Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Vestigial Gearing and Its Evolutionary Implications



How do you know when you've got gears you don't use or need? It's a tough call. Some might even say there is no such thing as "gears you don't need," especially when it comes to those low-low-low ones. If you can set up your bike with a sub-(sub)-1:1 gear, go for it! And even if you usually don't use them, you never know when they might come in handy, so better save them for a rainy day. I mean, who knows - you might go on a long trip where all the climbing comes at the end, when you are already right and truly exhausted. Or you could be called upon to rescue a cat from a tree.

Anyway, that has been my take on it at least. Which is why, even when I stopped relying on the biggest cogs in my SRAMpagnolo drivetrain on a regular basis, I kept them. Just in case!

...Until one day, I lost use of them completely. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but hey - I never did claim to be fastidious when it came to bike maintenance. But anyhow, at some point my chain started skipping whenever I would try to get in the big cogs. Adjusting the derailleur didn't fix it, and it was that particular flavour of skipping, where I could tell the cable needed to be replaced. But I procrastinated. And procrastinated. And in the meanwhile I simply didn't use those 3 biggest cogs that were problematic. And hey - it was winter, so I didn't go on any long or overly hilly rides anyway. I would get the drivetrain fixed before spring came.

But spring came, and I procrastinated still. I started doing longer rides, steeper climbs, all with the malfunctioning drivetrain. In short, 4 months went by while I rode without the use of my lowest gears. And I didn't miss them.

Looking at my drivetrain one day, I realised I was essentially lugging around three "vestigial" cogs. And an unnecessarily long-armed derailleur that was installed specifically to accommodate them, into the bargain. Now: If I had managed to make do without them for this long, while doing rides incorporating the steepest climbs around, exactly what was I saving them for?

I examined the SRAM cassette to remind myself what gearing I was in fact using. To my surprise, the biggest three cogs were 36t, 32t and 28t. Whoa. That meant the biggest functional cog in the cassette was a 25t. So really I was using a 7-speed 11-25t cassette to do all those  climbs, except with a lot of extra weight attached to it. I believe the technical term for that is: Jayzus!

So... I don't know. I am not going to go as far as switching to a racing cassette. And I still believe in stashing some "just in case" gears. But I think that the 12-29t cassette I had on my original all-Campagnolo drivetrain will be quite sufficient in that respect.

As mentioned in the previous post, I am dismantling my roadbike to have the frame painted. And when I get the frame back, I am going to re-assemble it slightly differently. Namely, the bladed-spoke wheels (which I have already given away) will be replaced with something more crosswind-friendly. And while I'm at it, I also think I will go back to my original all-Campy (sorry: "Campag") drivetrain, with a standard "rear mech" and "sprockets," if you know what I mean. It's a little sad to have finally achieved a perfectly functional hybrid sub-1:1 drivetrain, only to get rid of it 3 years later. But hey: Use it or lose it. It's evolution, baby. (Now: if anyone local needs an X9 derailleur and a 11-36t cassette, give me a shout.)

Do you ever discover "vestigial" parts on your bicycle? I am curious what they are, and what you do about it!


64 comments:

  1. In my opinion, most today's road bikes have gears that people don't need. Unless they are racers, but hardly anyone is. Something like 53x11, give me a break - who needs it? Even 50T chainring seems to be an overkill. Most road bikes would be more useful with 48-32, 46-30 or 44-28 cranksets and cassettes starting at 12T.

    Myself, I rebuilt my bike years ago exactly because I had gears I didn't need and there were those I needed but didn't have. Now, with 44-28T chainrings and 12-30T cassette I finally have all the gears I need. Or so I thought until the last weekend, when I rode the Kearsarge Klassik route ( http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2016/06/my-own-kearsarge-klassik.html ) But that's another story.

    Velrouria, now that Campy finally offers a 11-32T cassette you may have little reason to use SRAM parts on your bike.

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    1. I know, when news came of the new Potenza groupset I did a little dance. Especially considering it is "reasonably" (for Campagnolo) priced.

