why road bikes lack easy gears

General cycling advice ( NOT technical ! )
Samuel D
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby Samuel D » 9 Jan 2019, 8:35pm

foxyrider wrote:52x13 is probably the most used gear on the road bike.

That’s a taller gear than Bradley Wiggins used for his hour record. That said, he only averaged 54.526 km/h for that. I suppose you’re moving a bit quicker?

thelawnet
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby thelawnet » 9 Jan 2019, 8:54pm

foxyrider wrote:The quest for lower gears is IME, driven largely by some strange idea that cycling should be easy - clearly the marketing has worked but truly, you only get out what you put in.


I am mostly in Indonesia where most people think cycling 10km is immensely difficult, so easy is relative.

Also I don't think lower gears are necessarily about making things easier - in the UK you can avoid big hills quite easily, and if you do so, then you won't think about big gears - you can be a cyclist without ever going up a mountain.

The purpose of lower gears is to enable people to do more difficult rides. :wink:

Samuel D
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby Samuel D » 9 Jan 2019, 9:29pm

I think road bikes lacked easy gears because buyers were usually young, fit, male, riding in a group, and often racing.

It was also technically difficult to give racing bicycles a large gear range. The top gear was fixed at 100" or a little higher because that was needed for every sprint finish, i.e. to have any chance of winning. You couldn’t do without it. The cassette had five or six sprockets and had to be close-ratio for racing in a group. The low gear was the obvious thing to compromise, since it was only rarely beneficial at all (on uncommonly steep hills) and never strictly needed, there being no hard limit on minimum cadence.

Nowadays the road-bike buying population is more diverse and on average less fit, less strong, and carrying more age-related injuries and ailments. The profusion of sprockets easily enables low gears, high gears, and everything in between, even if that comes with a load of new compromises that are not obvious to the uninitiated. So we get lower gears although still not low enough for everyone.

Meanwhile, cars have driven us off major roads with their shallow gradients and onto steep back lanes. More people are riding off tarmac, and fewer road-bike owners formally race. More people take their bicycles to continental mountains with EasyJet. These things have all contributed to road bikes having lower gearing.

Give it another few years and they’ll be lower still.

mattsccm
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby mattsccm » 9 Jan 2019, 9:59pm

I'll play devils advocate here. Really low gears are not needed.
1. If you are cycling up hill at walking pace walking is more effective .
2. Unfit beginners who might go that slow are likely to lack the skills to balence at sub walking pace anyway.
3. Few people need to cycle up long drags with heavy weights. Commercial riders and tourists might. A small minority but proportionally over represented here I reckon.
4. A fairly fit human doesn't need low gears. My 1980 TT bike had a 13-17 block with a 42/52 chain set. As the wheels were way nicer than my day to day wheels these were used. Never pushed on 25% hills. OK I was 18 and racing fit but compared to that a 34 t chain ring with a 32 at the back is silly low.
5. Cyclists used to be fit not newly converted desk jockeys. Low gears were not needed.
6. Few hills need low gears to grind up. How many 30% do you know? Get out of the saddle and honk!
7. People didn't want everything easy and dumbed down to say they could do it.
8. Hills are either sort and steep or long and gentle. Either can be forced. At least in the UK.
9. Cycling is a physical activity, effort is part of it. Or by an ebike.
The OP could be either big and muscley in which case he could force a gear or big and unfit. Sorry but maybe the problem is that the body is wrong not the gears.
All perfectly valid and accurate points however unpalatable they may be.
As I said .... Devils advocate.
I bet most of those here are past their prime, like me, and this will colour our views of the world. Would you have said the same as a fit 20 year old I wonder?

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The utility cyclist
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby The utility cyclist » 9 Jan 2019, 11:50pm

My 59cm carbon frame isn't uber light, in fact it's a fairly hefty 1085g but is sub UCI weight limit even with the cages and computer (because i bought lightweight stuff I like/wanted when building it up). I'm a not particularly svelte 98kg, have crohn's disease so sometimes any riding is just incredibly difficult and I can be cream crackered before I get 5 mins up the road but even for me I can get up a short 14% section with 10% in places with a 36-28, it's not easy by any stretch, even on a good day it's an absolute killer and I do have to get out the saddle and hurt myself. I've been meaning to put a 33T in place of the 36 because I don't want to go the route of a huge cassette.

