April 03, 2010

If I Use A 25-Tooth Cog on My Road Bike, Am I a Wimp?

Many people ask me if a 25-tooth cog on their road bike freewheel makes them a wimp. Now I'm not talking about a cross bike here, I'm talking road bikes. (Mountain bike? What's that?). For cross a 27 is fine, most anyone would agree - assuming they are normal-ish and not afraid of mid-20th century technology (i.e., not riding cross single-speed). I tried to use a 28 once, but my SRAM Rival derailleur didn't like my SRAM freewheel. There wasn't enough clearance between the derailleur pulleys and the cog. Clash, clash...then shift like crap. Probably need a mid- or wide-range derailleur I guess. Don't want one on my bike and one tooth isn't a big deal at that end of the cogset - so experiment failed, but lesson learned.

Back to the road bike. I read a very interesting comment in April's Cyclesport America by David Millar. Pros 20 years ago were overgeared. That's why they were slower up the climbs. They were using a 42x21 for racing. David says everyone around there (pros around Girona Spain I presume) train on compacts or on 27 tooth cogs.

Then I read this: "SRAM technicians and Contador's mechanics work to build a custom cassette capable of offering the Spaniard a ratio as low as 34x30" - from an article by BikeRadar on SRAM's new cheaper Apex road group. What was he riding? A hybrid? And how many guys does it take to put together a cassette anyway? Hope one of them remembered to put on a long cage derailleur.

All of this modern information raises a lot of questions and potentially creates a major paradigm shift:
  • 20 years ago when freewheels had only 8 cogs if you had a really good one, I trained and raced on a 42x21 lowest gear. 42x19 for time trials if they were flattish. Sure I struggled, especially when I rode in the mountains or the wind. But I always assumed that was due to my own inadequacy and that the pros could handle it. I wanted to be like a pro, so I used pro gears. Sure it was hard, but the smaller the cogset, the bigger the engine, right? I did a lot of standing. I guess the pros did too - just faster? They were masters of the low cadence, head bobbing, uphill grind that you don't see much today. Yeah it was hard on the knees, but the pros could take it. Suck it up and pedal better circles.
  • Even Contador needs a compact crank with a mountain bike cogset (11x30)? Sure the slope was 24% or so and gravel, but Contador? What? Does everyone have to sit down all the time? OK, maybe you do on gravel. He finished fourth so it mustn't have been all that great.
  • Don't they also go downhill on those steep hills around Girona? That 50 tooth compact chainring must be great for spin skills. Can you pedal 175 rpm? Apparently, pros in Girona can. The 27 tooth sounds like a better option and definitely more pro/manly.
  • I had a layoff from serious cycling for about a dozen years (virtually no racing). When I came back to racing, bikes came with 53-39 chainrings (versus 52-42) and 11-23 or 25 cogsets (versus 12-21, or 13-24 for wimps). With the 2 extra cogs, gear spacing was fine. I felt a little guilty not struggling so hard up the hills. But that was the modern way I guess. What could I do? Racing with the 11x23 is a blast (except in the mountains). Training with a 12-25 is awesome - Look at me ride that hill like I'm a pro! Don't forget the value of the 39t chainring to the overall experience.
  • One thing I don't like is the minimal overlap between the 53 and 39 chainrings. I tried to buy a 42t SRAM Red chainring for my SRAM Red crankset - couldn't even find one. Not much demand I guess. Shimano and others make them. Of course that is mix and match blasphemy!
Since the pros are riding pantywaist gears now, (note careful use of thesaurus) I have no choice but to ride milksop gears if I want to look like a pro. Ride gears like that dork on the hybrid commuter. It's part of the unmanly-fication of society (are we even allowed to say "man"?). Go forth, comfortable in the thought that although the pros aren't as tough as they used to be, they are still tougher than you. And they ride sissy gears too. Just hope you are never teleported back about 20 years in time. Your metro-sexual ego will take a terrible beating.

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