      Is it really your impression though, that most road cyclists today have a 53t big ring? I hardly see anything but compact (50/34t) cranksets, especially in the US.

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    2. You're right. Most people buy bikes with 50-34T cranksets. Now, ask yourself why. If Shimano, SRAM or Campy offered a 46-30T crankset, would people buy it? I think so. And I think it could be more popular than 50-34, especially when paired with a 11-32T cassette. But because no one offers it (Beats me, why?), then you're stuck with 50-34T.

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    3. A 44/28t crankset with a 12-29t cassette would be my idea of the perfect 1:1 setup. Why make both the rings and the teeth big, plus necessitate a long-cage derailleur, when everything can be small and neat and tidy?

      On my DIY 650B bike I have this setup, with a Rene Herse crankset replacing the original compact crankset in an otherwise Campy 10-speed drivetrain. The gearing is just right. But it works imperfectly with the ergo shifters. If I could get a "native" 44/28t I would switch in an instant. As I suspect would many others, no matter how pretty those RH rings are.

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    4. That would work well if you only need 1:1. I know I would want even lower gears. I know I'm repeating myself but OX601D with 44/30T (or even 28T) and a 12-30T rear (I could go with 11-32T) works perfect with STI shifters. But that's Shimano. Campy may be different.

      Anyway, using smaller rings in the crankset is the solution, as you also noticed. Therefore, I have no bloody idea why no large component manufacturer offers such crankset. The market is out there and it's likely large. I have a feeling that with the arrival of gravel/adventure bikes we may see a 46/30T in the future.

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    5. there are 39/28t and 42/30t shimano mtb cranks and you can buy 44t chainring as spare part
      unfortunately being mtb cranks they look like mtb cranks

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  2. It certainly doesn't sound like a "perfectly functional hybrid sub-1:1 drivetrain" if three cogs are skipping.

    And I thought you weren't trying to be a weight ween... Anyway, do what feels (and looks!) right. Short cage with small cluster or long cage with pie plates? Yeah, I know what I'd go for in terms of looks if I could push those kind of gears.

    Which do you think looks better? 52/42 or 53/39 crankset? Half step, alpine, multi-range, or crossover gearing? I'm sure that's what will feel best for you.

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    1. They were skipping as a result of cable wear. Those things do need to be replaced every now and again!

      I was actually never bothered by the "pie plate" looks of the big cogs. Just don't see the point of having a complicated setup which I don't use. I am keeping everything the same on the bike (i.e. my compact 50/34t crankset), except going back to my old derailleur and cogs.

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  3. I am SO glad to have given up derailleurs and converted to IGHs….My bike, like yours, is four years old and I've twenty five thousand miles on it….Not a single skip or mis-shift. The gear range allows for all my needs…Oh, it's heaven!! I'm trying to change the cycling world ;)

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    1. I'd be interested in what sort of elevation gains/ gradients you do?

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    2. Can't answer that b/c I don't have a device that measures or keeps track of rides, only a cyclometer. One section of my commute, however, has an insanely abrupt and steep hill and if the derailleur hesitated a hair I'd have to get off and walk….so frustrating! Other than that it's mostly rolling hills and wind on a twenty mile (one direction) commute. So lovely to look down at my straight chain line and have access to all my gears w/ complete faith ;)

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    3. i'm running shimano alfine 8 hub on vintage steel road bike with 45T front chainring and 20T rear cog which equals to 12-38 cassette and you can go as low as 39T front chainring without exceeding specs, 1:1 is the lowest recommended gear
      alfine/nexus 8 IGH have about 300% gear range, so basically the same as road bike with 11-28 cassette, but only with 8 steps, much smoother shifting and much less problems
      and bike is totally silent when coasting

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    4. I should have mentioned above that I'm using a Rohloff on my road bike and in twenty five thousand miles I've replaced the chain three times and the rear cog twice. It's a gem.

