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Are the days numbered for the triple crankset? road.cc investigates and speaks to SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo

Triple ring chainsets have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but are they threatened with extinction?

Modern road bikes can come with any one of a number of different types of chainset fitted as standard - there's standard, compact and semi-compact chainsets for starters. But just because your bike came fitted with a certain type of chainset doesn't necessarily mean it's the right one for you. 

We asked SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo if they feel that the triple chainsets days are numbered. Here are their replies: 

Campagnolo

While most athletes are covered by the gearing offered by compact chansets and larger cassettes, there are still a faithful few who are quite keen to use the triple. Several requests from areas in France, Belgium and Canada strangely enough.

However, with the advantages of the compact crankset and a movement towards larger tooth count cassettes we believe that those wishing to run a triple ring crankset will diminish further as they will adopt increasingly more often the two chainring solution. At the moment we still offer the triple.

SRAM

Is the triple chainset dead?

Dead & buried.

Where do you see the future of modern road bike chainsets?

There’s a bright future for 1x. Simpler, quieter, more secure. Current cassette options allow gear range for most cycling disciplines. 1x even provides a more aerodynamic drivetrain for TT and triathlon. 2x remains dominant, of course, because it can provide the widest gear range and closer gear ratio steps.

Shimano

Within Shimano's current road line up triple chainsets are more common at Tiagra level and below. These groupsets attract a wider audience/riding style and therefore the demands on the components are different to those favoured by competitive and performance cyclists.

Triple chainsets have closer gear ratios, making the steps between the gears easier to move through, and therefore increasing the efficiency of personal performance. For many riders, a triple chainset provides options to allow you to continue cycling in many circumstances/conditions.

However, at the competitive end of cycling, trends for many years have been in favour of double chainsets. Wider cassette ratios are now able to cover the vast majority of gear ranges, in combination with lower crankset weight values that performance athletes demand.

Which chainset is right for you?

So if the triple is dead, what are your common choices? Let's go through the main road systems to help you find the right one for you.

53-39 - Ideal for: Pros, strong riders, or flat conditions (maybe a bit more than that but you get my drift)

50-34  -Ideal for: Most people, good all-rounder ideally suited to hilly conditions

 52-36 - Ideal for: Increasingly pros, but also the rest of us mortals too, strong all rounder, ideal for hilly conditions, paired with 11-32 cassette should get most people up even the biggest mountains.

48-32 - Ideal for: Touring and adventure bikes, it takes the existing idea of the compact chainset a step further, yielding gearing that’s ideal for bikes used across a range of surfaces and terrains

1x11 - Ideal for: Cyclocross, gravel and adventure riding. The single ring and wide-range (10-42t) cassette provides much of the range of a compact and shifting simplicity along with increased mud and ground clearance

- Read more: Which chainset is right for you?

The compact killed the triple

Gearing options have increased substantially over the years with the advent of the compact chainset the biggest reason for the demise of the triple. The arrival of the compact immediately sparked debate surrounding the death of the triple chainset, and they’re now much less noticeable in any of the big three groupset manufacturers - SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo - ranges than they used to be. 

retro chainset - 1 (1).jpg

retro chainset - 1 (1).jpg

Before the compact came along, your crankset choice was largely split between a double for racing and a triple for touring and Audax riding. At this time of limited choice, a triple was appealing for any non-racing applications, particularly touring or Audax bikes laden with luggage, the lower gears helping to spin up the climbs. 

The new wave of sportive bikes sparked the development for a chainset that offered most of the range of the triple but with better chainline, lower weight and, arguably, better looks on a sporty carbon bike. 

- Struggling on the hills? If you need lower gears to make climbing easier, here's how to get them

The compact was an instant success. First launched by FSA soon after the turn of the century, the company met these sportive bike requirements and when paired with the increased range of the 10-speed cassettes introduced at roughly the same time, provided most of the same low gearing as a typical triple setup.