The only reason I can get up this section in that gear is IMO simply because it's my 'road bike', or more accurately the bike that I use for going as fast as I can and taking as little as I can. On my other bike, one with panniers, rack, mudguards, less quality kit, draggier wheels/tyres, slightly more upright position, not particularly stiff soled shoes, I need to use a significantly lower gear, in fact 24-28 is what I go with, it's still bloody hard work and though it might hurt slightly less on any one given day, (all hills hurt tbh) it's a fair bit slower getting up that section of road for what seems same amount of effort/hurt.

In any case, you can fit a 32T and not have to change the RD with 10 or 11 speed setups in many instances, Shimano 6700 SS was rated for 30T, the later 6800 I'm currently using with a 32T despite the Big S saying no (this is something quite a few people manage). So really it costs punters an extra few quid to change the cassette out, adjust the B screw and away they go, low gears!

like a few on here I toured with relatively high ratios compared to today's bikes. 42/26 (or was it a 24) being my lowest gear back in 1990 through to 2000, but I was 21 when I first got that bike - a Raleigh Record Sprint, and yes I was about 15kg lighter (though less leg musculature) however the Raleigh was almost 5kg heavier and the running gear/wheels were massively inferior in terms of efficiency/rolling resistance compared to what I have now.

Even moderately priced bikes with their supposed no low down gears would be significantly easier to ride up hills and on any terrain than even fairly high end bikes from BITD, not saying they are better/nicer, I'm saying easier ... IMO.

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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby Debs » 10 Jan 2019, 12:06am

Although i'm mug enough to have bought two bikes with 'em, i find the 50/34 'compact' chainset oddly thought out and a bit too awkward to live with, i'd have to live somewhere with nothing but hills so i'm only climbing and descending all the time.

I replaced the 50/34 chainsets on both my 'gravel' bikes with cyclo-cross chainsets 46/36 Ultegra - it's not just that the gearing is more suitable for the terrain where i ride, some flat but mostly easy enough moderate climbing and descending, country tarmac roads but bumpy, some mud, often puddles up in rain... But the reason cyclo-cross chain set works well [for me] is because the chain tends to naturally track around the middle gears of the block, regardless to if i'm on the flat pushing the 46 ring, or hilly pushing the 36.

The 36 is more versatile and don't spinout too bad on the flat [ like the 34 can do ] and dropping from big to small ring is also a far smoother change. The 46 is simply nicer to spin along on with on flat roads, and i still never us the 11 or 12 tooth ring on the block. My average velocity is 15 mph winter months / 17 mph summer, and cadence is fairly consistent 93rpm +/- a couple.

thelawnet
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby thelawnet » 10 Jan 2019, 12:52am

The utility cyclist wrote:My 59cm carbon frame isn't uber light, in fact it's a fairly hefty 1085g but is sub UCI weight limit even with the cages and computer (because i bought lightweight stuff I like/wanted when building it up). I'm a not particularly svelte 98kg, have crohn's disease so sometimes any riding is just incredibly difficult and I can be cream crackered before I get 5 mins up the road but even for me I can get up a short 14% section with 10% in places with a 36-28, it's not easy by any stretch, even on a good day it's an absolute killer and I do have to get out the saddle and hurt myself. I've been meaning to put a 33T in place of the 36 because I don't want to go the route of a huge cassette.


I cycled up a 30km long hill last month, in Indonesia. But that was with 22/36 at my disposal (not sure if i used it?). TBH I'm not sure what gear I was in most of the time, but it didn't hurt me, and I can't ever remember thinking 'what I need here is to push a harder gear so I'm exhausted before I get to the top'

There's also about a 100 metre stretch of 20-30% 'wall' I go up sometimes, I think I use the 22/36 and why not? (I go up at about 4.5mph)

I'm sure my road bike technique is quite lacking (I don't stand up to climb), and I'm accustomed to MTB gearing so perhaps not used to the feeling of being forced to push hard for more than just 30 seconds or so to get up a short burst of hill. But I'm not sure I see that arguments that harder gears are better because people managed in the past with them are really the point. I'm sure I'd get used to my current gearing quite quickly, and I could survive with more masochistic still gearing - there's nowhere I'm saying 'this is completely impossible, I couldn't ride again for a week', it's more a case of 'why not easier gears', which I don't think has been answered in any reasonable way in the negative.