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    5. I used IGH's for years and you are right to a certain extent they have some advantages. I finally switched back to derailleurs though for two reasons, even with less equipment to deal with the hubs are so heavy! But, the main reason was flat changing. My main bike and my backup, both had 7 speed Nexus hubs; When my main bike would get a flat I would ride the backup until it also needed fixing, before I bothered to fix either, because removing the back wheel and reinstalling was such a pain in the butt! Also IGHs don't come with quick releases which means I always had to have some sort of wrench with me! MORE added weight!
      On a bike with a derailleur and vertical drop outs I can change a tube in a mater of minutes and the bike is SO much lighter. - Mas

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    6. My Rohloff hub is heavy but I'm not a weight weenie and the bike rides so light, and I'm so happy with it, I can't begin to adequately describe the joy…Also, you can absolutely use a quick release with it and changing a flat is no issue at all, in fact it's less messy than with a derailleur IMO. I've got vertical drop outs so it's just popping the wheel off and changing the tube...No extra tools required! What I've added in weight pales to what I've gained in convenience and range….As this blogger is fond of saying, YMMV… :)

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    7. you can use QR and even thru-axle on rohloff
      it is true that you have to use a nut on shimano alfine/nexus, but if you don't want to carry 15mm wrench you can use butterfly nuts or something similar
      then you just have to disconnect shifting cable to remove wheel, no big deal
      anyway, it is 15000 km since i switched to schwalbe marathon tyres on my 3 bikes and still 0 flats

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  4. When I was in my best condition, I had a 54x11 gear...that I used, like, five times in two years.

    Needless to say, I didn't use my 53 x11 or 53X12 that much, either.

    These days, my highest-geared road bike (my Mercian Audax) has a 48-36 compact (110BCD) crank with a 12-25 cassette. Another bike has 46-33 and 12-27, while another has 46-30 and 12-27. The 46-30 is on a 110/74 BCD triple crankset: The 30 is on the 74 BCD position, while the 46 is on the middle 110 BCD position. A guard substitutes for a chainring on the outer chainring position. This works out particularly well, as I am on the 46T ring most of the time (as I am on the 48T most of the time I ride my Audax).

    What's really nice, for me, is that I have everything set up so that I can go to a bigger cassette if I ever need to. Also, on my Audax, I can change the 36T to a 34 or 33T because it's 110BCD.

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  5. So you are functionally on a 7 speed cassette. And no one on the planet has much use for an 11cog. So having a nice simple 6 speed freewheel might be the ticket. This would allow the use of much stronger and lighter wheels. Then you could get a derailleur and shift lever that were much simpler and easier to adjust and maintain. Also lighter. Say Campagnolo Nuovo Record.

    I don't expect there's much chance you would do it my way. I am consistently impressed with the human capacity to rationalize just about anything we want to do. And often pleasantly surprised how the things we wanted anyway can be made to work.

    When you get a new low gear and have it shifting again sometime you should try spinning up the hill in a gear much lower than seems necessary. Use that spare gear. There are lots of different climbing techniques. Don't know how to best use your strength until you try them all.



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    1. I am not averse to trying what you describe. And I actually have a friend's discarded 7-speed drivetrain with what I think are adequate gears and just enough life left to experiment with. The wheel thing will be trickier, as I can't build one myself. But I am investigating.

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    2. Eyeballing how much life is left in an old set of cogs is not simple. You are looking at tooth forms that have nothing in common with modern tooth form. Previous rider's input seldom corresponds to the new rider's experience. Old chain and cog has a completely different feel in the pedals than modern, even when those old parts are fresh and new. What I am trying to say is you are setting your experiment up for failure. It could be a very interesting experiment, just don't prejudice it from the start. None of the bits required are expensive or hard to find.

      Newer Campy brifters don't always work well with old free wheels. The first ten years of Campagnolo brifters production would shift a 5, 6 or 7 speed freewheel so well it seemed they were designed to do it. Old eight and nine speed brifters are cheap when you can find them. Or you can use a simple friction lever mounted wherever.

