The Lowdown on Gearing Down
This season my shop has seen a steady stream of
dudes asking if there's "any way to gear down" their
road machines. Seems some sort of geologic phenomenon has tilted all the
climbs a bit more skyward,
to the point that these hardmen are crying (very quietly, mind you) "Uncle!"
Most gals, on the other hand, buy bikes with low
gears to start with and don't have to suffer their way up
those same climbs. Nor do they seem compelled to stomp the heart out of their
riding mates. It proves
there is a double standard, one that is clever and one which is, uh, less
Let's say you've already got a compact crank with
34/50-tooth chainrings and a 12-27 cassette. But with
that ever-tilting terrain, the 34x27-tooth low gear ain't quite low enough.
What is one to do?
If you're the proud owner of 9-speed rear gearing,
and it happens to be Shimano, you can do lots.
---Ditch the short-cage derailleur and put on a
heretofore forbidden long-cage MTB derailleur. Yes, on
your road bike. Use at least a Shimano LX for good performance. Shimano XT-SGS
and XTR-SGS work
a bit better and weigh less.
---Add an 11-32 or -34 cassette and a longer
chain. Your same 9-speed shift levers will work fine with
this new stuff. Then go pull stumps as a new
training method. If your buddies razz you about that pie-size gear
cluster, show 'em how it works by chatting your way
side by side up the nastiest climb in your area. Slowly up your cadence (and
speed) while they leave
behind a trail of blood, sweat and tears, wishing they had those gears.
What if you're running a Shimano 9-speed
drivetrain with a triple-chainring crank? You can make the
same cassette and rear derailleur changes. Remember that a long-cage
derailleur (105, Ultegra
or the rare Dura-Ace with the giant jockey wheels), will not handle cassettes
with a cog larger than
27 teeth. Well, okay, you can probably squeeze on a 28 cog, but one more tooth
won't help much.
You need to have 32 or 34 teeth to make a significant low-gear difference.
I know you Campy folks are crying foul about now.
But remember, Campagnolo has been pushing
10-speed stuff for years, does not have a corresponding mountain group, and
you'll play hell finding
any of those nice 13-29 9-speed cassettes Campy used to make if you're still
running 9s. If a 30x29-tooth
gear is not low enough, I don't know a solution.
Campagnolo represents itself as racing equipment
and they mean it. Shimano, with its vast participation
on the mountain bike side, presents many more gearing options. Let's hope Shimano never quits providing us with
9-speed components. That would be a sad day.
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