully. (The new brakes are incredible!)

    One thing that needs to be said is that when using the Shimano shifters for the front chainring, the technique is different from shifting the rear derailleur. With the front shifter, it is necessary to move the shifting lever inboard and hold it for a moment. This insures a clean up shift to a larger chainring. If you just quickly move the lever in and release, especially when shifting from the 30 tooth chainring up to the 39, you will have to move the lever a second time to accomplish the shift. I was taught this by someone who had much more experience with the new brifters than I. Since adapting it, I have never missed an up shift. Downshifting is merely a click of the inside lever and down the chain drops!

    A side note here is that, with any multi-ringed crank, there are times when the derailleur cable can get out of adjustment and you can drop your chain onto the bottom bracket. The addition of one of the many accessory chain savers will insure this never happens to you. The Deda Dog Tooth is very simple, light weight, and cheap insurance that you will not drop your chain when you really need to make a down shift. I speak from much experience here. The last big group ride I did concluded with a couple of long grades. I was hitting the middle section of the last one, feeling good about my pace when I dropped the chain going to the smaller chainring. It certainly took the wind out of my sails!

    The other point to make is that a good, long cage rear derailleur is well worth the expense. My own experience has been that derailleurs work best with the same brand of shifters. But, in the words of one of my favorite bike shop owners and mechanics, “Derailleurs are dumb! Shifters are smart!” It is possible to cross brand lines if you are careful with the installation and setup. Right now, the going rate for a new Shimano 105 RD-5700-GS Rear Derailleur seems to be about $79. You can also find the Shimano Ultegra RD-6700-GS Rear Derailleur on sale for the same price. Both of these incorporate many of the newer features and technology of the latest Dura-Ace group. On the old Bianchi I mentioned before, I installed Sora 7-speed shifters to run the 5600 series 105 long cage derailleur on a Shimano 7-speed freewheel. So you can do a good deal of mixing and matching still.

  7. Michael Milton says

    I used to have a triple and the range was great but I never liked the shifting and the trimming required while riding to get the gears I wanted. I now have a compact double on the road bike and it is great. I am just planning a new commuting bike and will be putting a mtn double shimano 10sp crank on it. The Shimano options are a little smaller than that Polyvalent mentioned above but I think with a fatter tyre I will get the range I am after.

    This option will not require any other changes in derailieurs front or rear.

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