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    3. I say unto you, DOWN TUBE SHIFTERS, as long as you are riding drop bars.

      Brifters too complex, easily get out of adjustment, heavy, hard to reach when riding in the drops. Bar-ends you can't just reach down and smack the lever into the next higher gear, inconvenient to reach when riding on the levers yet you still have to move your hands to shift when riding in the drops, double shifts require two separate movements of the hands from the riding position to the shifting position.

      Down tube shifters are a convenient reach from any handlebar position, and it's easy to do double shifts with one hand, unlike bar-ends. Plus they are the lightest least complex setup, and have the shortest cable length.

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  6. Really a milestone anyone would by proud to own! Or I should say, 20,000 miles+ milestone! When I recollect some of your early most vivid posts about road cycling challenges juxtaposed against your present conditioning and achievements, it's impressive. You give inspiration to those of us still not there! Maybe you can't bronze that cassette like baby shoes but perhaps it'll stand in for a Christmas tree of sorts as a reminder of attaining what must have seemed impossible once! Thank you for sharing. Jim Duncan

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    1. I don't think it's so much an achievement, as arriving at a stabilised point of preference. After all, I know cyclists far stronger and more experienced than me (and I think you know some of the ones I mean!), who prefer to have sub-1:1 gears on their road drivetrain even though they CAN push much higher. On the flip side of the coin, I know cyclists who do everything - and I mean EVERYTHING, including 1,200k brevets - on fixed gear. The way I see it, it's not so much about what we're capable of (because really, when push comes to shove we'll adapt to anything), as about discovering that sweet spot where we're comfortable and enjoying the ride. And if that sweet spot can be achieved without resorting to unnecessarily complicated setups, all the better.

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  7. I have a 5 speed, works great. Also, the bigger the chainring, the more effecient and longer lasting your drivetrain. Small cogs and rings are terrible.

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  8. I had kind of the opposite experience. I had always thought my old 1980s Raleigh tourer was a five-speed; I never bothered counting. Last summer, when I got back into riding, I realized the Raleigh had been a six-speed all along -- either that or old bikes grow an extra gear when they get really long in the tooth.

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    1. Or... the bike grew an extra gear in response to sensing that you needed one?

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  9. May I share the ff articles on gearing please. First, from Dave Moulton - http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2014/3/12/46-big-ring.html and the second from RKP - http://redkiteprayer.com/2016/04/an-open-letter-to-sram-shimano-and-campagnolo/ Triple user here, 44/34/22 with a close ratio 12-25 8-speed cassette for years now. Makes my cycling more tolerable and enjoyable.

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    1. I have read and agree with both of those posts. We need modern groupsets with sub-1:1 gearing. And not just for weaker/leisure cyclists, as those posts suggest, but also for big strong riders, and even racers, who might simply prefer lower gears (John Bayley races on 50/34t front and 11-36t rear, if I am not mistaken, mixing SRAM road and mountain groups). Sub-1:1 gearing is also useful for "all terrain" roadbikes, which are becoming increasingly popular. I'd love a normal, non-hybrid drivetrain on my 650B bike. On that bike, I need that gearing and use it regularly. On my skinny-tyre roadbike, apparently I do not. Options!

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    2. JB here, behind on my reading, as ever! While I'm a little shocked to be referred to as "big," I have to admit to enjoying the ol' good and drink recently. But jaysus, if that's obvious from across the Pond, I had better start paying attention to the ol' die-it.

      Returning to the subject at hand, I've been a fan of low gears forever (I even got a mention in Buycycling back in the mid-90s in relation to the subject). And yes, my "all terrain" bike sports a mixed SRAM road-mountain setup, with road shifters ('bar-cons in my case) and a 10x mountain rear mech.. However, I'm using the rather exquisite Sugino OX901 crank/chainset with 46x32 'rings, combined with a 12-32 cassette (I'll take an extra sprocket in the middle versus an 11T any day, thank you!). FWIW, I also used that 1:1 bottom gear in "flat" Kansas recently. Yeah, I must really be getting big! ;-)

      The bike I'm bring to Ireland does have a 50x34 in front and a 12-32 in rear, though. I would have replaced the 'rings with smaller ones a long time ago, but it's a DuraAce crank/chainset which looks odd with non-native chainrings.

