13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. That's a corncob Popeye would make a pipe of.

In Memoriam: The Straight Block

by / / 151 posts

Disc brakes and 1x drivetrains. These are the sort of things that belong on mountainbikes, are questionable on cross bikes, and should make an immediate trip to the rubbish bin when it comes to road bikes. Change for the sake of change; gimmickry masquerading as innovation. And to make matters worse, the appearance of 11-speed blocks has killed the last vestige of the complexity of our sport: block composition and size.

The question of gear choice was once one of the most critical decisions a Cyclist could make when tackling a course. In The Rider, Tim Krabé describes his gear choice and those of his competitors; throughout the book, he fixates upon which gear he is riding in. José Manuel Fuente used to use higher gears that the other climbers to intimidate them. Andy Hampsten famously rode only odd-numbered gears because obviously even-sized gears made his palms go sweaty.

Sean Kelly belabored his choice to use a 13-25 block versus a 12-23 for the 1989 World Championship Road Race. He knew he couldn’t climb as well as the other favorites and wanted a 25 to save his legs over the final climb. If, however, he managed to get over the hill, he would surely need the 12 in order to win the sprint. It was a classic catch-22; use a block that he could win the sprint with but get dropped on the climb, or get over the hill and lose the sprint. The race lay in the balance of a single tooth on a cog.

We used to build our blocks, not buy a complete cassette on ebay. The idea was to keep the gears as close together as possible with a straight block being the holy grail and the relative smallness of the biggest gear being a declaration of your status as Hardman. Every tooth beyond a 1 tooth jump was a sacrifice; every step beyond a 21 or 23 tooth cog was a silent admission of your sissiness as a Cyclist. The Pros today are riding 11-28 blocks on every kind of terrain, every day. Even at Paris-Roubaix, one of the only races flat enough to still require little more than a 19 even for us mortals.

Committing to nothing lower than a 19-tooth gear requires a suitcase of courage, poor planning, or both. And it looks tough as nails, that tight cluster of gears at the back wheel. Not like these big dinner plates we see riding around all over the place these days. You could serve a nice helping of Steak Frites on some of these modern blocks. Disgraceful. And while I’m not building my blocks anymore, I’m certainly still choosing a cassette for the terrain and plan to continue doing so until I’m pushing up daisies, thank you very much.

// Accessories and Gear // Belgian Affirmations // In Memoriam // Rantings from the V-Bunker

  1. @The Engine

    @unversio

    @KogaLover

    @The Engine What’s the Richard gear?

    Richard Gear — The final sprocket on the back of a cassette deemed good enough for climbing. “I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to g… I got nothin’ else.”

    Which one is the end of the cassette? The Richard or the Jesus?

    Either depending on your religion, or the Flappy Paddle if it takes you that way.

    0
  2. I ride up a hill every other day that this old and fat (4 bikes over ideal climbing weight) guy still needs the 30 in front and 28 in back, so when I can do that with the 39 middle and 28 rear, I’ll go n+1 and comply with Rule #47. A guy has to have goals.

    0
  3. Anyone know a source of the cable outer as in the lead photo?

    0
  4. @Teocalli The 1970s?

    0
  5. @Oli

    @Teocalli The 1970s?

    Ha Ha. Just nipped back to Boulder Cycles and they had one – bit of a long way away but bought from them before. Then remembered Campy Old a bit nearer home and they had another. Moral – engage brain before being lazy. Though to be fair I did try searching and did not come up with anything till I found the correct name for it on the Boulder Cycles site.

    0
  6. I’m out of my depth here technically but have this observation. I ride compact and 12-25 largely because it’s hellish hilly in Devon. I once read an article on new tech where Sean Kelly stated that “the 11 sprocket was not realistic for the majority of riders, how many riders can really get that round?”

    0
  7. @DeKerr most of the hills we ride average 7-10% around the 2km length, with plenty of corners, the V fact of improved performance and handling is just a no-brainer for me, I know my descending will improve, in fact I think the best times on the thing we cannot name will all improve as disc braking becomes the norm.

    0
  8. Being of a certain vintage and lacking the right dimensions for galloping up hills on a 56×11 I have progressed from the compact chainring and 11×28 to mid compact and 12×30. It’s a setup suited to a wide range of riding from fast bunch rides to a long day in the hills. There’s no need to change drivetrains all the time, just grab the bike and go. Purists may scoff at this approach but the pragmatists are all nodding sagely, they know it makes sense.

