50/34 chainsets and the older rider

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Roger Wilkinson
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Joined: 5 Sep 2019, 12:29pm

50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Roger Wilkinson » 5 Sep 2019, 12:36pm

I suspect that there are today more cyclists of, say, 60 years and more regularly on the road than ever before, and if my observations are typical many of them are prepared to spend considerable sums of money on their bikes. Increasing numbers of them, too, are spending large sums on bikes with electric assistance.
This leaves me wondering why manufacturers of cycle components such as Shimano are not making components which are designed with the needs of older riders in mind. Let us take the chainset. I have recently purchased a new e-bike for my wife. The well-known company concerned offers a choice of chainset, but the choice is largely a question of how much you want to spend as it is assumed that the (oddly-named) compact double with rings of 50T and 34T is all anybody could possibly want. The cassette is 10 speed, with some choice, but all having a smallest sprocket of 11T.
When I was, over half a century ago, time-trialling and doing some reasonable times for a schoolboy (2hrs 1 min for a 50) my top gear was about 98”. My wife’s new bike has a top gear of over 120”! Now why would someone in their 70s and wanting some electrical assistance need that, or indeed anything above 90”? It’s not as if (by law) the electric aid could help her to go any faster than 15 mph.
Then there is the huge change in cadence when the front mech is used. If my own experience means anything, older people are less able to cope with going from, for example, 61” (34x15) to 90” (50x15) or vice versa. A chainset with a 10 tooth gap is so much more manageable, 44T/34T for example. This would give a top gear of 108”, still more than enough for most oldsters. (Some of us are also unfashionable enough to feel that a triple chainset with 10T gaps would be nice.) If there were a chainset with a smaller spider, even more sensible things would be possible!
Another consequence of the use of 50/34 chainsets is that the gears most used by older folks are either to be found at the small extremes of the cassette when using the 34T ring or at the large extremes of the cassette when using the 50T ring. This makes it much more likely that one will accidentally engage the largest sprocket when using the 50T ring and also means using the front mech will be much more frequent. What madness!
There are, of course, chainsets available with much more choice, but they don’t appear to be compatible with the press-fit bottom brackets which seem universal on higher end bikes.
Another gripe is that Shimano seems to have largely dispensed with the really useful indicators on the brake hoods which showed you at a glance which sprocket or chainring you were using. I know, you can look down between your legs at the chainset or even back to the cassette, but I know I’m not alone amongst older riders whose balance is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and we don’t like taking our eyes far away from where we are going.
Am I the only grumpy old git spitting feathers about these things?

KM2
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby KM2 » 5 Sep 2019, 1:03pm

Why not buy a cassette to suit the legs.
I tend to swap cassettes to give me an 80” gear, so for a 53/39 use an 18 to 27 straight through. For a 48 or 50/34 use 16 to 25. I can position the chain around the centre sprocket for steady riding on the big ring.
Obviously it will depend upon the hilly nature of your area.
You can more easily maintain a rpm suited to your legs with a one tooth jump.
If you push or roll a gear, you may need slightly smaller sprockets.

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Cugel
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Cugel » 5 Sep 2019, 1:09pm

