A 10 speed cluster; too many choices or not enough?

Les Choix

Les Choix

by / / 156 posts

I’ve never been able to decide if choices are a gift or a curse; a lack of choices introduces simplicity but also with it the risk that the simple choices do not meet the demands of a complex world. An abundance of similar choices, on the other hand, often reduces the impact of getting things a little bit wrong, but also decreases the thoughtfulness in decision making. Finally, having many divergent choices mostly just leads to a lot of planning and ultimately indecision, assuming my experience in Corporate America is anything to go by.

These days, we tend to ride bicycles with 10 or 11 speed clusters made up of sprockets that are closely matched to their neighbors. This development removes the rider somewhat from the art of gear selection, a fact carried further by bar-mounted shifters; as  gradients increase and decrease, we glide from gear to gear maintaining our cadence with hardly any consideration given to the ratios hard at work for us. It is a beautiful freedom to ride like this, but it is also another degree of separation between rider and machine.

I recently read an interview with Sean Kelly, who was discussing his defeat at the hands of Greg Lemond during the 1989 World Championship Road Race. With only seven sprockets at his disposal over a route slightly too hilly for a rider of his ilk, he was faced with a difficult choice: spare the legs on the climb with a 25T at the bottom end, or hamper his sprint with a 13T at the top end.

Kelly faced a tough decision: mount a gear that would carry him over the climb to contend the finale with the handicap of a 13T, or overload the cannons on too big a gear for the climb and never have the chance to go for the win in the first place. He deliberated over the decision while training on the course and finally decided for the low gear. Kelly made it over the climbs to contest the sprint, but his 53×13 was hopelessly outmatched by LeMan‘s monster 54×12.

More recently, the Cycling world was aflutter about Tony Martin’s choice to ride a 58T front chain ring during a time trail. This wasn’t a display of bravado but rather a highly refined choice of chain line: knowing the speeds he wanted to ride, he chose his big ring in such a size that would provide the straightest chain line in the gear he’d be riding in during the majority of the race. The result was less friction, and a Tour de France stage win under his belt.

There is an art to gear and cluster choice that is nearly lost with today’s expanding sprocket ranges, but it remains within our grasp if only we are willing to seek it out. Don’t settle for knowing the maximum and minimum size gears in your block; know exactly which gears you have across the board, and understand what sizes you’ll be missing and gaining when switching between 11-23, 12-25 and 13-26 – there is more to it than just taking one off one end and slapping it on the other.

It might not make any material difference to your Cycling, but it will show the quality of your character.

// Accessories and Gear // Defining Moments // Folklore // Nostalgia // The Hardmen

  1. I suspect that no one is truly educated on gear philosophy until they have done the Devil Mountain Double a few times. When you get to the top of Sierra Road, look at the route sheet and discover another 5000′ of climbing, your perspective changes a bit.

  2. @Rom

    On bike 1 the last model Red front derailleur protests loudly when in small front and about 3 cogs from the 11 because of poor design without trim. The new Red fixed that but it’s not compatible with old Red shifters.

    that’s just what sram wants you to believe! i’ve got 2011 force (so, 10s) working with the new force 22 yaw FD (which, btw, is half the price of the 10s red yaw FD). and i’ve read reports of people using rival with the yaw derailleurs with no problems. the yaw is awesome, seriously. always hated my force FD and even changed to an ultegra one for a bit, but the yaw is much better; perfect, actually.

    as for me, gearing-wise, i’m very happy with 11-25 and 50/36.  i changed to this last summer after having basically always been on 53/39 and hated having to use a 27 or 28 in the back (needed occasionally for some of the 20+% gradients around here).  now i have essentially the equivalent of 53/39 and 12-27 (although 50×11 > 53×12), but it weighs less and i have a better chain-line for flat riding.  i tried 52/36, btw, but i hated the 16-tooth jump between rings and 50 allows me to stay in the big ring longer.

  3. @Rom

    On bike 1 the last model Red front derailleur protests loudly when in small front and about 3 cogs from the 11 because of poor design without trim. The new Red fixed that but it’s not compatible with old Red shifters.

    I keep hearing this, but my Red shifters have trim so I don’t understand where this rumor comes from. You do, however, have to adjust it correctly.

  4. Only trim in the big ring. You need to adjust the stopper screw to be microns away from the inner face when in small big. While I don’t do it often, I can ride all 10 in the little with no noise.

  5. Gentlemen. It is as always inspiring and interesting to read the various views on a topic that only very few outside the cycling world would know the significance of. While I understand that some select their gears following complicated formulas involving fitness and terrain, my simple approach is trying to deny the fact that 15 years has passed since I rode my last race on the UCI calendar. 53/39 and 12-23 is still my setup, and 39 is never used in public. The consequence is of course that my guns from time to time feels like overheated 5.56’s and not like the 12.5’s like they once were.

    _______
    I’m new around here – been lurking for a year or so. Couldn’t find an intro thread, so not sure where to make the introduction. In short I can answer yes to the following:
    * Have you lived by the rules?
    * Do you think that the “V” mentioned in the “Da Vinci Code” refers to this site?
    * Do you shave your guns?