I cycled up Box Hill yesterday at leisurely pace (15kph in my case). Strava estimates my average power output at 183W. I believe I was using 34/25 mostly. At 90rpm 34/25 is 15kph. But then at a more 'pushy' cadence of 50rpm, my lowest gear 34/28 is 7.6kph, which is as slow as you'd ever want to go.

But maybe I never do that sort of cadence because well, I don't have any need to, so it's not something I've ever really worked on.

Again I'm sure I could get used to it, but why? (I'll probably be selling this bike within the next couple of weeks and have no other bikes with such gearing, so this is a question that exercises me, so to speak)

Samuel D
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby Samuel D » 10 Jan 2019, 8:10am

Lower gears on road bikes have become commonplace at about the rate that the increasing sprocket count has allowed without compromising top gear and close ratios. At best you can complain that the top gears have recently become too high (with 11T and 12T sprockets) and that lopping off the top two gears would make way for two lower gears that would be more useful to more people including strong riders. I’d agree with that.

Would you rather they put MTB-like gearing on road bikes? The gnarlier gravel bikes do more or less that. But this makes the bicycle less suitable for fast-paced group riding over rolling terrain, i.e. the main intended use of road bikes even today.

ANTONISH
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby ANTONISH » 10 Jan 2019, 8:50am

mattsccm wrote:I'll play devils advocate here. Really low gears are not needed.
1. If you are cycling up hill at walking pace walking is more effective .
2. Unfit beginners who might go that slow are likely to lack the skills to balence at sub walking pace anyway.
3. Few people need to cycle up long drags with heavy weights. Commercial riders and tourists might. A small minority but proportionally over represented here I reckon.
4. A fairly fit human doesn't need low gears. My 1980 TT bike had a 13-17 block with a 42/52 chain set. As the wheels were way nicer than my day to day wheels these were used. Never pushed on 25% hills. OK I was 18 and racing fit but compared to that a 34 t chain ring with a 32 at the back is silly low.
5. Cyclists used to be fit not newly converted desk jockeys. Low gears were not needed.
6. Few hills need low gears to grind up. How many 30% do you know? Get out of the saddle and honk!
7. People didn't want everything easy and dumbed down to say they could do it.
8. Hills are either sort and steep or long and gentle. Either can be forced. At least in the UK.
9. Cycling is a physical activity, effort is part of it. Or by an ebike.
The OP could be either big and muscley in which case he could force a gear or big and unfit. Sorry but maybe the problem is that the body is wrong not the gears.
All perfectly valid and accurate points however unpalatable they may be.
As I said .... Devils advocate.
I bet most of those here are past their prime, like me, and this will colour our views of the world. Would you have said the same as a fit 20 year old I wonder?


Once again the canard that walking is more effective than riding - walking pace on the level is around 3-4 mph, walking uphill pushing a bike will not be at the same pace. I climb very slowly on steep climbs I'm often down to 4kph/ 2.5mph but I have yet to be overtaken by a cyclist afoot.
I have often been overtaken by a cyclist who subsequently dismounts and walks and I then pass them again.
I was 18 once and racing fit - during the winter I used a 72" single freewheel and was able to force my way up steep climbs - that was almost sixty years ago and without low gears I don't have the strength to do that - but with my "ridiculously low gears" I can still manage the steep climbs - without honking which (pace Alberto Contador) is IMO less efficient.
Also the low gears enable me to keep riding in mountainous regions like the Pyrenees.
Road bikes are generally aimed at the young but IME are often bought by middle aged beginners who will struggle to get on top of the gears.
A lot of us would like to have a more suitable body - unfortunately we have what we have - but low gears however "ridiculous" enable us to make better use of what we have.

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foxyrider
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby foxyrider » 10 Jan 2019, 8:59am

Samuel D wrote:
foxyrider wrote:52x13 is probably the most used gear on the road bike.