Roger Wilkinson wrote:I suspect that there are today more cyclists of, say, 60 years and more regularly on the road than ever before, and if my observations are typical many of them are prepared to spend considerable sums of money on their bikes. Increasing numbers of them, too, are spending large sums on bikes with electric assistance.
This leaves me wondering why manufacturers of cycle components such as Shimano are not making components which are designed with the needs of older riders in mind. Let us take the chainset. I have recently purchased a new e-bike for my wife. The well-known company concerned offers a choice of chainset, but the choice is largely a question of how much you want to spend as it is assumed that the (oddly-named) compact double with rings of 50T and 34T is all anybody could possibly want. The cassette is 10 speed, with some choice, but all having a smallest sprocket of 11T.
When I was, over half a century ago, time-trialling and doing some reasonable times for a schoolboy (2hrs 1 min for a 50) my top gear was about 98”. My wife’s new bike has a top gear of over 120”! Now why would someone in their 70s and wanting some electrical assistance need that, or indeed anything above 90”? It’s not as if (by law) the electric aid could help her to go any faster than 15 mph.
Then there is the huge change in cadence when the front mech is used. If my own experience means anything, older people are less able to cope with going from, for example, 61” (34x15) to 90” (50x15) or vice versa. A chainset with a 10 tooth gap is so much more manageable, 44T/34T for example. This would give a top gear of 108”, still more than enough for most oldsters. (Some of us are also unfashionable enough to feel that a triple chainset with 10T gaps would be nice.) If there were a chainset with a smaller spider, even more sensible things would be possible!
Another consequence of the use of 50/34 chainsets is that the gears most used by older folks are either to be found at the small extremes of the cassette when using the 34T ring or at the large extremes of the cassette when using the 50T ring. This makes it much more likely that one will accidentally engage the largest sprocket when using the 50T ring and also means using the front mech will be much more frequent. What madness!
There are, of course, chainsets available with much more choice, but they don’t appear to be compatible with the press-fit bottom brackets which seem universal on higher end bikes.
Another gripe is that Shimano seems to have largely dispensed with the really useful indicators on the brake hoods which showed you at a glance which sprocket or chainring you were using. I know, you can look down between your legs at the chainset or even back to the cassette, but I know I’m not alone amongst older riders whose balance is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and we don’t like taking our eyes far away from where we are going.
Am I the only grumpy old git spitting feathers about these things?


Ha ha - you are preaching to a large number of the converted. Many of us here agree entirely with your sentiments concerning the gearing. And not just for we olepharts. The vast majority of cyclists, of all ages, do not need 53X11 or 12 or even 13. And chainsets other than those employed by riders in Le Tour might well be useful. Well, they are, as we who have them can attest.

Personally I like a low of at least 1:1, often lower for the bikes required to carry loads or perform cycling modes other than racing about. Even the racer-about has a 1:1 (30 ring, 30 sprocket) although it also has a top gear of 1:3.7 (52 ring, 14 sprocket). Even so, it manages to pass any number of MAMILy lads heaving on a 53X11, often when I'm using it's middle 39 toof ring.

There are signs that lower gearing is beginning to be offered again albeit still accompanied by ludicrous top gears now involving 10-toof sprockets. Of course, many frames with braze-on front mech fittings will not allow the front mech to descend far enough to work well with any chain ring below 50 toofs. And the front mechs often lack the correct cage curve for smaller rings. Still, one may always buy a new "gravel bike" on to which the smaller chainsets, front mechs et al will fit; or an old fashioned frame with a round seat tube taking a band-on front mech fitting.

Yes, the new low gears will often need the consumer to also consume a lot of other "new, improved" stuff. Wot a surprise.

But one can always shop at Spa Cycles............

Cugel

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horizon
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby horizon » 5 Sep 2019, 1:17pm

The OP makes his point sadly thinking that he is the only one to actually to realise this. And why? Because everyone (i.e. bike shops, component firms, the media, advertisers, other cyclists) is beguiled by the Emperor's clothes and won't say out loud what is obvious - it's a conspiracy of silence and stupidity. Welcome to the forum Roger and hopefully you will find some sanity here. I've just swapped the 50/34 on my folder (hardly a TdeF bike :lol: ) and there are many others besides me.
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right leg. (G. M. Trevelyan)
PS I always wondered why the YHA HQ was called Trevelyan House. :)

scottg
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby scottg » 5 Sep 2019, 1:49pm

There is a fine assortment of chainsets were you pick out your chain rings
to fit your fitness.

Sugino OX series, White Industries, Easton EC90 and Rene Herse come to mind.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Why not the best, buy Cyclo-Benelux.

Jamesh
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Jamesh » 5 Sep 2019, 2:03pm

What I find most annoying is the drop from 50 to 34 is too big and I loose momenteum, or worse still loose the chain as I try and step up a gear to compensate at the rear.

A triple is ideal as I'm generally on the triple middle ring most of the time. Where as I'm on inner / small or outer / big on a 50/34....

Cheers James

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Mick F
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Mick F » 5 Sep 2019, 2:12pm

We are all different.

I'm rapidly approaching my 67th birthday, and I still love top gears above 115". As I've become older, I've come round to lower gears too. I've lowered the gearing on my beloved Mercian from 35 or 40" down to 28" these days, and I have plans to lower yet again to 23" ...................... but the top gears will remain! :D

My Moulton came with inadequate gearing in my opinion, so set about both lowering and raising them.
It now has a triple 10sp as before, but with the addition of a Sturmey Archer 3sp. This gives me a whopping 135" top gear and a minuscule 16" bottom gear.

