Which cassette to pair with a 53/39 crank?

WhoDeany Posts: 2
edited July 2019 in Road buying advice
I’m currently piecing together a new bike and am looking for some guidance as to what cassette I should pair with my 53/39 crank.
The crank came with the bike and I have a 11 speed rear derailleur.
It is semi hilly in some spots where I live but not overly bad.
Should I purchase a 11/28, 11/30 or 11/32?

And is a 11/32 cassette mainly for really big hills?

Thank you


  • super_davo
    super_davo Posts: 1,195
    That's a real "how long is a piece of string" question. There are loads of factors involved in finding the right answer e.g.
    - How hilly it is where you ride (your very might be different to mine)
    - How fit you are
    - How heavy you are
    - Whether you like to spin or grind

    My advice would be to look at what's on your current bike as the bottom gear and work out from there. Use something like a gear calculator app (there are loads) to work out the equivalent ratio from your old and new crankset. If you find it easy then you could go up, if you find it hard go down. And consider Miche cassettes that start at 12 if you don't need the top end e.g. they make a 12-30 etc. 53-11 is a very tall top gear indeed.
  • cycleclinic
    cycleclinic Posts: 6,865
    What cassette is up to you. No one should give gearing advise. Its personal and so long as your not struggling your in the right gear.

    For rides with 1000m of climbing every 100om a 53/39t with a 12-27t does me fine. For hillier rides I might put a 12-29t on. That however is for me. It possibly does not apply to the OP.
    http://www.thecycleclinic.co.uk -wheel building and other stuff.
  • imposter2.0
    imposter2.0 Posts: 12,028
    Unanswerable question. A bit like asking “what size shoes should I buy?”...
  • pilot_pete
    pilot_pete Posts: 2,120
    Its a lot to do with the actual gradients you climb and how strong you are.

    So, if you ride lots and lots of hills up to say 7% gradient and you are reasonably strong you could probably easily cover 30miles with the smallest cassette listed. If you were doing 80miles on the same hills would you still be strong enough to turn that lowest gear when significantly more fatigued? Maybe, maybe not.

    What if your riding takes you over hills with significantly steeper gradients, say 10% average with some short bits up to 20%? You may well still be able to do 30 miles but could you still climb a 20% gradient with 80 miles in the legs on the smallest range cassette you have listed? Doubtful unless you are very strong/ young/ light. Only you can tell.

    I’m fairly strong for a 52yo, but at 13.5 stone I ride a 52/34 with 11/28 cassette in the Peak District, which is closer to the second type of hills listed above! Sometimes the 34/28 isn’t really low enough with 100 miles in the legs after 10,000’ of climbing and one last brute looming up ahead. I don’t have to stop, but I will be grinding at less than walking pace.

    I could put a bigger cassette on, say up to 32 but it’s rare for me to do a ride like the above, most are 60-80 milers in the hills with only the odd 20% gradient for a short stretch so I don’t really need a 32 sitting there unused for the majority of the time.

    It’s horses for courses. Only you will know.

  • DeVlaeminck
    DeVlaeminck Posts: 8,907
    Get the 28 - 39*28 is an easy gear - I wonder at what point people would stop recommending ever easier gears just because they are available.

    If you plan on riding in proper mountains or somewhere like the Lakes or the more difficult areas of Yorkshire then maybe look at a bigger sprocket but if your hills are more of the rolling variety I can't see an easier gear being needed for the majority of riders.

    Can't see you getting much use out of the 11 though.
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  • bendertherobot
    bendertherobot Posts: 11,684
    So, convential wisdom, possibly, is that a compact with 25 or 28 is a good choice for just getting around.

    So, let's say you choose that 32 cassette, and your mech can take it, how does that measure up to conventional wisdom (that should prove good for 4 pages):

    The 32 is 32.09 gear inches.

    On a compact, a 28 is 31.82 and a 25 35.77 (lower is easier). A 32 is about a 27 1/2 on a compact, if there was such a gear.

    Move down to a 30 that's 34.96, almost the same as a 26.

    Move down to a 28 and that's between a 23 and 24 which, personally, I wouldn't want for climbing.

    It does boil down to whatever you find works, but I'd be looking at the 30 or 32 if you can, even if it's just a bail out gear.
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  • N0bodyOfTheGoat
    N0bodyOfTheGoat Posts: 5,999
    My Cube has a compact 34/50 chainset with an 11-32 cassette, 34/32 got plenty of use the other day up the likes of Sailor's Lane; Old Winchester Hill; Harvesting Lane; West Marden's "wall;" Hinton Manor Lane; Cams Hill. They each have stretches that hit approx 10-17%.