A triple does offer a wide range of gears, but there is a lot of duplication. A 50/34 compact with a 12-29 11-speed cassette provided minimal difference to a 53/42/30 triple with a 13-29 cassette. The small compromise in reduced gear choices and range was compensated by reduced less gear duplication, lower groupset system weight and a narrow Q-factor.

Compacts were even used in professional races too, Tyler Hamilton using a compact on a mountain stage of the 2003 Tour de France. The fate of the triple for the new breed of performance focused sportive bikes and cyclists was sealed forever. 

The chainset evolution

The evolution of the chainset and the reduction of the number of rings has been helped by the growing cassette range and increased gears of each subsequent groupset release. Back in the day, you’d be lucky with a 6-speed cassette and an 11-23t cassette, fine for racers, but the only way to get some low gears - for touring, Audax or leisure cycling - was to fit a triple chainset. 

With the advent of 9, 10 and 11-speed groupsets and an increased cassette range, with 11-28 and 11-32 now common options, there’s less need for a triple chainset. You can now get a wide spread of ratios with less duplication of gears.

Dura-Ace 9100 - crank 1.jpg

Dura-Ace 9100 - crank 1.jpg

A triple chainset is essentially a double with a smaller chainring bolted on. Triple chainsets require special front derailleurs and shifters, along with a matching long cage rear derailleur to accommodate the long chain needed to cover the full range of sprocket options. Reducing the need for specific components was a boon to manufacturers as it tidied up product lines.

And so they fell out of favour with manufacturers. Shimano and Campagnolo wasted no time dropping triples from their top-end ranges, Dura-Ace and Record respectively, replacing them with new compacts. SRAM didn’t even make a triple chainset when it first got into the road bike groupset market, and has been a proponent of the single ring drivetrain for all applications outside of road racing. 

FSA K-Force Light 52/36 semi-compact chainset

FSA K-Force Light 52/36 semi-compact chainset

Now there are an increasing array of options. The recently introduced semi-compact (52/36t) has been a hit, popular with racers and performance minded cyclists, and some reckon it even threatens the compact. 

More recent is the sub-compact (48/32 and 46/30), a new chainset being developed for adventure and touring cyclists where lower gears for tackling hillier terrain with heavier bikes is required. We expect these to become very popular with cyclists and bike brands.

SRAM Force CX1 Groupset - chainset.jpg

SRAM Force CX1 Groupset - chainset.jpg

- First look: Does the Praxis Works Alba 48/32 herald the era of the sub-compact chainset?

Add to the mix too SRAM’s 1x11 approach, which pairs a single chainring with a super wide-range cassette, and there’s much talk of the demise of the triple chainset to the very fringes of cycling.

Do you think the triple is dead or is there still a place for it?

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

69 comments

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Chris Hayes [167 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

A rare sight indeed these days.... a compact chain-set is lighter, more efficient, easier to set up and maintain and should get you up most things with an appropriate cassette

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Bigfoz [143 posts] 7 months ago
13 likes

Compact over triple? Never. I've tried a compact on 3 seperate occasions, hated it every time, too many big jumps in gears from end to end. Have now settled on an excellent solution for all bar my race bikes: Campag triple, with 53/39/30 rings. Matches my double chainset race bikes, but with the ability to spin away like a food blender up hills. Living in Scotland these days that's very welcome.  

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Yorkshire wallet [1515 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

Maybe triples will die....but not because of gearing options but because of E-bikes. I'm sure as batteries get smaller then we'll probably see 1x groupsets with battery power for the less able. Hell, with 250w extra on tap I'd happily run 53/39 .

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TheLonelyOne [357 posts] 7 months ago
24 likes

My touring bike - fully loaded with 4 paniers, tent, toolkit and spares, and 6 litres of water in bottles and bidons, simply would not have got up Mont Ventoux without it's super-low triple enabled 22-front, 32-rear granny gear.

We're not all 'athletes' all the time. Sometimes, we're just riding a bike, and we'd like to be able to do it in the most comfortable gear. For me, touring dictates wide range and narrow ratio. 

Triple. Suck it, SRAM.