That’s a taller gear than Bradley Wiggins used for his hour record. That said, he only averaged 54.526 km/h for that. I suppose you’re moving a bit quicker?

Track riding is totally different to road riding and the gearing reflects that. I'm not trying to maintain a constant pace for an hour, my speed will go up and down a lot. My nearest comparison is my 30 mile PB of 1.06 which is something like 46kph, i'm not in BW's class by any stretch.

Particularly in a group, its easy to be spinning out in flat terrain if everyone has their race head on. I regularly do a flat 200km sportive, when I rode it with lower gearing I was off the pace in the first hour but with 'race' gearing i've completed it at 20mph pace (not far behind the young racing whippets (i'm in my 6th decade). In that event the lowest gear I use is 52x14!

If cycling was meant to be easy we'd all be on Ebikes.
Convention? what's that then?
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whoof
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby whoof » 10 Jan 2019, 9:36am

When I started road riding everyone I knew had a bottom gear of 42/21 or 54" I once fitted a 23 sprocket and someone ask why I had fitted a dinner plate (i.e. very larger cog) for a sprocket. It was very hilly where I lived and I can't remember anyone walking although there was a lot of grunting and grinding.

34/28 or 33" is low in comparison although I'm sure many new starters would like lower. If enough people where to voice their opinion on the matter, say through social media I'm sure someone working for a bike manufacturer would think they have discovered the next new thing and a wonderful marketing opportunity to sell mores bikes.

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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby amediasatex » 10 Jan 2019, 11:00am

Not to mention that you might be able to get up a hill in a high gear, by grunting and pushing hard, but what about the next hill? and the next one? Could you still do it 4 hours later with another 60-70miles in your legs?

I have heaved my single speed (70GI) up one of our local hills that I, and many others normally spin up in the lowest gears we have, it's possible, but it's unpleasant, and really takes it out of you, it certainly doesn't leave much in the tank for later on in the ride.

You're not always on top form.

iandusud
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby iandusud » 10 Jan 2019, 1:23pm

foxyrider wrote: If cycling was meant to be easy we'd all be on Ebikes.


The logical conclusion to that statement is that cycling is supposed to be hard. I wouldn't argue with the idea the cycle racing is supposed to be hard but for other cycling activities I would argue that cycling is above all to be enjoyed. One persons idea of enjoyable cycling might well be cycling hard but it certainly isn't everyone's and it is the idea that cycling is hard work that has put so many people off in the first place.

With regards to low gears what one person considers to be too low will depend on many factors, the main one being level of fitness. However my experience is that when I was a lot younger and less experienced I used a bottom gear of 42x19 and used to hunt out routes that would take in as many >>s on the OS map that I could find. Obviously I was quite fit but I also now consider I was quite stupid. When I started mountain biking I suddenly realised that low gears didn't necessarily equal low speed. What I discovered was that I could climb hills at the same pace or even faster with less effort. I then started applying this discovery to my road bike. It no longer looked like a professional racers bike but it performed much better than before. I have often experienced what look like very fit riders passing my up hills only for me to pass them further up. My MO for climbing long hills is to find a gear ratio I can comfortably sustain and after a while I find my cadence, breathing and heart rate seem to settle into a comfortable rhythm after which I often find myself changing up a gear or two.

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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby Audax67 » 10 Jan 2019, 1:51pm

Turning it round, why shouldn't they? My first, when I was totally inexperienced, had a 52/42 chainset and a 13-23 5-speed cassette. Vendor said "you want a road bike, that's what there is. It's what everybody rides", the unspoken subtext being "suck it up".

42:23 is a 1.8:1 ratio . My current Trek came with 50/34 and 11/32 as standard. 34:32 = 1.06:1. Crikey, what more do you want, ski-lifts on every hill?
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The utility cyclist
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Re: why road bikes lack easy gears

Postby The utility cyclist » 10 Jan 2019, 2:25pm

thelawnet wrote:
The utility cyclist wrote:My 59cm carbon frame isn't uber light, in fact it's a fairly hefty 1085g but is sub UCI weight limit even with the cages and computer (because i bought lightweight stuff I like/wanted when building it up). I'm a not particularly svelte 98kg, have crohn's disease so sometimes any riding is just incredibly difficult and I can be cream crackered before I get 5 mins up the road but even for me I can get up a short 14% section with 10% in places with a 36-28, it's not easy by any stretch, even on a good day it's an absolute killer and I do have to get out the saddle and hurt myself. I've been meaning to put a 33T in place of the 36 because I don't want to go the route of a huge cassette.