      Now to get back to packing...

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  10. The winds of change touching your drive train? We'll be leaving the EU next!

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    1. Could somebody tell me how to post that cat doing The Scream emoticon into the comments?..

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  11. A very timely post. Does this mean you will no longer be using this bike as a brevet bike? Or, do you reckon you can handle brevets without the low gears? I ask, as I am now at a similar crossroads. My cassette has worn out and I was seriously considering going "Srampagnolo" before I read this post!

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    1. Well, firstly I do not ride brevets nearly often enough to warrant a dedicated brevet-optimised bike. Nevertheless, this bicycle would do fine in that role if fitted with some mudguards and a handlebar bag, like last time. And speaking of last time - Consider that on the last brevet I rode (a 300K in 2014), I did not use my 36t cog. It's the local, extra-steep climbs close to home that I mostly used that gearing on, even at the height of when I needed it.

      That said, this post was absolutely not intended in the spirit of "who needs low gears!" Only you can decide what gearing you need for the sort of riding you do. Are you miserable with the gears currently on your bike when you ride brevets? The SRAMpagnolo setup could be the ideal solution. And, as I said, I had no functional problems with mine, so I would certainly recommend it.

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  12. Just this year, I switched to a 44/34 up front with an 11-34 nine speed cassette in the back. For most of my riding, I never leave the 44 tooth ring. But, this past weekend I did a century ride with some friends that was intentionally hilly with a nice mix of long, sustained climbs and short, steep climbs (along with one long, sustained climb that becomes short and steep at the very top). That 1:1 combo was vital to me making it to the end of the day and still having a little left in the tank. Also, the wide range of gears allowed me to spin, spin, spin if I wanted to or to mash, mash, mash if I wanted to. In the moment, your body might need to do one versus the other. All of us agreed that there were moments where a gear that was "just a little lower" would have been handy.

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  13. What I see is people who don't seem to even know they have the low gears. Standing up to climb hills at something like 12 rpm, chain on the littlest cog, while I spin comfortably past them. Or pedaling on the flat at 15 rpm, drenched in sweat, legs quivering, while 70 year old overweight joggers pass them.

    For me it's the ridiculous high gears that are vestigial, but the way cassettes are sold these days you can't get rid of them without a huge investment in searching for the unobtanium components. I run a 45/42 front set, the back is something like 11-28. I probably have not been in the 11 or 12 more than a dozen times, just to confirm and adjustment. I tried to get a different set of rear cogs, but it appears that these days a smallest (retaining) cog bigger than 12 is essentially unavailable. It's another example of how the manufacturers aren't making bikes that are aligned to actual usage but rather to image (I am talking about the mass market stuff, of course you can get anything you want if you are willing to pay for it, but you have to know what you want. How do you know what you want unless you have the riding experience, and how many people give up because they have a bike with poorly chosen gearing that no one ever taught them to use? Those people aren't ever going to get to the point of knowing what they want and specifying it.

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  14. What about other parts besides gears? Having recently removed my brake calipers for cleaning, I am considering only re-attaching the front one. After 2 years riding I have literally never used the rear brake on my fixed gear.

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    1. I generally don't use rear brakes much. But even on a fixed gear there is something I find unnerving about only having one brake. Plus, assuming drop bars, there is always the issue of what to do about the other "empty" brake lever.

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    2. Redundancy. Safety. If you have a fixed you do have a rear brake. Stil, two hand brakes is much safer. Repairing old bikes it is very normal to see one rim that is completely unmarked. Lots of riders go years on one brake only. You keep the other brake in place because the primary brake could fail.

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    3. Years ago, I was riding motorcycles and did an advanced rider course, where I learnt to use both front and rear brake together, dramatically improving stopping distances and control, including whilst braking during cornering and on loose surfaces.
      I've brought this skill over to cycling, to equally good effect, and means that my front and rear rims wear at nearly equal rates (ie the rims last longer and can be replaced as a matched pair).