Triples are great. I use all three rings in perhaps equal amounts. It comes with living in a hilly part of the world, in that I climb up the hills and fly down the other sides, plus bowl along on the flat bits.

We are all different.
I want as big a RANGE of gears as I can get. The more gears stacked in the middle, the merrier.
Mick F. Cornwall

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Tigerbiten
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Tigerbiten » 5 Sep 2019, 2:29pm

I agree with you.
Unless you want to pedal downhill at +35ph, there's no reason for most riders to have a top gear much over 100".

The answer to silly high gears is either ........
Something like a "Spa Cycles Super Compact Chainset", you will also hear something like that called an "Alpine Double".
It's basically a triple with the outer ring replaced with a chain guard, the range is 46/30 to 40/24.
40/24 with 11/32 gives you a range of 100"-20" with most of the common flatland gears (70"-50") around the middle of the cassette.

Or .........
Buy two different range cassettes, break them down to individual sprockets and rebuild one to give you the exact range you want.

Luck ........... :D

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Mick F
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Mick F » 5 Sep 2019, 2:44pm

Tigerbiten wrote:Unless you want to pedal downhill at +35ph, there's no reason for most riders to have a top gear much over 100".
I'm not most riders then!

I rarely pedal down a hill at +35mph, by then, I'm freewheeling.
It all depends on HOW you pedal. I love a low cadence so would spin out at far too often with 100" or less. I can't maintain a cadence of over 80rpm for very long at all.

100" at 80rpm = 23.8mph
I like coming down long hills at 30mph whilst still pedalling. That would mean a gear of 126" at 80rpm.
Mick F. Cornwall

reohn2
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby reohn2 » 5 Sep 2019, 3:28pm

How did I know it would soon go along the MickF/Tigerbitten line?
Mick/Tiggers,you're in a small minority of touring cyclists,most don't need or want gears bigger than 90 to 100inches,and prefer a 20imch bottom gear,that's a fact.

To the OP.
I and many many more hear you loud and clear and sympathise.
To get lower gearing an alpine double here:- https://www.spacycles.co.uk/m2b0s109p33 ... cral-Rings can replace your 34/50 but you'll need a 9 or 10sp triple front road mech and a UN55 BB of the right length,which should be 115 or 18mm.The mech is set up as if the c/set is a triple but with the out limit screw tightened down to only allow only the two inner ring positions to be used.
This set up will work with road dropbar or road flat bar STI's.
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thelawnet
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby thelawnet » 5 Sep 2019, 3:49pm

Roger Wilkinson wrote:I suspect that there are today more cyclists of, say, 60 years and more regularly on the road than ever before, and if my observations are typical many of them are prepared to spend considerable sums of money on their bikes. Increasing numbers of them, too, are spending large sums on bikes with electric assistance.
This leaves me wondering why manufacturers of cycle components such as Shimano are not making components which are designed with the needs of older riders in mind.


I'm sure some part of spending lots of money on a bike is under the delusion you are a pro cyclist, or that it will make you fast. There are people of advanced years buying Sworks or whatever sub-brand the brands use for 'very expensive'.

And there is quite a simple progression here: more money = lighter and faster for racing. There are (harder!) ratios in the top groupsets not offered to lower groups, simply because the marketing is that top groupset = pro. You can buy a bike like someone in the TdF.

Much cheaper groupsets work just fine, so if you are buying 'the best' but are yourself past your best well that's your lookout really. Certainly I think there are enough men of say 40 buying this stuff who can somehow delude themselves that they are actually fit that by pushing big gears that they don't want to damage the marketing effort by making cheaper stuff.

Let us take the chainset. I have recently purchased a new e-bike for my wife. The well-known company concerned offers a choice of chainset, but the choice is largely a question of how much you want to spend as it is assumed that the (oddly-named) compact double with rings of 50T and 34T is all anybody could possibly want. The cassette is 10 speed, with some choice, but all having a smallest sprocket of 11T.


