A distant relative has been going through the same biking metamorphosis that I went through a few years ago. He wants to get a new road bike, to replace the hybrid he’s been riding. But he’s agonizing over the purchase.
The main hangup, apparently, is whether to get a bike with a triple crankset or a compact double crankset.
We’ve looked at this issue before, but it never seems to lose steam. Most veteran bikers will tell you that a compact double, usually a 50-tooth large chainring and a 34-tooth small one — coupled with a cassette that goes from a 12-tooth cog to a 26, or 27, or 28 — will serve just fine. There aren’t many hills that can’t be climbed with that setup.
A compact gives you a little less oomph at the top end, but unless you’re a racer, it shouldn’t matter. I ride a compact double, and I’ve hit speeds of nearly 40 mph (okay, on a downhill — but still) and am able to cruise in the mid-20s.
But there are some hills in my area that I have trouble with — most anything steeper than 16 percent. I know some of the fault lies with me. I need to lose more weight. I need to train harder to conquer those hills. I need to stop aging.
Or, a triple crankset might be just the ticket. Triples often come in 52, 39, and 30-tooth rings. Sometimes the big ring is only a 50. That arrangement is most beneficial in the low ranges, when the 30 is coupled with the 28-tooth cog.
Some high-end bikes come with triple cranksets.
One way to look at the issue is to look at your shifting. During a discussion of double vs. triple on Bike Forums, one poster said his goal is to minimize shifts on the front rings.
“When I run out of high gears in the small ring,” he wrote, “shifting to the big ring on a compact usually requires shifting down two or three cogs in the rear to put me in the right gear for the situation. When I run out of low gears in the big ring, similarly, I may need to shift up several gears in the rear when I shift to the small ring.
“A triple gives me the smooth transitions of a regular double and a granny ring for the lower gears I need for the really hard climbs.”
As for me, I’m hanging onto the bike I have for awhile. That means I’ll just have to learn to handle the big hills with my compact double. But if I’m ever in the market for another bike, you can bet I’ll opt for a triple
Oh, and my relative? He lives in Florida, where the biggest climb he has is a freeway overpass. I recommended he get the compact double.