      Just saying, as this is one of my soap boxes!

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  15. I switched over to a one-by (single chainring) using Wolf Tooth elliptical chainrings. If you're using a one-by you WILL use all your gears - seriously. And the best part, there is no overlap.

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  16. This change was clearly coming, anyone who follows your blog can predict the common sense developments. I suspect you'll also cut down your steering tube…No need for that extra stuff either ;)

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  17. I didn't like how I spent a lot of time shifting between small and large chainrings on my commuter. So, went to a 1x8 setup, eliminating a shifter, derailleur, and a chainring. I now have a single 34-tooth chainring, an 11-28 cassette, and a short-cage rear derailleur. 34-28 is low enough for my relatively hilly commute and if I'm going too fast for the 34-11 I figure I'm going fast enough.
    The two problems I faced were crankset availability and chain line. The 34-tooth chainring requires a 110mm BCD or smaller crankset and most road cranksets are 130mm. Fortunately Sugino makes a, dare I say, lovely 110mm bcd double crankset. I found a spindle of an appropriate length to give a straight chain line in the center or the cassette with the 34-tooth chainring in the outer position on the crankset.
    Iv'e been happy for several years with this setup.

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  18. Your bike situation certainly allows for a skimpy light bike with go fast gearing to go in the stable. It must be nice to have so many alternative rides at your fingertips. There are some who settle for a wide gear range on their one bike simply because it's all they've got and it needs to cover several bases/server several uses.

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  19. I've got a late 60s Raleigh that I turned into a single speed (with spacers, I didn't cold-set the frame). The bike is pretty rough, but it is excellent for the ~12-15 mile (route dependent) trip to my favorite bar in the next town over.

    I left the downtube shifters on (their on a band/clamp). They are just too pretty to take off.

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  20. I used to think that the smallest chainring on my triple crankset was vestigial. I spent most of my time in the middle and large chainrings.

    And then I bought a bike trailer, and started hauling huge loads home from the home improvement stores. Riding uphill with 3 gallons of paint in the panniers, or 5 bags of mulch in the trailer, or a load of scrap metal to the local recycling center, probably wouldn't have happened without my granny gear.

    Whether a given part is vestigial, then, depends in large part on the type of riding that you do with the bike. My type of riding is everyday transport, most often without a trailer, but often with loads in the panniers. Having the small chainring means that I can use my everyday transport bike (also the only one that I own) also for hauling heavy stuff.

    Big ring is a 46t; I don't know about the others, nor of my 7-speed cassette. Those details don't really matter to me.

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    1. On a cargo bike, or a bike ridden with a a trailer, I would want a tree-climbing gears for sure. Not only because of the terrain/load, but because on a transport bike I want to exert myself less than on a bike ridden for sport.

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  21. "a stabilised point of preference" Good to know and an interesting descriptor and way to look at it. Jim Duncan

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  22. I recently switched the rear cluster on my Clementine to 13-28 from 11-32 (8 speed) Never used the 11 or the 12 right next to it, rarely used the 32! So moving to the 13-28 decreases the gaps between gears ensuring that I use more gears more often, which in turn should extend the useable life of the cassette! Liking it so far! -Masmojo

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  23. Gears are always a bi-product of a bike's design. The more aggressive the bike's set-up the less likely a need for super low gears.

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  24. Vestigial parts ... on my old 3-speeds? Hmm. Lights and dynohub, I need those. Rack and bags are always handy, and fenders allow me to ride through anything and stay clean. Well, I definitely need gears 1-3. However, those things that look like they clamp on the wheels. What are they called ... brakes? They don't seem to do much anyway. Could probably do away with those to save some weight ;) (kidding, of course. I have managed to get them to work well enough!).