I cycled up a 30km long hill last month, in Indonesia. But that was with 22/36 at my disposal (not sure if i used it?). TBH I'm not sure what gear I was in most of the time, but it didn't hurt me, and I can't ever remember thinking 'what I need here is to push a harder gear so I'm exhausted before I get to the top'

There's also about a 100 metre stretch of 20-30% 'wall' I go up sometimes, I think I use the 22/36 and why not? (I go up at about 4.5mph)

I'm sure my road bike technique is quite lacking (I don't stand up to climb), and I'm accustomed to MTB gearing so perhaps not used to the feeling of being forced to push hard for more than just 30 seconds or so to get up a short burst of hill. But I'm not sure I see that arguments that harder gears are better because people managed in the past with them are really the point. I'm sure I'd get used to my current gearing quite quickly, and I could survive with more masochistic still gearing - there's nowhere I'm saying 'this is completely impossible, I couldn't ride again for a week', it's more a case of 'why not easier gears', which I don't think has been answered in any reasonable way in the negative.

I cycled up Box Hill yesterday at leisurely pace (15kph in my case). Strava estimates my average power output at 183W. I believe I was using 34/25 mostly. At 90rpm 34/25 is 15kph. But then at a more 'pushy' cadence of 50rpm, my lowest gear 34/28 is 7.6kph, which is as slow as you'd ever want to go.

But maybe I never do that sort of cadence because well, I don't have any need to, so it's not something I've ever really worked on.

Again I'm sure I could get used to it, but why? (I'll probably be selling this bike within the next couple of weeks and have no other bikes with such gearing, so this is a question that exercises me, so to speak)

I never said harder (I think you mean higher ratios) gears are better, I'm saying that on racing bikes there's a difference between needing lower down gears than on other bikes/rides because of the advantages having the racing bike gives you (which I went into from my POV). You're less likely to be carrying a load on your 'racing/road' bike, as you would on other bikes nor even going as far, even if some of that 'advantage' might be perceived/placebo, there are times when you want to exert yourself more because the bike you are rider encourages you to want to do so.

So the OPs query re 'why road bikes lack easy gears' doesn't necessarily hold up for plenty of people, and if that gearing doesn't suit them straight out the shop, so what, it's not really a bane or costly to change it is it as I also pointed out in my post.

My touring/audax/utility bike has 24/28 currently as its lowest gearing, but then I won't ever be going up a 18.5 mile hill with it anytime soon, I do have a 12-36 I could use if for some crazy reason I decide to go somewhere that is really mountainous, maybe but I don't think so, I don't think I could do it and there's only so much 'hurt' you are comfortable with and if it's not enjoyable/giving you something back then is it really worth all that effort/hurt, not for me it isn't, even racing, touring, riding to the shops there's a payoff for the extra effort.#]

it's certainly not about being masochistic, the gearing is about choosing what is the 'right' gearing for me for any given bike that I will ride for any given routes and in a particular fashion/effort and for my ability. That's what the OP fails to recognise, some people can cope quite easily with a 34-25 on hills, some people might find the 34 a bit low for them (yes I've read a few people wanting to go with a 52/36 and stick with the 25/26 sprocket). Again, when I was a straggly 83kg pup, 42/26 was my lowest, it was hard sometimes but at that time it was what I could manage with, I wasn't serious about cycling, I was always a rugby league man but have always cycled, mostly for utility and often for leisure, I was never ever any good at cycling in terms of being fast/having great endurance, and by my mid to late 20s the crohn's just continued to get worse but you crack on with what you have, go with what you feel is right for you and how you want to approach things.

Sometimes I want to chill and bimble, sometimes I want to go as fast and as hard as I can for as long as I can to the point of flaking out, sometimes I have no defined route, sometimes I'll have a very rigid route that I have to stick too absolutely.