Gear ratios - help!

MrsPB Posts: 17
edited May 2011 in Road beginners
Hi all this is my first post so please be gentle!

I’m hoping to buy a WSD road bike shortly so that I can improve my fitness and perhaps ride a sportive at the end of the summer.

Could somebody please tell me how to compare road bike gear ratios. I’m female, I live in hilly Devon and I’m not as fit as I should be (but working on it). I suspect I need a triple so that my confidence on hills is not shattered on day one. My question is this - how do I compare a compact with a chain ring setup of 34/50 and a 12-26 rear cassette with a triple chain ring of 50/39/30 and a rear cassette 12-25.

Also, what defines a compact (not all double chain rings are compact, right)?

What are benefits of a compact setup if it makes hills tougher to climb (is just a weight thing, a fashion thing, a guy thing?)?

All answers gratefully received.



  • GG53
    GG53 Posts: 20

    Welcome to the forum. This is one of my first posts, so we'll be gentle with each other.

    If you are planning on doing a sportive later in the year then you likely have a good degree of fitness and confidence as they will require some climbing etc.

    I bought my first road bike last week and sought similar advice. I came from a triple on an MTB to a 50/36 - 32/11 on a hybrid. I won't make the gender assumption and say I should be fitter and stringer than you, though I am fit and fairly strong in my own right. I found that I was rarely using the larger sprockets save for when I cleaned the bike.

    I studied gear ratios, terrain, bike-builds and off the shelf jobs each and every day for a weeks. I took some good advice from one of the younger, fitter and faster guys from the local Clarion I plan on joining. Compact 50/34 - 25/12 should suffice.

    My original plan was a Ribble build in which I could specify. In the end I found a Giant at my local LBS that suited me perfectly. 52/39 - 25/12.

    I have only had it a week and have gone up most inclines lacking absolutely nothing. As it is my first road bike and confidence in geometry and balance were issues initially I didn't try and power up any climbs. As it happens, I don't need to. I have more than enough to stay in the saddle, keep spinning at a comfortable rate and get up the climbs at good speeds. My cadence is averaging 85bpm, my speeds are remaining acceptable and my knees are feeling much, much healthier.

    If I do need to tackle any great climbs in the future, I have the option of changing the cassette to include a 27 or 28.

    Based on my experience thus far, go compact, keep spinning and enjoy yourself.



    Standard doubles are the traditional road set-up. Compact doubles are becoming much more popular (see some of the set-ups on a couple of the hillier stages in this year's Giro), and Triples are much more suited to the multi-terrain of MTB. Triples are also much more difficult to set-up well. Road riding tends to look for smoothness and more subtle ratios to keep the cadence even.
  • Buckled_Rims
    Buckled_Rims Posts: 1,648
    Welcome to the forum. I'm suffering from a hangover so please be gentle with me as well :wink:

    What some riders like to know is the "gear inches" of the ratios. This is simply how far you travel for 1 complete revolution of the pedal. You use a gear calculator to see what ratios gives the inches by going to:

    Basically the shorter the gear inches the more suitable for it is for hill climbing. However there does become a point where you could end up spinning away madly and not going any faster then just walking and pushing the bike up :shock:

    I'm reasonably fit, so I tend not to go below 35 gear inches on my bike, but generally both are set up for about 38 inches.

    As you can see if you put the numbers into the calculator there's really not that much difference between a compact chainset and a triple. In my opinion (other will disagree) a triple is best for a touring bike that'll carry a lot of weight. A compact with 12-28 cassette should get you up 99% of the hills. SRAM have a compact chainset called the Apex that is almost mountain bike gears and at the moment that is the pinnacle of hill climbing geared road bike.
    Kona Jake the Snake
    Merlin Malt 4
  • markos1963
    markos1963 Posts: 3,724
    Welcome Mrs PB
    You seem to have a fair understanding already so I wouldn't worry too much.
    You'll get a lot of people recommending compacts(50/34) but I think for a beginner(male or female) living in a hilly area a triple makes the most sense. You'll have a a broader range of gears and the jump between the front rings is much more user friendly. I have got so fed up with the big jump I've fitted a 36T inner on my compact to make it more usable in my flatter area.
    The rear cassette choice is down to personal preference, if you fit a triple then you can have a closer ratio cassette, 12-23 or 12-25, but if you go compact then you might have to fit a 12-27 or 11-28 which makes the jumps between gears bigger.
    If you want to play with the figures then you can use this app. to work it out. ... pplet.html

