When I bought my bike just a year ago, I was weighing the pros and cons of getting it with a triple chainring, or a compact double. I knew I didn’t want a standard 52 x 39 double ring, but a 50 x 34 seemed to make some sense to me.
Some experienced biker friends recommended a compact double, declaring that I wouldn’t miss the third ring, because most of my riding would be done within the middle gears anyway. And the biking magazines and web sites indicated much the same thing, with the added bonus of smoother shifting.
So when I pulled the trigger and bought the bike, a compact double it was.
After today’s ride, I wish I had gotten the triple.
I turned out at 8 a.m., when the sky was still trying to decide if it would lighten up all the way. Since it was the first day of Daylight Savings Time, it was barely light enough to ride without head and tail lights. At Starbucks, where our bike club kicks off its rides, I had hoped to see several acquaintances who ride at about the same level as I do. Nope. So I figured I would have my work cut out for me trying to keep up with the strong riders in the club. Luckily, they were riding an out-and-back route that lets the rider pick a turnaround spot wherever he or she chooses.
Within three miles from the start, I could see I was in trouble. The peloton was quite far ahead of me, and I was thinking of breaking away on my own and riding a different route. But the ride leader was waiting for me at a corner ahead. We rode together, trying to maintain contact with the main group.
We turned onto Fitzhugh Road, a rural two-lane road that threads its way over rolling hills through small ranches. The hills became more frequent here, and the ride leader had trouble keeping to my plodding pace.
“There’s a guy up ahead who fell off the main pack,” he said. “Let’s catch him!”
For awhile, it seemed like we would. But then, I’d have to struggle up another hill, and when we finally crested it, the other rider’s orange jersey would be farther off in the distance. Finally, the ride leader figured that if we both couldn’t catch the other rider, at least he could, and he pulled away from me. Soon he was out of sight.
I neared the turnaround point, and there was the orange jersey, waiting at an intersection. He was new to the club, and I hadn’t met him before.
“I can’t hang with those guys,” he said. “I’m heading back from here.”
“This is where I’d always planned to turn around,” I answered.
We rode off together. The way back was less tough than the way out, because it was less uphill. But there were still hills aplenty. I was often down in the largest cog of the small chainring, and noticed that orange jersey, who was about 50 yards ahead of me, was pedaling with a faster cadence than I was, no matter if we were climbing hills or riding one of the rare flat stretches (we both coasted the downhills).
Less than three miles from the starting point, we hit the last series of hills. They were among the toughest of the day. Again, I watched him spin frantically as he pulled ahead of me. When we pulled into Starbucks at last, he said he was glad he had triple chainrings, or he would have had to get off and walk his bike up that last hill.
His friend, also a new member of the club, joined us about ten minutes later.
“Man, I wouldn’t have made it up those last two hills without my triple,” he said.
Both sang the praises of their triples. I wondered if I had made the right purchase decision last year. Looking back at the year’s riding, I realized I got stronger during the summer, and was able to handle most of what the terrain threw at me. But I also remembered walking the bike up a few hills, too.
I’ll be riding more, now that the days are longer, and I’ll be building my strength. But I wonder — would I be better off with a triple?
Do you have any opinions, one way or the other?