 

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tritecommentbot [2268 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

What's the smallest cog you can have on a cassette? 9? What's the limitation there?

I'd love to ride a do-it-all 1x, electronic, wireless groupo on the road bike some day. 

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ashliejay [69 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

triple chainsets, just aren't worth the hassle, as setting up the front mech is a nightmare, as at least with a double, you set the limit screws and that's pretty much it.

personally, i doubt i'll ever go back to a double unless it's Di2 or something with synchro shift, as after using 1x for a few years, it's just easier and less hassle, and as i don't have any interest in racing, a 11-42 cassette with a 38t up front is all the range i need.

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Al__S [1268 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes
TheLonelyOne wrote:

We're not all 'athletes' all the time. Sometimes, we're just riding a bike,

... loaded with vast amounts of luggage riding for fun up a vast mountain. Tell me again how you're not an "athlete"?

 

Anyway, the key bit for Triple fans is to buy the things and prove there's still a market. If shops can't shift the stock they'll stop ordering it, and if it isn't ordered the manufacurers will stop making it in their current ranges and won't design it in their future ranges.

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Rod Marton [96 posts] 7 months ago
6 likes

I liked triples. I probably sound like an old fogey, but it was just so much easier to change into the gear you wanted with a triple than a compact double. No faffing around with both levers, just flick one and you were there.

Really the problem for the triple is the ever-expanding number of gears on the cassette. I for one never noticed any advantage with having more than a 7-speed and nowadays you can get the same number and range of gears with a 10/11 speed cassette and a compact double as we used to have with a triple - but they aren't as easy to get to. I know the double may be lighter, but a triple was more robust - and not all of us are weight weenies.

Having said that, all my current bikes except the tandem have compact doubles, and I really can't be bothered to change them. Sometimes you just have to accept that the march of progress is retrograde.

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dave atkinson [6329 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

unconstituted wrote:

What's the smallest cog you can have on a cassette? 9? What's the limitation there?

I'd love to ride a do-it-all 1x, electronic, wireless groupo on the road bike some day. 

current limitation is the design of the freehub and cassette. 11T is the smallest you can go on a standard shimano/sram/campag freehub

sram XD freehub allows a minimum 10T sprocket; there the limitation is the size of the axle (12mm)

you could do a 9T with a quick release 9mm axle and a different freehub design, but not with anything that's currently available

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64spokes [4 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

I have two bikes, a trekking with a triple, and a road bike with a compact. Sometimes I miss the triple on the road bike, but as I don't have much weight it's not a real problem because the bike can accelerate much faster anyway.

But for the trekking bike I LOVE the triple. I can use it to have decent acceleration despite the weight (and I can change a lot of ratio with one move),  and to be more efficient if I use a trailer or even slightly loaded panniers.

I understand that triples are less needed with more range on the cassette and less weight of the average bike, but there is no need to standardize on the "right" things. The different options is part of the beauty of bikes.  Would you  want to standardize on double or triple beers?

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Valbrona [235 posts] 7 months ago
17 likes

People who lack riding experience might claim that the triple is dead. But I don't bother listening to them.

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CXR94Di2 [1834 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

I built my Tripster up with 40/28 chainring and swap the rear wheel with either 11-40 or 11-32 cassette. It has a low gearing of 18" high gearing of 96". I can ride up mountains and also do pacey club runs with my bike.

Most people don't need a 48, 50,52,53 chainring.

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alotronic [530 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

Over the last few years my retro-grouch hankering for triples has declined, though I still find the jumps on a compact too large if running a 12-32 (I am still on 10 speed). The sub compact and 11speed would probably get rid of that problem, but I am not spending money to upgrade to 11sp, happy to have all my bikes on 10sp for the foreseeable.

I still really like my triple on Audax bike though -  (28-38-48 x 12-27) gives a lovely spread of gears (not range, that's easy, it's where the cogs fall into  your cadence that counts!) I also have bar end levers on that bike too after being driven quietly mad on Paris-Brest-Paris by STIs that no one seemed to be able to get right (fecking 105-5700, yuk).