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  25. I think it's very much 'horses for courses'. Being the rider I am with the physical characteristics I have, living in the Chiltern Hills with its short but brutal ups, I use ALL the gears. Even the high ones, Thank God. On the Cross Check: touring triple 48/36/26 with a 9 speed 11-32 cassette. I use the full range, from the highest (in the morning) to the lowest (in the evening), every single day on my commute. On the Enigma touring bike: wide range triple 53/39/28 with a 10 speed 11-36 cassette. Again, I use ALL of it on Friday Night Rides to the Coast and touring (except in the Netherlands, ha!).

    I had a 50/34 compact double with 9-speed 12-36 cassette on the Pacer and was annoyed that I was always spinning out. I travelled light on that bike and needed higher gears. At the moment I've got a 50/34 crankset on my Puch Princess 'fast road bike' but with a 11-34 cassette. I've only ever ridden it locally and find the range is okay but this is probably because again I travel light. I couldn't manage a Friday Night Ride on that though: not high OR low enough.

    I play around with drive chains and haven't used a "stock build" for years. Most of mine are hybrids. I get exactly what I want and have never felt constrained by 'what's available'.

    Anyone in the UK -- Spa Cycles has you covered for just about any gear range you want (made themselves or Specialities TA or Stronglight), with good ol' crusty but honest Yorkshire advice available if you need it.

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  26. I think I am the most vestigial part of my bicycle.......

    Younger, more knowledgeable and more fit riders would certainly ride it better.

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  27. 50x11 with a 700x28 tire gives better than 36 miles per hour at 100rpm. Who on this page is going so fast? That calculation even allows for more section drop in the tires than most would ever use. Those who have ever done this sort of speed would know that at very high power output 100rpm is not very efficient. 120rpm is much better and gives a much lower, much more manageable gear. A further problem arises because fine control of the bike is not possible while wearing seven league boots. You simply should not ride at close quarters in a pack with such a high gear. Even in the pros high gears in close quarters causes crashes. You only go this speed downhill? The close control issue is there in spades. If you can do this sort of speed solo I in a time trial go right ahead. All those who do TT at 36mph raise your hands.

    11 tooth cogs have a very limited role in pro cycling, mainly for downhill sprint finishes, and many think the sport would be safer without them. Many pros do not use them. Until quite recently Dutch amateurs were restricted to a top gear of 52x13. They had to obey that restriction even at world championships and in the Olympics. Made no difference whatever in the results.

    Nearly everyone who ever puts chain on the 11 is lugging and trundling. If you like to lug and trundle I suppose that is your prerogative, it does not make you a better cyclist. That 11 occupies valuable real estate on the free hub body, makes the wheel more out of balance. Lots of silly things riders want to do make no difference, the 11 tooth is a self-inflicted wound. Bravo for Alice with the 44-12 high gear. More than sufficient.

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    1. "50x11 with a 700x28 tire"
      There are wayyyyy more scenarios for using that gear than 36mph at 100rpm, or "lugging and trundling".

      Further - I (like many if not most readers of this blog) do not ride in close quarters in a pack. In any gear.

      There are as many ways of riding as there are riders. Most will be different from you. Most of us do not present a danger to ourselves or others. I suggest you turn off the "assumptions" setting.

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    2. This morning, Sunday morning, was rainy. That still limits the number of riders on the roads. The big groups go out regardless.It is hard to count and ride, my guess is I saw 600 to 1000 other riders and the simple majority of them were in large groups. The majority of the rest were in small groups. Many of the solos were dropped riders from the big groups. When I began group rides 50 years ago we were indeed rara avis. Not so any longer.

      As a matter of traffic awareness and traffic safety I do pay attention to how other riders behave. My observation, which is neither assumption nor accusation directed at one person, is that top gear riders are less predictable and less self aware than other road users. So I yield. I yield a lot and try to stay safe.

      After 57 years in the saddle I have heard a lot of reasons for riding in the top gear. My considered opinion is I have not heard a good reason.

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    3. I wish the supposedly customizable cassettes really were. I searched for the cogs to set up a 14-32 (I think, if memory serves me) half step setup on a 42/45 front, but you can't actually get the cogs you need to do these kinds of things.