    0
  9. 1. Just don’t take away my 16 and I don’t care about the rest. B. Time trial gearing: 17-14-11. 17 for the start house, stand up, get on top, sit down, shift to 14. Stand up, get on top, sit down, shift to 11. Stand up get on top, sit down, continue. Before turnaround, shift to 17. Make the turn. Repeat as at start, until finish.

    0
  10. Think it’s already been mentioned in passing, but the other interesting thing is that the space that the cassette’s take up hasn’t changed much. Meaning that to fit more cogs in there, everything needs to be thinner, including the margin for error when it comes to set up. It’s taken 4 months & 3 separate mechanics (not to mention my own ham fisted attempts) to get the 11sp Dura Ace on The Redback to an acceptable level of accordance with the Principle of Silence…then some fuckwit at work hits the RD as they’re lifting their own bike off the rack alongside and we’re back at the start again!

    0
  11. Hmmm, caption disappeared, but moving to the far right hanger should solve that issue…

    0
  12. We used to build our blocks, not buy a complete cassette on ebay.

    I miss this, more than I can explain using “logic.”

    0
  13. It occurs to me that with a 2 speed gap in teeth you could have 10 speed 11-27 or 12-28 in a straight formation. The gaps might make it tricky to get cadence however. When it gets to 12 speed, you could have a 12-24. Now that would be very usable! I run compact (came with the bike), originally with 12-28. Noticed I was spinning out compared to buddies on the downhills, so went to 11-25. Much happier. Hill gearing is the same as 39×28 anyways. I believe there are some 1x cassettes that have a 10 tooth. They might make you guys spew, but from an engineering standpoint the machining on those cassettes if fucking gorgeous. They are art! But cost the same as an entire crankset…

    0
  14. @chris

    @Matt

    In other news, my 12-23 always treats me right.

    Fuck! Talk about dinner plates, you could eat off of that!

    Ok, I’m a little anal about cleaning my wheels, drivetrain, chain etc. But how the heck do you get a bike that clean!? I am of course giving you the credit of assuming that’s not a photo from when the bike was brand new…

    0
  15. @gilly

    I’m out of my depth here technically but have this observation. I ride compact and 12-25 largely because it’s hellish hilly in Devon. I once read an article on new tech where Sean Kelly stated that “the 11 sprocket was not realistic for the majority of riders, how many riders can really get that round?”

    Yes, but he was probably running at least a 53/42 up front.

    0
  16. @RobSandy

    Ok, I’m a little anal about cleaning my wheels, drivetrain, chain etc. But how the heck do you get a bike that clean!? I am of course giving you the credit of assuming that’s not a photo from when the bike was brand new…

    Oddly enough, cleaning the cassette is one of my favorite bits of Bike maintenance. Shiny bits and all that. I just pull it apart and wipe it down with a rag and some Simple Green. The wheels, though, will never be that clean. I had just bought those off a mate and don’t know how he cleaned them so well, but I don’t have the patience to polish each spoke head with a q-tip.

    0
  17. wiscot – Colors! Road bikes = black/white, Italian red, silver, and pearl white. Cross is white with a bit of black. Track is full “chrome.” Mtn. is blue. Commuter is candy apple red. SS commuter is blue. SS rain bike commuter is purple, my favorite color. I think I’m doin’ alright. 2nd puncture this week. I should have known that was coming. First was due to a burred valve hole on a new wheelset, erupted at home after putting it to the proper PSI. This morning I woke up to ride my Casati to work. Rear tube was flat. (I’d ridden it yesterday as well). All I’m asking is that the drunks who sit beside the MUP don’t break their 40s ON the trail. Drink all day, piss on the trail, thrown garbage all over, screw in the woods (yes, I’ve seen this), deliver contact buzzes as I pass, just throw your bottles into the woods or parking lot, NOT directly on the trail.

    0
  18. @Ron

    wiscot – Colors! Road bikes = black/white, Italian red, silver, and pearl white. Cross is white with a bit of black. Track is full “chrome.” Mtn. is blue. Commuter is candy apple red. SS commuter is blue. SS rain bike commuter is purple, my favorite color. I think I’m doin’ alright. 2nd puncture this week. I should have known that was coming. First was due to a burred valve hole on a new wheelset, erupted at home after putting it to the proper PSI. This morning I woke up to ride my Casati to work. Rear tube was flat. (I’d ridden it yesterday as well). All I’m asking is that the drunks who sit beside the MUP don’t break their 40s ON the trail. Drink all day, piss on the trail, thrown garbage all over, screw in the woods (yes, I’ve seen this), deliver contact buzzes as I pass, just throw your bottles into the woods or parking lot, NOT directly on the trail.