In the past I have done really silly things like run triples with straight blocks, which, in the days of 7 and 8 speed gave a wonderful range and very narrow spread - no wasted ratios. I still think a 3x8 with friction levers is probably the strongest most durable and flexible gear set around and one I would consider had I the luxury of riding around the world.

And I think Campys Racing triple was probably one of the prettiest groupsets ever. God I am sad.

But yes, more choice is good, and STIs make setting up triples an utter sh*t festival. 

 

 

 

 

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Simon E [3124 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

Just like steel frames, Brooks saddles, wool baselayers and many other things that are considered 'old hat' in the perennial drive to sell you yet more new stuff.

CXR94Di2 wrote:

Most people don't need a 48, 50,52,53 chainring.

Oh but, they do. They DO! And they will tell you so with remarkable conviction.

I don't know if it's coincidence but it appears that the people who need 52x11 to be able to ride downhill also seem to need 34x32 to go up it as well.

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TheLonelyOne [357 posts] 7 months ago
5 likes
Al__S wrote:
TheLonelyOne wrote:

We're not all 'athletes' all the time. Sometimes, we're just riding a bike,

... loaded with vast amounts of luggage riding for fun up a vast mountain. Tell me again how you're not an "athlete"?

Different perspectives, I think. I see "athletes" as folk trying to get maximum performance. We were trying to get maximum fun. Perhaps I've started taking my level of fitness for granted, spending too much time looking up at how far away the pinnacle is, rather than how high I've come.

It took us 3 and a half hours to get up the 24km from Sault. We took 90 minutes to get the 6km up from Chalet Reynard - or about walking pace! But we weren't in a hurry, got great photos, and still overtook the racing bike guy who couldn't turn his lowest gear and had to either unclip or fall over in front of us. Memories made in cycling through the fog, watching the sunshine blaze as we rode through the cloud, and then dressing up with as much as we could put on in the freezing blast chiller of the summit wind. I never once think about how difficult it was, because the bike let me work at my own pace. 

Going down the Malaucène  side with all that gear though - that was... exciting...

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Must be Mad [625 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
Quote:

I liked triples. I probably sound like an old fogey, but it was just so much easier to change into the gear you wanted with a triple than a compact double. No faffing around with both levers, just flick one and you were there.

That is, surly, simply a case of knowing how to operate your kit?

From my experience of riding with guys using tripples - they seem to spend ages hunting around for the right gear, and trying to jump the chain across two chain rings at the bottom and top of each climb, where as, on the Compact, its "just one flick and your done"

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joules1975 [483 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
Rod Marton wrote:

I for one never noticed any advantage with having more than a 7-speed.

Really? So the closer spacing between the gears wasn't something you appreciated?

The problem now is that the spacing between the gears has increased again thanks to 1x set-ups.

I'd love to see 50-36t, 48-34t, 46-32t double options as this will reduce the huge jump when changing between chainrings to something more similar to what you find on a triple. Combine these with a wide range 11 or 12 speed cassette and there isn't a need for a triple.

Shimano have done somthing along these lines with the 11 speed mountain bike groups and the double chainsets they contain.

That said, a triple does make more sense in one way  - small for up, middle for level and big for down. With a double it can take a little more thought to set yourself up for the road ahead.

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huntswheelers [103 posts] 7 months ago
5 likes

Now't wrong with Triples....  easy to set up (if you don't follow the YouTube stuff..lol)  and to be fair they have and still do get people into cycling most of the disciplines. Nothing wrong with them on road bikes and many who have them like the option of the "granny" ring if they need to "bail out" while cycling climbs and roads which are in another region than familiar to them. Not eveyone is a racing whippet of 9 stone.... I have both... and tend use the triple for hilly sportives...if you are an old bloke like me who spends most of his time on the tools preparing bikes for others to ride....you will understand that I don't have the time to be "race fit" and the legs for big geared compacts on 20% climbs.....   There is not one size fits all....if there was we wouldn't have all the Bottom Bracket "standards" as we do..... and why many carbon framed bikes have press fit BB's and yet Pinarello remain with threaded type... old fashioned..or plain sensible... ?..... same can be said for Triple's I guess

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KnightBiker [81 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

I'm still riding a tripple on my racing bike, even tough i hardly ever use it: only when the odd 20 percent climb comes along.