    On another day, when I felt more energetic, I might not have needed to go easier than 34/25.

    Gear for your worse than average day.
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  • lesfirth
    lesfirth Posts: 1,382
    It is always better to have a lower gear that you do not need than to need a lower gear that you do not have.
  • pilot_pete
    pilot_pete Posts: 2,120
    Wise words Les.

    Even the pros use big cassettes and smaller chainrings on certain days - on a day in the mountains where they may climb 15,000’ and end on something as brutal as the Monte Zoncolan many will opt for a real small gear just to get up it.

  • bendertherobot
    bendertherobot Posts: 11,684
    One of my climbs today topped out at 22%, says Strava. Dunno it true but had to lean forward to keep wheel on ground.

    Very hard work on my TCR with 36/30. Last week did similar on my Contend which has 34/34. Still hard but more a case of perseverence than fitness.
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  • cougie
    cougie Posts: 22,512
    As Les says - go for the lower gear.
    I like hills and am quite good at them but I've never been in bottom gear and wished it was a harder gear...
  • daniel_b
    daniel_b Posts: 11,770
    What make and model of crankset is it, and what groupset?

    I recently bought a bike that came stock with a 53/39 and an 11/32 on the back.

    I have a fairly intense dislike of 'gappy' cassettes, so invested in (for moderate cost) a 36T inner ring, and swapped it out, sold my original cassette, and fitted an 11/28, much more to my liking, though in reality I'd prefer a 12/28 or 12/29.
    Shifts perfectly in this setup, for very minor cost.
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  • DeVlaeminck
    DeVlaeminck Posts: 8,907
    Why are we talking about the Zoncolan when the OP is speccing a bike to ride in an area "hilly in some spots but not too bad" ?

    Get the 28 and if you want to climb some of the hardest climbs in Europe then get the 32 probably with a compact crankset to boot. 39*28 at 60rpm (slow but not ridiculously so climbing a hill) will get you down to 6.5mph. Unless you are in a really hilly area do you need lower than that?

    The 32 will only get you down less than 1mph slower anyway.
    [Castle Donington Ladies FC - going up in '22]
  • philbar72
    philbar72 Posts: 2,229
    for moderately hilly rides I find a 38 /39 with a 30 tooth is fine. but then I rarely use the bottom gear. it really is a case of each to their own. most rear derraileurs should be able to work fine with a 30 tooth,,,,
  • def_defyr
    def_defyr Posts: 93
    I just went from an 11-27 to a 12-28 with a 53/39 -- mostly due to the aging process. Next bike I expect will be compact and have a 32 in the back. I just can't push taller gears uphill the way I could when I was in my 20s and rarely use the 12.

    However, a 28 is perfectly fine for all but "real" mountains. Hilly and rolling shouldn't be an issue.
  • I've ridden out in the Chilterns several times recently with a super-fit friend who's training for a half-Ironman in September. I can stay with him on the majority of a route but he always throws in a (different) devilish climb, usually towards the end of our ride when I'm flagging a little. With 53/39 and an 11-25 cassette I was doomed to failure on anything peaking above about 13-14 percent, especially if it had a 'false summit' to first give me a boost anticipating making it up only to slap me down when I saw the real crest after having used up my last reserves of energy.

    Embarrassingly, I had to hop off the bike and walk the last 20% of two or three climbs, on one occasion much to the amusement of some fellow cyclists who passed at just the right time to rib me good-humouredly. What makes it worse is that my good friend can grind up to the top on his very light bike with a semi-compact 52-36 and 12-28 cassette.
    My only concession to try to improve so far has been to swap the 11-25 for an 11-27, which has helped. A bit. I have been getting up more of the steeper climbs, nearly making the top of a longish stretch peaking at 18%, and I did get a clean sheet on our last ride.

    So, my point is that I really need a little more help to keep going on the steepest sections and I feel that swapping the chainrings must be the next option for me, in tandem with more hill practice. I know you would like to avoid buying a new chainset but I think trying the 52-36 chainrings with the 12-28 cassette is the way to go. I'm pretty sure I'll get up the steeper hills if I give in myself and opt for that set-up.

    The only bonus of the super-high gearing is being able to push on down some fast descents where I've achieved some decent-for-me times.