  6. @frank

    @Nate

    @Ron I don’t know if it’s the culprit but it can’t help. I hate to say it but I think the premise of an 11-28 is a bit absurd.

    This.

    I was shocked and appalled to see that Shimano offers an 11-32 cassette at the Ultegra level.  2x hill repeats for anyone with such an abomination on their steed.

  7. @bear

    Gentlemen. It is as always inspiring and interesting to read the various views on a topic that only very few outside the cycling world would know the significance of. While I understand that some select their gears following complicated formulas involving fitness and terrain, my simple approach is trying to deny the fact that 15 years has passed since I rode my last race on the UCI calendar. 53/39 and 12-23 is still my setup, and 39 is never used in public. The consequence is of course that my guns from time to time feels like overheated 5.56′s and not like the 12.5′s like they once were.

    _______
    I’m new around here – been lurking for a year or so. Couldn’t find an intro thread, so not sure where to make the introduction. In short I can answer yes to the following:
    * Have you lived by the rules?
    * Do you think that the “V” mentioned in the “Da Vinci Code” refers to this site?
    * Do you shave your guns?

    Welcome, and obviously you are going to fit in perfectly. The bolded phrase highlights this fact. Denial is a lifestyle.

    And, since you’ve stuck around for a year, I assume you would also answer yes to this question: Is the movie Team America funny?

  8. @paolo

    @frank

    Also, hashtags are as repellant as emoticons, FYI.

    When you’re right you’re right. Spot on. Only maybe more so!

    #Disagree ;-)

  9. @frank

    @wiscot

    Of course, I’m an old fart who rode 12 -18 straight through blocks in the 80s when you could simply replace whatever sprocket you used the most individually instead of the whole friggin cassette. That’s a pure scam right there. Let’s face it, most of us probably ride in the same 2 or 3 sprockets. It would be nice to be able to buy them individually.

    Yes, but those were also freewheels and weighed more than most modern wheels. My cassettes all wore out in the same week last summer, which meant I dropped about a grand on new ones all at once. But that’s the first time I’ve had to change them out. I normally just maintain my drivetrain and replace the chain ever season or so and the blocks last a while.

    Campa has a number of spiders and you can get them separately if you really only ride in a few and wear those out. (I am blessed to ride in a town where the terrain variety means I cover almost all of them pretty equally – except maybe the 12 because most of my descents land on a stop sign.

    Imagine my surprise when I cleaned my new 11-speed Ultegra cogs for the first time tonight…

  10. @SloKenny 16-20 wooh! Juvi gearing.

    Dug this out from deep in the man cave,

    Campagnolo 13-18 six speed aluminium straight block, double butted SS spokes laced to 28 hole Dura-Ace track hub and Mavic GEL280 rims. Tied and soldered, hence the broken spokes. The wheel-n-cluster weighs in at 903 grams with out skewers and tyres. Use to run Panaracer Comp 21’s.

  11. When I started riding again in 2010 I rode up to a gut who was test riding a bike with 11 speed. Pissed me off all the gear changing he was doing to find the right gear.

    Flipping 16-15-16-17-18-15-17-16-15-19. I asked him “Gears OK?” he replied shifts Ok, but I can’t find a comfy one!

    Too many choixes!

  12. @frank

    @bear

    Gentlemen. It is as always inspiring and interesting to read the various views on a topic that only very few outside the cycling world would know the significance of. While I understand that some select their gears following complicated formulas involving fitness and terrain, my simple approach is trying to deny the fact that 15 years has passed since I rode my last race on the UCI calendar. 53/39 and 12-23 is still my setup, and 39 is never used in public. The consequence is of course that my guns from time to time feels like overheated 5.56′s and not like the 12.5′s like they once were.

    _______
    I’m new around here – been lurking for a year or so. Couldn’t find an intro thread, so not sure where to make the introduction. In short I can answer yes to the following:
    * Have you lived by the rules?
    * Do you think that the “V” mentioned in the “Da Vinci Code” refers to this site?
    * Do you shave your guns?

    Welcome, and obviously you are going to fit in perfectly. The bolded phrase highlights this fact. Denial is a lifestyle.

    And, since you’ve stuck around for a year, I assume you would also answer yes to this question: Is the movie Team America funny?

    Thanks Frank. If “Team America” is considered funny by the majority of Velominati, then I probably also will enjoy it – so yes. I haven’t seen it (have been busy memorizing the rules) but will find it on Netflix asap.

  13. @bear

    @frank

    @bear

    Gentlemen. It is as always inspiring and interesting to read the various views on a topic that only very few outside the cycling world would know the significance of. While I understand that some select their gears following complicated formulas involving fitness and terrain, my simple approach is trying to deny the fact that 15 years has passed since I rode my last race on the UCI calendar. 53/39 and 12-23 is still my setup, and 39 is never used in public. The consequence is of course that my guns from time to time feels like overheated 5.56′s and not like the 12.5′s like they once were.