Then thing with Doubles is that you have to adapt your gearing for the conditions your riding in:

on the flats a 36 is completely useless, even in a tuff headwind. When i'm bend out of shape a 39 can be quite though to get up the mountains and the +20 climbs a are a real struggle with that, especially +150 km into a sportive. 

The thing is i like thight gearing, and since i'm still riding 10 speed that's not yet easily doable for all conditions with one set of 52x39. with 52x11-25 i'm missing steps between gears

(the 53 is indeed really only for pro's: 52x11 is already really hard to use in flat conditions on your own)

(but the major reason i'm still rding my tripple is that it still works, and i'm holding out till all the new features become available in a complete package in Ultegra: Disc Brackes, DI2,  Sinchronized Shifting etc. I' the mean time i still have a working groupset and 3 sets of wheels not compatible with 11 speed, i just don't jump on the band wagon of buying everything new every other year)

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Simon E [3124 posts] 7 months ago
5 likes
Must be Mad wrote:

That is, surly, simply a case of knowing how to operate your kit?

From my experience of riding with guys using tripples - they seem to spend ages hunting around for the right gear, and trying to jump the chain across two chain rings at the bottom and top of each climb, where as, on the Compact, its "just one flick and your done"

Interestingly, the experience I've witnessed - and apparently many others who have tried compacts - is the opposite.

On rolling terrain riders with compacts often seem to change chainring and then need multiple shifts on the cassette to find a comfortable cadence. They seem to be cross-chaining on small-small (34x12 or whatever) quite often too rather than moving  to the big ring because it's such a wide jump and would require several downshifts.

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Yorkshie Whippet [620 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

I think triples will eventually die out as more and more people are introduced to cycling on doubles both on road bikes and MTBS. Or like myself, many may transfer from mtbing and bring along what we are used to.

Maybe just maybe we'll be here discussing the death of doubles due to the introduction of 13 cog cassettes on 142 wide axles, or the death of rim brakes....

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CXR94Di2 [1834 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
Simon E wrote:

Just like steel frames, Brooks saddles, wool baselayers and many other things that are considered 'old hat' in the perennial drive to sell you yet more new stuff.

CXR94Di2 wrote:

Most people don't need a 48, 50,52,53 chainring.

Oh but, they do. They DO! And they will tell you so with remarkable conviction.

I don't know if it's coincidence but it appears that the people who need 52x11 to be able to ride downhill also seem to need 34x32 to go up it as well.

Big guys and I'm one of them don't need a 52x11 for downhills. Gravity works just aswell. I was out for a group ride at the weekend and even on 4% declines I was freewheeling,sat up on the hoods and still overtaking riders pedalling pretty quickly. 50,52,53 have there place and i use them on my bike for TT. The rest of the time gear down and spin.

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Mungecrundle [866 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes
CXR94Di2 wrote:
Simon E wrote:

Just like steel frames, Brooks saddles, wool baselayers and many other things that are considered 'old hat' in the perennial drive to sell you yet more new stuff.

CXR94Di2 wrote:

Most people don't need a 48, 50,52,53 chainring.

Oh but, they do. They DO! And they will tell you so with remarkable conviction.

I don't know if it's coincidence but it appears that the people who need 52x11 to be able to ride downhill also seem to need 34x32 to go up it as well.

Big guys and I'm one of them don't need a 52x11 for downhills. Gravity works just aswell. I was out for a group ride at the weekend and even on 4% declines I was freewheeling,sat up on the hoods and still overtaking riders pedalling pretty quickly. 50,52,53 have there place and i use them on my bike for TT. The rest of the time gear down and spin.