A lot of e-bikes are 1x mid-drive systems. I assume the idea behind a specifically e-road-bike is to 'look like the real thing', hence the 50/34

In any case it doesn't seem unreasonable to have bigger gearing on an e-road bike than a normal bike; yes, the rider is likely putting out less power, but on the other hand if you've got potentially 400W on tap, there's no particular reason NOT to have a big gear, as total available power is reasonable.

At least it doesn't seem any less logical than putting the same gear on a bike powered by a rider putting out 100W....

Then there is the huge change in cadence when the front mech is used. If my own experience means anything, older people are less able to cope with going from, for example, 61” (34x15) to 90” (50x15) or vice versa. A chainset with a 10 tooth gap is so much more manageable, 44T/34T for example. This would give a top gear of 108”, still more than enough for most oldsters. (Some of us are also unfashionable enough to feel that a triple chainset with 10T gaps would be nice.) If there were a chainset with a smaller spider, even more sensible things would be possible!


Well I think you are supposed to change down when you move the chain ring up. There was someone on here singing the praises of their Di2 system; in that, you would not go from 50/15 to 34/15, but would instead get an electrically synchronised shift of both the chainring and the cassette. Obviously a triple is a simpler solution but if you've gone electric, then the Di2 stuff is surely less of a consideration.

There are, of course, chainsets available with much more choice, but they don’t appear to be compatible with the press-fit bottom brackets which seem universal on higher end bikes.


I suspect that the higher end bikes sell well enough to MAMIL that the more practical bike is not really a very big market.

There are several suppliers who will happily relieve you of several thousand pounds for a nice bike that uses a threaded bottom bracket and has friendlier gearing, but the market for the TdF wannabe stuff must be bigger than it appears because some people will buy such bikes and only ride them a few times, so there are more pointlessly expensive and impractical bikes out there than you think. Practicality is not really the issue if you don't ride it though...

Another gripe is that Shimano seems to have largely dispensed with the really useful indicators on the brake hoods which showed you at a glance which sprocket or chainring you were using.


More 'pro' stuff. On the MTB side this is still common, but only on the lower groupsets. It's a subtle upsell, the implication being that the (perfectly serviceable) groupset is for 'amateurs', so if you think you are a more able cyclist you should buy a fancier groupset.

Brucey
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby Brucey » 5 Sep 2019, 3:55pm

thelawnet wrote: ….In any case it doesn't seem unreasonable to have bigger gearing on an e-road bike than a normal bike; yes, the rider is likely putting out less power, but on the other hand if you've got potentially 400W on tap, there's no particular reason NOT to have a big gear, as total available power is reasonable. ...


if said bike is legal, you only get the power up to 15mph.

cheers
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mjr
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby mjr » 5 Sep 2019, 3:59pm

So Di2 is an expensive battery powered way of regaining the one-handed double shift ability from downtube/stem shifters?
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thelawnet
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby thelawnet » 5 Sep 2019, 4:15pm

Brucey wrote:
thelawnet wrote: ….In any case it doesn't seem unreasonable to have bigger gearing on an e-road bike than a normal bike; yes, the rider is likely putting out less power, but on the other hand if you've got potentially 400W on tap, there's no particular reason NOT to have a big gear, as total available power is reasonable. ...


if said bike is legal, you only get the power up to 15mph.

cheers


varies a bit by jurisidiction; 20mph generally in the US, 30mph in some states.

To be clear, Shimano's own e-bike system uses chainrings between 34t and and 47t, and only one chainring. The 50/34 stuff using Shimano components is not a 'Shimano e-bike', it's a bike using standard Shimano (non e-bike) components.

Most 'Shimano e-bikes' are equipped with 34t or 38t x 11-36/11-46 (etc)

I'm not really sure about the physical capabilities of people with e-bikes in terms of peak and sustained etc. but even without assistance I suppose you could have more in the tank if you want to use your top gear.

thelawnet
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Re: 50/34 chainsets and the older rider

Postby thelawnet » 5 Sep 2019, 4:17pm

mjr wrote:So Di2 is an expensive battery powered way of regaining the one-handed double shift ability from downtube/stem shifters?


not exactly; the synchro-shift is optional. the idea is more that it is an expensive battery powered way of changing gear - rather than moving a chain across a chain ring or cog using the force from your thumbs, it does it with a little motor, so there is zero resistance in that sense.