    #1 black/carbon weave. #2 black/carbon weave. #3 white and black with blue detailing. #4 white with black fork. Graveur = black. MTN bike (rarely used) carbon weave/silver. Doing ok on punctures this year – 2 I think. Biggest issue on the trail I ride on is folks with dogs off the leash. Bevvy-merchants thankfully rare.

    0
  19. @Matt

    @RobSandy

    Ok, I’m a little anal about cleaning my wheels, drivetrain, chain etc. But how the heck do you get a bike that clean!? I am of course giving you the credit of assuming that’s not a photo from when the bike was brand new…

    Oddly enough, cleaning the cassette is one of my favorite bits of Bike maintenance. Shiny bits and all that. I just pull it apart and wipe it down with a rag and some Simple Green. The wheels, though, will never be that clean. I had just bought those off a mate and don’t know how he cleaned them so well, but I don’t have the patience to polish each spoke head with a q-tip.

    It is a good idea to floss each internal link on a chainset, and for awhile started pushing Q tips thru — each link twice.

    0
  20. @unversio Can I use SRAM floss for a Campy chain though?

    0
  21. All of this talk about cassettes/gears/etc. has me thinking about a thought I had on a ride yesterday. I recently got a new #1 (Caad 10 w/ Ultegra 11 spd group- 11-28) and I realized I will hardly ever push the 11 around. When I bought the bike I was making all the lame “this one goes to 11” jokes and all that. I don’t mind having 11 options, but I’m wondering how much of a necessity it really is to somebody with some pretty weak guns like myself…

    0
  22. @PantaniForever

    All of this talk about cassettes/gears/etc. has me thinking about a thought I had on a ride yesterday. I recently got a new #1 (Caad 10 w/ Ultegra 11 spd group- 11-28) and I realized I will hardly ever push the 11 around. When I bought the bike I was making all the lame “this one goes to 11″ jokes and all that. I don’t mind having 11 options, but I’m wondering how much of a necessity it really is to somebody with some pretty weak guns like myself…

    I hear ya! Makes you wonder how the pros in days of yore managed to ride anything what with their 42/52s and 6-7 speed freewheels. Positively neanderthal by today’s standards!

    0
  23. @Matt

    @unversio Can I use SRAM floss for a Campy chain though?

    Almost never.

    0
  24. @bob droege

    @unversio

    @Resty

    I think a road bike looks better with a corncob cassette and short cage derailleur. But to lessen the ‘difficulty’ of the high gearing, I make use of a triple up front.

    You’re also opening that bike up to possession by demons — the triple is evil.

    But I have a 56-54-52 up front! But seriously, what’s wrong with running a single chain ring 50 with a 11 to 20 something in back. After all, it forces compliance with Rule #90.

    A 50 is not a big ring.

    0
  25. Hmmmm, I smell snobbery and elitism with a hint of Luddite. Of course you are all driving round in your 1970’s cars, listening to your forty year old stereo systems and wearing flared trousers as well aren’t you? To me everything I’ve read above is just moaning about modern gearing because your didn’t have it when you were in you prime. Instead of admitting this you reminisce about how tough it was in your day and think today’s cyclists are a bunch of softies. What do you think the guys who rode the old bone shakers would say?

    0
  26. Bit late to the party: here the corncobs for the nine-bike

    The nine-cornfield: Standard cob 13-23, Dutch cob 13-18, Swiss cob 13-26

    0
  27. @bob droege

    @unversio

    @Resty

    I think a road bike looks better with a corncob cassette and short cage derailleur. But to lessen the ‘difficulty’ of the high gearing, I make use of a triple up front.

    You’re also opening that bike up to possession by demons — the triple is evil.

    But I have a 56-54-52 up front!

    WTF? Why?

    0
  28. @frank

    @unversio That is pure genius right there.

    It is demoralizing at times when you’re thinking “you’ve got somewhere else to go” on the back. And another rider comes up to tell you that you’re already in the Richard Gear. I shared this term with Clive de Sousa on a mountainous ride and he used it against me — for his own entertainment.