Rolling resistance
Drafting effect
Aerodynamics
Mechanical losses in drivetrain

Take your pick, but nothing to do with your weight, unless the laws of physics have changed.

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cyclisto [313 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

Give me 500% range with no energy and cog teeth consuming cross chaining, with decent increments and a hollowtech crank that will cost no more than a Sora groupset does and I will be happy

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Duncann [1141 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes
Simon E wrote:
Must be Mad wrote:

That is, surly, simply a case of knowing how to operate your kit?

From my experience of riding with guys using tripples - they seem to spend ages hunting around for the right gear, and trying to jump the chain across two chain rings at the bottom and top of each climb, where as, on the Compact, its "just one flick and your done"

Interestingly, the experience I've witnessed - and apparently many others who have tried compacts - is the opposite.

On rolling terrain riders with compacts often seem to change chainring and then need multiple shifts on the cassette to find a comfortable cadence. They seem to be cross-chaining on small-small (34x12 or whatever) quite often too rather than moving  to the big ring because it's such a wide jump and would require several downshifts.

I'm with you on this.

I've recently moved from 53/39 to 50/34, which has been great for cadence on steeper climbs but  on 'normal' undulating roads  (or where poor corner sightlines make you ease off) I seem to be changing chainring and then fine-tuning the cassette much more often.

It's not a big deal but it feels more faffy than the old 39t which was the 'right' ring most of the time. The middle ring on a road triple would perform a similar function, I imagine.

My triple experience is on a MTB where lots of ring-hopping was required but it was easier than on a compact: the granny was for obviously up; the dinner plate for fast descent; and the middle one for the middle 70ish%. With a compact, it rarely seems the right ring for long.

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CXR94Di2 [1834 posts] 7 months ago
1 like
Mungecrundle wrote:
CXR94Di2 wrote:
Simon E wrote:

Just like steel frames, Brooks saddles, wool baselayers and many other things that are considered 'old hat' in the perennial drive to sell you yet more new stuff.

CXR94Di2 wrote:

Most people don't need a 48, 50,52,53 chainring.

Oh but, they do. They DO! And they will tell you so with remarkable conviction.

I don't know if it's coincidence but it appears that the people who need 52x11 to be able to ride downhill also seem to need 34x32 to go up it as well.

Big guys and I'm one of them don't need a 52x11 for downhills. Gravity works just aswell. I was out for a group ride at the weekend and even on 4% declines I was freewheeling,sat up on the hoods and still overtaking riders pedalling pretty quickly. 50,52,53 have there place and i use them on my bike for TT. The rest of the time gear down and spin.

Rolling resistance
Drafting effect
Aerodynamics
Mechanical losses in drivetrain

Take your pick, but nothing to do with your weight, unless the laws of physics have changed.

Heavier riders descend faster than lighter riders for less effort-fact. Regarding rolling resistance i was using my training tyres, 40mm G Ones :). The rest of the group 25/23mm road tyres.

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earth [370 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

These are just fads.  The route back to triples is laid out already.

When I first got a compact with a wide ranging cassette I felt would prefer the smaller jumps between sprokets from a triple with a narrow range cassette.  I haven't used a 1X but I've seen videos of off-the-peg bikes that shift up the cassette when pedaling backwards and very bad chainlines that increase drive train loses.   That along with tractor tyres and creaky bottom brackets all add up to bikes that are just waiting to be called out as inefficient and high maintenance.

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harman_mogul [299 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

The triple will die when Shimano stops supporting it. No sign of that yet. 

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handlebarcam [1054 posts] 7 months ago
6 likes

With ever narrower chains, surely the time of the quadruple is almost upon us. Think of the marketing advantage of being able to put "48 speed" on the promotional material for a new bike equipped with 12 cogs on the back and 4 rings at the front (and the obligatory bluetooth head unit displaying gears remaining before your speed drops below that required to remain upright.)

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Woldsman [198 posts] 7 months ago
7 likes

They may take our downtube shifters, but they'll never take our triples!

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