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?
It sounds like you made it up all the hills without walking? Going to a triple can be fairly costly from a double. You’d need to change out your shifter, derailer and crank. A less costly solution would be to get a different cassette. Or you could just keep your current setup see how it goes. I’ve contemplated a wider cassette, especially for the MS150…I haven’t bought anything yet but after this weekend’s ride I’m considering it!
Mike Weiland says
I second Jared’s thoughts on a different cassette. Not sure what you have on there now, if it’s a 11×23 then get a 12×25. I run a 11×23 on my compact cranks, but I have a 12×25 that I used for Hugel. This years shimano line has a 12×27 cassette, but I’m not sure if that cassette would work with your older group. Of course you could get a mountain bike rear derailleur and a mountain bike cassette (12×34) that would give you a huge granny gear.
Until Shimano comes out with the zero gravity grouppo I just do a lot of hill climbing as part of my training regime.
If you want to examine the issue objectively, take a look at http://www.ssec.wisc.edu/~scotte/gearing/gearing.html . If you can get a good guess of how many watts you can sustain for long climbs you’ll get a pretty good idea of how low you have to go in gear inches. I think the component makers really don’t have a clue about how to market triples. If the small chainring is a 30T, you aren’t getting much of an advantage over a compact 34T. Put a randonee triple on (46T 36T 26T with an 11T small rear cog) and you have introduced some serious steep hill climbing capability over the compact. In the short term, more teeth in the back give you a lot more advantage than fewer teeth in the front for a lot less money.
I saw this post recently: http://bikehugger.com/2008/05/the-rise-of-the-compact-crank.html
Thanks for your thoughts, folks. Looks like I’ll have to consider a new cassette first. Actually, first I’ll just build up my leg strength.
CR1 Rider says
Hey Rainycamp, my first roadbike was a specialized Roubaix triple, with a 12×25 cassette. I dont know what condition your in, but for me the small chain ring was useless. Even on long climbs I would spin out the small ring. I like to ride a faster cadence typically (90-100) rpm and climbing 80 or more. Per research I came across the compact double, and found this handy ratio chart.
The ratios between the compact and my existing triple were so close, I barely lost any gears. What I did loose I never even used anyway (30,32 on small chainring) I ended up getting a cheap FSA compact (gossimer) 34×50 and used it with my existing deraileurs and shifters, also 12×25 cassette. Shorten a long story hit by car on that bike, bought new bike.
Now ride a Scott CR1 pro, ’07. Purchased it as a compact double with 105 group, completely switched out everything. Now SRAM Force 34×50 with 11/25 cassette. I really like riding a compact, the only gears I am missing are very large, and personally I dont want to go any faster then 40 mph, with the compact I never spin out unwantingly. I live in California and ride a lot of hills, Yerba Buena for example is a long climb, about 50 minutes uphill. Start at Pacific Coast Highway….(Malibu, CA) The combination of the 34 & 25 is great, any lower gear I would feel stationary while pedaling. If more gears are necessary check out the SRAM 11/27 Rival cassette, plenty of teeth for climbing. o-0
Mary Ann says
I ride a Scott CR1 Comp and am new to riding. I got the same info from everyone I talked to before my purchase, i.e. don’t get the triple. From my performance on hills when with the group, and my energy level, it’s obvious to me I don’t know optimum gearing, and frankly, the charts mean nothing to me. An explanation of the Scott’s gearing would help. I’ll start it and hope you can finish it. The Scott has two large silver shifters – that are integrated with the brakes on the handles (Shimano 105’s). The one on the left handle shifts to the large chainring, the one on the right shifts to the smaller chainring. Then there are two small black shifters, one on each side, under each of silver shifters. It’s these that I find confusing. If I am on the smaller chainring, I can see that the chain goes from cog to cog making the ride easier when I use the right black lever. But honestly, as I watch it, it doesn’t appear to just go down and down, it appears to hover between some of the cogs. Maybe I can’t see well enough when I’m riding, but this is weird and I’d love someone who knows to explain it – without attitude, just the knowledgeability that comes with experience. What is further confusing me is that to get to the absolute lowest gear, sometimes I need to use the left hand black lever. That’s the lever I don’t employ enough. I have yet to see the chain on the cogs on the left side of the cog set (left when looking from being seated on the bike). I’m thinking I don’t know how to switch smoothly from high gear down to low. I have been shifting into the highest gear on the downhills, then on the way up, of course, gearing down. But I haven’t been using the left black lever. I have somehow just leapt over this part of the bike. Why?? That may be rhetorical, and I’m going to go out now in the tiny bit of sunlight left today and see if I can learn this on my own. But maybe you can tell me anyway, I’d love to hear it from someone who also rides and no doubt loves a Scott CR1 Comp – I love mine! It performs flawlessly despite the flaws of its rider!
Bike Noob says
I’m surprised the bike shop didn’t explain all that to you when you bought the bike – especially since the Scott CR1 is a high-end model. Anyway, here goes:
You have Shimano shifters on your bike. On Shimanos, the left brake lever shifter (the silver one) moves the chain from the small chainring to the large chainring when you push the lever in (toward the middle of the bike). Do it slowly and deliberately. The small black shifter will shift it from the large chainring back to the small one.
On the right side, the brake lever shifter will move the chain from larger cogs to smaller cogs. On the rear, the smaller cogs make for harder gears. The black shifter will shift from the small cogs to the large cogs – easier gears.
If you have any trouble mastering this in your first few rides, take the bike back to where you bought it, and ask them to walk you through it.
SAM COLDWELL says
first off I’m a relatively new rider but I’ve encountered many of the same issues with hills and compact cranksets. I’m currently upgrading to a triple due to a series of sportives I’ve entered (which are notoriously hilly) and due to the upgrade I have a few tips that may help.
The first is that if you have any of the new (2008/09) shimano shifters they will work with double (compact) or triple cranksets. This should save you around £150 to start with.
The other parts you’ll need will be a triple crankset (of course), I bought a descent new crankset from ebay for £30 (truvativ elita), you’ll also need a triple derailleur (105 triple, £9, ebay) and rear derailleur (105, long cage £35).
The total refit cost me £74.
The last bit of advice I can give you is that even high level amateurs using £2000 plus bikes who enter sportives such as the Marmotte, d’Huez use triple cranksets, so don’t see this as wimping out.
I love my triple. I had a double on one bike and when I was tired – I regretted not having the ‘super easy’ gearing. All of my future bikes will be spec’d with a triple and a mountain derailleur if I have any say.
Also consider switching out the derailleur to a long cage derailleur that can handle an 11-32 or 11-34 cassette (the long cage adds around 50 grams of weight, big deal) and put on an 11-32, 11-34, 13-32, or even a 12-36 cassette (which might add 100+ grams of weight). The bike shop guys and the racers and other riders may well express concern about the addition of 7 ounces of weight and may well tell you that you “don’t need gears that low”. Well, in some cases I think that’s an ego thing. Maybe *they* don’t need gears that low because they’re so very strong, but many of the rest of us need the low gearing to save knees and just enjoy the ride! I’m convinced most bikes sold these days have gearing that isn’t low enough. Disclosure — I live in a hilly area so my thoughts might not apply to a place that’s flatter.
I’m from the school of thought that road bikes look better with a corn cob cassette, in my case a 7-speed 13-23 freewheel, combined with a 46/36/24 crank. Have used this set up since the early ’90’s. If I were to go compact, it would mean a 34 chainring and 32 rear with a long cage derailleur.