    _______
    I’m new around here – been lurking for a year or so. Couldn’t find an intro thread, so not sure where to make the introduction. In short I can answer yes to the following:
    * Have you lived by the rules?
    * Do you think that the “V” mentioned in the “Da Vinci Code” refers to this site?
    * Do you shave your guns?

    Welcome, and obviously you are going to fit in perfectly. The bolded phrase highlights this fact. Denial is a lifestyle.

    And, since you’ve stuck around for a year, I assume you would also answer yes to this question: Is the movie Team America funny?

    Thanks Frank. If “Team America” is considered funny by the majority of Velominati, then I probably also will enjoy it – so yes. I haven’t seen it (have been busy memorizing the rules) but will find it on Netflix asap.

    You need to get that movie dialed in and numerous quotes memorised asap….Welcome!

  14. Team America??? Look out, here comes “The Fry Guy”!

  15. @minion

    @brett WHAT!?!?

    I have no idea what this conversation has to do with me. 53-39 and a 12-25 cassette. That’s the bottom line on everything that’s been discussed here. I ran a straight block on the courier bike till it wore out and just got really slow legs.

    They were making sheep jokes… your department.

  16. @brett Fuck they  must have been subtle.

  17. There is a lot of disdain on this site for low gearing. Quintana ran an 11-29 last Thursday. For most people high cadence riding uphill produces more power that grinding, burns more fat and less glycogen, allows quicker recovery and puts less stress on the knees and hip flexors. I’d rather spin a dinnerplate and last a few more years on the bike than succumb to a macho fantasty based on misunderstood biomechanics. Not advice, just my opinion.

  18. @geoffrey

    Just like I am not Ullrich, you are not Quintana. You should ride the cadence that suits your physiology.

    You’re not wrong, but keep in mind that while I’m not accusing Quintana of anything because spinning could well be his magic way of riding especially considering his size, spinning for big riders is an artifact of blood-doping where it is more important to save the muscles than the cardiovascular system knowing you could just stock up on new blood every few weeks.

    Side note: there’s no disdain around here for low gears; we’re just taking the piss. We only joke about it because we’d rather spin a 53×11 up a wall at 100rpm than a 22×28. That is all.

    @minion

    @brett Fuck they must have been subtle.

    It had to do with mispelling and people smarter than me. I had to google it before I got the joke. 

  19. @frank

    You’re not wrong, but keep in mind that while I’m not accusing Quintana of anything because spinning could well be his magic way of riding especially considering his size, spinning for big riders is an artifact of blood-doping where it is more important to save the muscles than the cardiovascular system knowing you could just stock up on new blood every few weeks

    EPO also has a huge impact on endurance, but not so much on power, so spinning putting the load on the cardio-vascular system makes the most of this, too — I think David Millar wrote about this in his book.

    @geoffrey

    Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour!

  20. @geoffrey

    Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour!

    @andrew

    @frank

    You’re not wrong, but keep in mind that while I’m not accusing Quintana of anything because spinning could well be his magic way of riding especially considering his size, spinning for big riders is an artifact of blood-doping where it is more important to save the muscles than the cardiovascular system knowing you could just stock up on new blood every few weeks

    EPO also has a huge impact on endurance, but not so much on power, so spinning putting the load on the cardio-vascular system makes the most of this, too — I think David Millar wrote about this in his book.

    @geoffrey

    Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour!

    In a jersey pocket or EPMS.

  21. At 42 years old(43 in march, ouch), 15kg over(at least, though should be down 8-10kg by summer), and with the last 133km of Ronde van Vlaanderen, the whole 167km of the La Chouffe Classic in the Ardennes, and a week with my club in Bormio with the last day climbing the Stelvio all on tap for April through June….I am definitely not too proud to admit my new build is going with 50/34 11/28.

    I wish I could front as say I was going to do it all with a Flemish Double….but eff that. I got to this game way to late.

    John(the American in Belgium)

  22. ^^^^^^^

    Have to remember to log in before posting =)

    John(the American in Belgium)

  23. @John

    At 42 years old(43 in march, ouch), 15kg over(at least, though should be down 8-10kg by summer), and with the last 133km of Ronde van Vlaanderen, the whole 167km of the La Chouffe Classic in the Ardennes, and a week with my club in Bormio with the last day climbing the Stelvio all on tap for April through June….I am definitely not too proud to admit my new build is going with 50/34 11/28.

    I wish I could front as say I was going to do it all with a Flemish Double….but eff that. I got to this game way to late.

    John(the American in Belgium)Good for you John. I’ve only been on the road bike for a couple of years and I feel the same way. Contador sometimes uses a compact and an 11-32. He says he likes the wide range cassette as it allows himto stay in the big ring for longer. That’s what I’m going to say from now on.

  24. So my 50/39 with an 8 speed 11-28 turns out to be an 11-26. I have been researching 10 speed cassettes and was thinking that since I rarely if ever use the 28t I’d go with a 26 or 27. Guess I’ll go 12-25 with a 53/39.

    Could’ve sworn I had a 28t. Weird.

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