      I have trouble imagining spinning out on a 50/12, but I suppose there are those who can do it. Personally, since I haven't been in a road race in almost 30 years, if I get to a descent where I would spin out a 50/12, I wouldn't want to go that fast - what if a tire punctures, or any of the other host of unanticipated things goes wrong? Since I am not trying to win anything, I would coast on a descent like that and watch my speed.

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    4. @Anonymous June 25, 2016 at 12:49 PM: I have never felt constrained by the concerns of pro riders. Whatever legitimate concerns pro racers have over high gearing and close-quarters riding does not concern me. I most often ride alone, sometimes in small groups, but never enough to be concerned about my bike's gearing. Frankly, the old excuse "because the pros do it!" (or, in this case, the pros don't do it") doesn't mean anything to me.

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    5. The bloghost here has a fast bike, a real fast bike, and wants to ride it fast. She has another bike in 650B that she wants to be fast. She is testing yet another fast bike. Do we get to discuss going fast here?

      Close quarters riding is the only way most will ever experience going the speeds that 50x11 is intended for. If anyone thinks 50x11 is just another means of going slow God save us.

      If you want to go fast you study technique. No other sport trashes the notion of technique the way cycling does. if the barest suggestion of the most basic tenets of good technique bring out a claque of absolute beginners insisting that absolute beginners always know best, then no one ever learns anything. And that seems to be the point.

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  28. I bought a Bickerton folding bike while in China. It has a single enormous chainring and a 6-speed 14-28 rear. I don't know what they were thinking when they specified it, but with the 16" wheels the two lowest gears are completely unnecessary. In fact, just 4-5-6 is plenty. I think that the highest gear may be lower than my singlespeed, so I spin out at 15-16 MPH.

    I'm thinking that since I basically use it as a three-speed anyhow, I should be happy replacing the rear hub with an inexpensive Sturmey-Archer.

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  29. My vestigial device is a front derailleur and assoc. chainrings/shifters/cables, god I hate those things! Living and riding primarily in the city I never miss em.

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  30. Sorry I'm late to the party, but I missed this blog and wanted to add my experience. I've been riding a two speed fixed gear for the past year and a half and found it to be wonderful. I really like the simplicity that it offers. The only thing that I didn't like was that I didn't think I could include many challenging climbs into a long ride over 40 miles. So this year I reconfigured my Salsa Casseroll to have a 1x7 gearing using a 44 chain ring and a 13-34 cassette. The middle cog is a 20 that produces a gear inch close to the cruising gear on my two speed bike. I try to use this gear as much as possible and use the other six as needed and rarely using the 13 and 34. This is working very well. The 44/13 is more than enough for me pushing on a down hill. The 44/34 has done the job for tough hills. I do worry that it may not be enough for a long drawn out slog in which case I may add another chain ring, possibly a 34, but not a front derailleur. I would simply use my foot to down shift when it was absolutely necessary and then a stick to up ship once at the top of the widow maker. We'll see if I go this route since it would require a longer spindle. I rather like the chain line with the current configuration.

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  31. So, if you had a bike with drop bars and found that you rarely used them, would you cut them off???

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  32. Although I live in a great southern land 'down under' I occasionally fly with my bike to France for some cycle-camping, glorious food and a blissful array of quiet roads. Having been faced with many a 20% grade whilst carying said camping gear (about 20kg) I have concluded that I need all the gears I can get!

    So send all your disused pnes to me!

    The heavier the load, the slower you go, the more you see...

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  33. Bicycle gearing is a funny business; the more you use them, the more you need them. It's amazing what one can get used to. If you go about a couple of weeks singlespeeding it (or fake-singlespeeding) most people will find that they do just fine with one gear and only wanting more on the really steep climbs. But alas, we get so cadence blind when we got multiple gears that if we are just five rpm away from our perceived ideal cadence it feels just as wrong as putting your trousers backwards!

    Niels

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