    0
  29. @Paul Chilton This, and topics like it (e.g. lugged steel frames, downtube shifters…) shine a light on the apparent contradictions in appreciating this sport. And when viewed from the outside it does appear to be snobbery, or elitism, or a touch of Luddite. But to truly love cycling is to embrace the modern while longing for the past and paying homage to the giants of the road in whose shadows we ride. And while I would be more than happy to roll in a magical space car I also appreciate when a freshly washed and waxed second generation Camaro comes rumbling down the road blasting Johnny Cash from the 8 track. In fact, I fucking love it. @Matt

    @RobSandy

    Ok, I’m a little anal about cleaning my wheels, drivetrain, chain etc. But how the heck do you get a bike that clean!? I am of course giving you the credit of assuming that’s not a photo from when the bike was brand new…

    Oddly enough, cleaning the cassette is one of my favorite bits of Bike maintenance. Shiny bits and all that. I just pull it apart and wipe it down with a rag and some Simple Green. The wheels, though, will never be that clean. I had just bought those off a mate and don’t know how he cleaned them so well, but I don’t have the patience to polish each spoke head with a q-tip.

    Tell me more about this q-tip technique.

    0
  30. @wiscot

    @Ron

    wiscot – Colors! Road bikes = black/white, Italian red, silver, and pearl white. Cross is white with a bit of black. Track is full “chrome.” Mtn. is blue. Commuter is candy apple red. SS commuter is blue. SS rain bike commuter is purple, my favorite color. I think I’m doin’ alright. 2nd puncture this week. I should have known that was coming. First was due to a burred valve hole on a new wheelset, erupted at home after putting it to the proper PSI. This morning I woke up to ride my Casati to work. Rear tube was flat. (I’d ridden it yesterday as well). All I’m asking is that the drunks who sit beside the MUP don’t break their 40s ON the trail. Drink all day, piss on the trail, thrown garbage all over, screw in the woods (yes, I’ve seen this), deliver contact buzzes as I pass, just throw your bottles into the woods or parking lot, NOT directly on the trail.

    #1 black/carbon weave. #2 black/carbon weave. #3 white and black with blue detailing. #4 white with black fork. Graveur = black. MTN bike (rarely used) carbon weave/silver. Doing ok on punctures this year – 2 I think. Biggest issue on the trail I ride on is folks with dogs off the leash. Bevvy-merchants thankfully rare.

    I enjoy the gal’s who think it’s “cute” to let their little barky dog run all over the trail. While I’m not a commuting all-star type, I still have no interest in crashing thanks to a 5 kg dog. The only good thing about the broken glass situation is that I finally have a direct number to the guy at the city office who is responsible for cleaning it up. He told me to call him any time I see glass. You keep your colors simple. Nice! I’ve been riding almost exclusively in white/black kit. Like loud bikes, but plain kit.

    0
  31. I love all this macho talk about straight blocks, corn cobs, big gears and the like. Besides the endorphin fix, the tradition and culture associated with cycling are the main reasons for my addiction to the sport. The technical evolution of the road bike is fascinating in itself: fixed gear/single speed, multi-gears w/ derailleurs, integrated shifters/brake levers, chromoly, aluminum, carbon fibre, etc, etc. These are the reasons that n+1 makes so much sense! Every cyclist needs several bikes to represent the tradition, culture and technology that is most meaningful to them. And just so you know, I just bought a Giant Defy Advanced Pro 1 with hydraulic disc brakes to add to the stable–which from what I’m reading above, may lead to my excommunication from the V. Oh well. I know in my heart of hearts, I’m still a believer in the bike.

    0
  32. @freddy Nah, in two or three years 90% of the vehement anti-disc road bike guys will be riding them too – you’re a ground-breaker.

    0
  33. Firstly: The pictured bike, or what can be seen of it, looks like an object to be revered. It reminds me of my first real bicycle. I rode a straight block when I first started riding seriously because that is what the guys that influenced me were riding. I quickly learned that it was a poor choice given the mostly hilly nature of where I rode. I have since come to appreciate compact gearing combined with an 11-32 cassette. I have plenty of usable gears for the flat and rolling terrain, but I also have some nice low gears to get up the big hills where the youngsters usually drop me. If that makes me a wuss, then so be it; however, I consider it more a sign of age and wisdom. Besides, I can usually catch them on the descent…

    0
  34. Look at this abomination. 10-45. Don’t get me wrong, I love mountain biking. Cycling has my heart, but mountain biking is in my soul. But there are so many things in the MTB scene/industry that truly steam my beans; thus I often yearn for the (relative) simplicity of the Road Machine. No hydraulic anything, no suspension, and only one fucking wheel size.

