Cycling Gear Ratios - Quickest Performance gain

by backflipbedlem   September 12, 2013  

So I got my budget bike a couple of months ago to get into Road cycling. Made a couple of basic improvements, peddles, pads etc. But as I'm getting more into it and nearing my 1000km Mark. I've noticed that I've been struggling on some of the more serious climbs 10%+ etc.
Thought this was just down to being relatively new, but then started looking into great ratios, turns out my bike has 48/38 front and 14-28 rear which means my best combo is 38, 28 giving me a ratio of 1.36 which is in no means ideal.
Now I've got the Biggin Hill sportive coming up soon which will feature lots of fun climbs. What's my best way to improve this ratio? And what would you recommend?
Just swap out the chainset and leave cassette as is?
I'm on a budget, hence the budget bike!
All help greatly appreciated!

16 user comments

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A cassette is probably going to be cheaper than a new chainset. You might be able to go to a 30 tooth bottom cog, or even 32. Shimano make good quality basic cassettes for mtb, eg HG50 , that might suit you. Or Sunrace, which is shimano compatible. (i'm assuming your drivetrain is shimano).

You need to look up what reach your rear mech can handle - a 32 might be too big!

Oh - and that swap would give you a higher top gear, too. 11 or 12, rather than 14.

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posted by PJ McNally [585 posts]
13th September 2013 - 7:37

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if it's 14-28 it's probably a freewheel rather than a cassette, so there will be no going below 14 without swapping a rear wheel for a one that takes cassettes, and the choice will be quite limited, but more info is needed. Possibly shimano 2300 or the newer Claris chainset could be an option (50/34)

posted by mhtt [42 posts]
13th September 2013 - 8:05

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I'm pretty sure it is shimano, but where it was a budget bike it didn't list the makes and model of all the components.
The bike is a vertigo Piccadilly, yea I know,but gets the job done for an enthusiastic beginner.
Will I be able to just swap out the smaller front ring for a 34T or possibly smaller?
Cheers for your help dudes!

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
13th September 2013 - 8:30

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Whether your inner ring can be replaced depends on the make & model and your front derailleur capacity.

If you have a cassette at the back you could get a MTB one with 32 teeth (e.g. Shimano HG20 or SRAM PG730). If it's a freewheel, which screws onto the hub, you would probably need a cassette-compatible wheel . Also, you may need a MTB rear derailleur to cope with the bigger cassette.

The Sora chainset mentioned (this one), would be excellent, though any compact (50/34) would be OK. You would probably need a new bottom bracket too. Unfortunately, cheap bikes are cheap for a reason.

Most importantly, to get better on hills you need to ride more hills.

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posted by Simon E [1940 posts]
13th September 2013 - 10:09

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whats the difference between a freewheel and a cassette?
I'm pretty sure my rear rings are linked to the wheel hub, as I couldnt fit a quick release skewer too it.

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
13th September 2013 - 13:27

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As usual Sheldon Brown can explain :
http://sheldonbrown.com/free-k7.html

Basically a freewheel has the gears attached, and a cassette is a group of rings that you 'load' onto the hub and are therefore interchangable. This gives greater flexibility. You might need to change the wheel like mhtt said above.

If you do go for a new cassette or front crank combo you can use a tool like this to calculate the range:
http://www.bikecalc.com/gear_ratios
you should have a range of 1.4 bottom to 3.4 top. New gears could extend your range at the top AND the bottom, but make sure you get the right number of 'speeds' ie, 8-speed, 9-speed, 10-speed cassette, or your shifters will jam up and be out of synch with the gears. Replacing those is a whole other story.


Leviathan of Riderstate

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posted by bikeboy76 [1233 posts]
13th September 2013 - 19:45

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If you are lucky you will be able to replace that inner ring on your chainset for a 34. You might need a new front mech to go with it. The best thing to do would be to head down to your LBS and ask the mechanic what's possible.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [309 posts]
13th September 2013 - 22:03

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Cheers for your help guys.
I've been trying to work out my BCD but I'm getting 122mm between the 2 closest bolts on a 5 bolt ring. Which isn't giving me a very common bcd? Any thoughts?

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
13th September 2013 - 23:44

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Just out of curiosity, do you plan on moving in a forward trajectory? I've never found my 38-28 ring combo and I am not in peak condition.

[custom] '12 Cannondale CAAD10 - Rival

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posted by badkneestom [128 posts]
14th September 2013 - 5:31

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Unfortunately 38 28 is my last weapon when attacking the steep ones.
Just worked out my bcd is 126mm on a 4 bolt. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
The hole to hole was 90mm.

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
14th September 2013 - 9:25

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So can any of you clever chaps work out Wat system i have and if I'd be able to swap out the smaller front ring for a 34T. This is what I know.
Shimano 7 speed, 48/38 front 4 bolt 130mm bcd. With 14-28 rear.
Looking at it, I might be able to take the large ring off, but not sure if smaller ring is attached to the pedal arms or not.
Cheers guys, appreciate your help.

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
14th September 2013 - 15:19

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38 28 is a sort of low ratio but if you want lower have you thought about a triple? Take it to a LBS and ask them your options as I've been trawling the Shimano Tech docs and can't find an exact match for what you describe. The brother in law has one but he is a good few miles up the road for me to just pop round and have a shooftie at what options you may have. Failing that I'm afraid it's just a case of toughing it out and grinding your way up the hills.

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posted by cidermart [460 posts]
14th September 2013 - 16:51

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If I remember correctly it did have a freewheel though so I would change the wheel out for the cassette option.

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posted by cidermart [460 posts]
14th September 2013 - 16:55

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In all seriousness. I would start working on your hill work. I was in the South Downs back in June and was able to take on the really steep hills with a 38/25 as a last resort. Find a hill that will set a challenge. See how long it takes to climb the try to cut a few seconds off the next time. Climb the hill in increments. Don't just look at the summit as your target. Work your way through the gears. Don't be in the lowest gear at the base of the hill. If you need to shed a few pounds do that. Easier climbing comes through getting miles in the legs and finding hills to climb. Stick a it. Hope you do well at Biggin Hill.

Edit - Meant to say. You might be able to get a freewheel cassette that has a 32 as the largest cog. I'm assuming that it is a seven speed you have though.

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posted by giff77 [1045 posts]
15th September 2013 - 0:50

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Cheers Giff77, Well I defo haven't been avoiding the climbing, is a bit hard to where I live. Titsey Hill is my nemesis, is a total killer, my goal is to do it all in one go.
So this is what got me looking into my gear ratios, would be nice to have that little bit of extra range that a 34T would give me. And as i said before I'm on a budget as I have 4 kids and can't justify spending too much on my hobby,so looking for the cheapest option.

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posted by backflipbedlem [676 posts]
15th September 2013 - 9:54

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I suggest you practice on some shallower gradients too, try to keep a consistent effort all the way up, control your breathing (which should be deep and using as much of your lung capacity as possible).

The other thing I've read when trying to get up a particularly tough climb is to see how far you get before you need a stop, have a brief rest then carry on to the top. You subsequently try to get further than where you stopped last time. Eventually you'll be so close to the top that you can get there without stopping.

Unfortunately you won't find anything smaller than 38t on a 130 BCD. I'd keep an eye on Bikeradar classifieds for a s/h compact chainset or post a wanted ad there.

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posted by Simon E [1940 posts]
15th September 2013 - 15:14

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