    My choice would be a triple with 50/39/30 and a 12-23 cassette.
  • MrsPB
    MrsPB Posts: 17
    Just a quickie to say many thanks for all the responses so far - I'll look at them in detail this evening.

    @markos1963 - I'm Norfolk born and bred and that's where most of my cycling has been so I'm still struggling with the Devon hills!
  • andrewjoseph
    andrewjoseph Posts: 2,165
    i'd suggest a touring Triple setup, i.e. mtb triple on the front (22-34-44 or similar) and an mtb cassette and rear mech in the back (12-34), especially as you don't want to put yourself off.

    As you get fitter you can change the rear mtb cassette for a road cassette (or a closer ration mtb 11- 32), and put bigger chain rings on the front (24-36- 49). This may allow you to go change setup without too much tinkering and too much extra expense.

    My wife and I have been mountain biking for years and recently started road rides and touring. We bought touring frames and I built them up with mostly mtb chainsets.

    My wife's first road bike was a specialized Dolce, women specific, triple. She was struggling with the climbs in our south wales valleys and I couldn't understand it, she would get up much steeper rougher roads with a heavy backpack on our mtb's.

    On closer inspection of her chainset, i found that the triple 30-42-52 , her rear cassette was ~11- 24.

    By comparison, my boardman compact (with modifications) was 50 outer, 34 inner with an 12- 27 cassette, so her lowest gear was similar to my lowest gear, and I'm bigger than her.

    I put the mtb/touring triple setup on and the difference was amazing, she rarely uses her lowest gears, spinning up steep hills with a few cogs to spare.

    So, even a woman's bike with a road triple may not be suitable for a novice cyclist in a hilly area. The Dolce certainly wasn't.
    Burls Ti Tourer for Tarmac, Saracen aluminium full suss for trails
  • markos1963
    markos1963 Posts: 3,724
    MrsPB wrote:
    Just a quickie to say many thanks for all the responses so far - I'll look at them in detail this evening.

    @markos1963 - I'm Norfolk born and bred and that's where most of my cycling has been so I'm still struggling with the Devon hills!

    Seeing as my steepest hill around here is Beacon Hill at West Runton(1mile @ 8-9%) and I can do it on a 70in fixed gear I don't think I'm best qualified to comment on Devons finest :D
  • JST
    JST Posts: 158
    Hello fellow Devon person :) Which part of Devon are you in? We do have good hills here and you will learn to enjoy them :lol: Riding on Dartmoor is great if you are near there but does invole at least one long uphill to get up there, but then a great downhill on the way back. Once on the moor it seems to be more of a gentle roll (if you choose your route well!).

    I think most of what needs to be said has been said in the posts above. Once you have a bike you will soon work out what you prefer and changing bits is not the end of the world if you find you don't get on with the double/triple/compact you decide to go with.

    I am no expert but I did read somewhere that you don't really need a women specific design and can just as well use a regular road bike in a size that fits and set up for you. If this is true it gives you a much bigger choice - Maybe WSD bikes are more of a marketing thing but maybe i'm talking crap :oops: Anyway there are plenty of good bike shops in Devon and i'm sure they'll be happy for you to ride a few different setups and see what works for you.

    FWIW I ride a 52/39 with a 13/26 cassette but find on the odd hill here I could maybe do with a shorter gear so I can spin better rather than grinding up...