    0
  35. The article is surely written by an typical old fashioned and outdated cyclist that are so steadfast proud of all the riding experience and mileage they have clocked up, and they would have all raced which meant they must be a serious enthusiast so we should all pay attention on what he had to say. There are no purists cyclists, just arrogant ones that think they are different and like to bury their heads under the sand and don’t want to change with the times. Even the pro pelotons dating back to the 50’s ride newer design and better bikes with lighter and more efficient component year after year. Would a pro peloton rider have said, “hey, I’m not riding these bikes because I’m a purist and I will only ride bikes with two gear ratios and I don’t care to stop and change my back wheel around and catch up with those on the so uttterly non sensical derailleurs and btw what a gay fcken sounding name for this idiotic device!” Bikes evolve just like us.

    0
  36. @Matt

    No hydraulic anything, no suspension, and only one fucking wheel size.

    hmmm – then they come out with hydraulic gears and there was this phase…………

    0
  37. @Matt Oh and that’s not mentioning…….

    0
  38. @Teocalli But at least it remained Celeste and wasn’t this the Paris-Roubaix bike for whom again?

    0
  39. @KogaLover

    @Teocalli But at least it remained Celeste and wasn’t this the Paris-Roubaix bike for whom again?

    Yup Johan Museeuw

    0
  40. @Teocalli I knew a picture of a Funny Bike was going to surface. Apparently Rotor or somebody just released some hydraulic shifting bits, yes. I suppose I should have specified that I was talking about my Bike. Oh that Bianchi. Ouch. But indeed @KogaLover makes a great point. Unlike those Belkin team bikes!

    0
  41. @freddy

    I love all this macho talk about straight blocks, corn cobs, big gears and the like. Besides the endorphin fix, the tradition and culture associated with cycling are the main reasons for my addiction to the sport. The technical evolution of the road bike is fascinating in itself: fixed gear/single speed, multi-gears w/ derailleurs, integrated shifters/brake levers, chromoly, aluminum, carbon fibre, etc, etc. These are the reasons that n+1 makes so much sense! Every cyclist needs several bikes to represent the tradition, culture and technology that is most meaningful to them. And just so you know, I just bought a Giant Defy Advanced Pro 1 with hydraulic disc brakes to add to the stable–which from what I’m reading above, may lead to my excommunication from the V. Oh well. I know in my heart of hearts, I’m still a believer in the bike.

    Nah Freddy, I think if you get a recumbent, you get expelled.

    0
  42. @Teocalli

    @Matt

    No hydraulic anything, no suspension, and only one fucking wheel size.

    hmmm – then they come out with hydraulic gears and there was this phase…………

    By “phase” are you talking about the bike or the rather “outstanding” performances of the rider pictured and his fellow competitors? BTW that bike must have been a bugger to ride. Squirrelly doesn’t come close to how it must have handled.

    0
  43. @wiscot

    By “phase” are you talking about the bike or the rather “outstanding” performances of the rider pictured and his fellow competitors? BTW that bike must have been a bugger to ride. Squirrelly doesn’t come close to how it must have handled.

    The two did rather coincide! I was actually trying to find a pic of the climbing bike he used to switch to which had a 26 inch front wheel but could not find one in a quick search.

    0
  44. @Teocalli

    @wiscot

    By “phase” are you talking about the bike or the rather “outstanding” performances of the rider pictured and his fellow competitors? BTW that bike must have been a bugger to ride. Squirrelly doesn’t come close to how it must have handled.

    The two did rather coincide! I was actually trying to find a pic of the climbing bike he used to switch to which had a 26 inch front wheel but could not find one in a quick search.

    Jan didn’t use a climbing bike with 600c wheels, but Joseba Beloki did.

    0
  45. @wiscot Lets not forget this lovely.

    0
  46. @frank I stand (sit?) corrected. I remember he and Pantani switching to light climbing bikes and thought I remembered Ulrich using one one year with a 26 inch wheel too but my addled brain must have confused it with the TT bike.

    0
  47. @frank World record bike: This bike makes you go 268 km/h. At such speeds, disc brakes would come in handy…

    0
  48. @Matt Simple green is good stuff – I use that. Along with a vibrating headed cleaning brush ( a ‘detailer’ in automotive parlance). And if you drop your cassette in an ultrasonic bath before you wipe it off, it will look like new – excepting scratches, of course.

    0
  49. @Joe Amen on the 16T. Road races, crits, circuit races… missing the 16T is like missing air in one tire.

    0
  50. campy 11 = 11/21 straight block. 53×39. end this thread…….

    0

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar