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advice re double/triple cranks(13 posts)

advice re double/triple cranksDog
Nov 21, 2001 8:36 AM
This should be under the FAQ's file:


Who Needs a Triple Crankset?

This week's question comes from Chris Kostman, a friend of
ours. He's also an original and innovative (and opinionated)

Chris is the youngest rider to finish the Race Across
America (at age 20 in 1987). He now directs the Furnace
Creek 508-mile race and runs an endurance-event website

Chris takes issue with two things he's read at RBR. We think
you'll be interested.

The first (see below) involves triple cranksets and climbing
cadence. The second, about whether pedals that let feet
"float" really reduce leg injuries, can be seen on our
special Coach Fred web page at

QUESTION: You've suggested in your newsletter that we need a
triple crankset because we're not Lance Armstrong and can't
keep his fast cadence while climbing with a double
crankset's limited gears.

That's a load of hoohah! Since when do we need to copy the
latest hero and buy hundreds of dollars in new equipment to
do so?

We shouldn't be trying to spin so fast uphill. Lance can do
it because of his high VO2 max and anaerobic threshold.
Let's not forget the relatively slow climbing cadence of
[5-time Tour de France winners] Hinault and Merckx. Why are
they wrong and Lance right?

In Issue No. 12, Fred talked about some death climb in
Colorado. He made a point of telling us how steep it was,
and that he did it seated. But where was his beloved triple
crank? -- Chris Kostman

COACH FRED REPLIES: I don't have a triple crankset on any of
my road bikes, only on a cyclocross bike and my winter
beater bike that I often ride off-road.

On the relatively steady grades of Colorado, I'm comfortable
with 53/39-tooth chainrings and a 12-25 cassette. But other
riders may climb most efficiently in gears either higher or
lower than those.

The key is to use appropriate gears for your strength and
fitness levels. If that means a triple crankset, fine. The
problem arises when riders insist on using inappropriately
high gears because of peer pressure. Or, they stick with
what came on their bikes because they don't want to spend
money to get the lower gearing they really need.

Pro racers might be efficient in a 39x21 gear on a given
climb, but most recreational riders should think twice
before trying to tackle a similar gradient in 39x23 -- or
even 39x27.

Look at it this way: Pros can be competitive on any climb if
they produce 6-7 watts of power per kilogram of body weight.
If they weigh 70 kg (154 pounds) they need to churn out
420-490 watts. Lance reportedly averages in excess of 500
watts on a climb of 35-40 minutes.

The typical recreational racer, in contrast, climbs at
250-300 watts. Lance is putting out almost twice as much
power on a hill, but many riders (who often weigh more than
Lance) try to use a cog only 2 teeth larger.

It's not a question of trying to maintain Lance's 90-100 rpm
cadence on climbs. As you point out, that's unrealistic. But
with a triple crankset, riders can keep their cadence above
80 rpm, save their knees -- and climb faster than they would
while slogging away in the same gear that Lance can spin.

Sure, it's expensive to change cassettes or invest in a
triple crankset. But it's cheaper than a knee operation!

From an email newsletter /

Do you run a triple...nova
Nov 21, 2001 9:31 AM
On any of your bikes?

I have my first triple on a Gunnar Crosshairs, but have yet to use the small ring.
no, butDog
Nov 21, 2001 9:38 AM
Not right now, but on my climbing bike I use a 12-34 cassette. Gets about the same range as a triple with a 12-27 cassette.

Next time I need a new crankset I might very well get a triple, probably the Dura Ace. It would come in handy on the hilliest doubles, like the Terrible Two. A 29 cog wasn't low enough to avoid some knee-wrenching standing climbs.

shiny pie-plate!nova
Nov 21, 2001 10:08 AM
That 34 must be huge. Seems like that would be preferable to a granny gear, but I won't know what works better for me until I run a 10-speed group.
dedicated climberDog
Nov 21, 2001 10:27 AM
This is on a dedicated climbing bike. In fact, I've since removed the large chainring, too, so it has a 38 ring in front, all alone (no front derailleur, shifter, or rear brake). That 34 does look huge, but it was nice to have in the 508. The 12-34 XTR cassette and derailleur shifts just as nicely as any cassette.

That set-up is lighter and simpler than a triple. No shifting at all in the front. That bike is under 13 pounds that way. Can't beat that for a pure climbing bike.

Nov 22, 2001 11:26 AM
Thanks for sharing that info, I'll keep it in mind in the future. I stongly considered a mountain bike rear derailleur/cassette combo for the Gunnar, but went with the triple because I concluded that the gaps between gear ratios were going to be too big with that setup. Especially if I'd be in relatively flat terrain most of the time. The bike is more of a fireroad/backroad cruiser than anything.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Do you run a triple...STEELYeyed
Nov 21, 2001 9:50 AM
I still run a triple,but here in the flatlands of Iowa I have not used the small ring for months,the few hills we have here are steep but not long,and my strength has gotten such that I can power up in 42-25. This winter however I will be travleing to S.California to do some riding in the San Gabriel Mts. north of the Inland Empire,I have no experiance in the mountains and don't know what to expect as far as climbing,so I am keeping the triple just in case I have trouble,and to gauge my climbing skills,depending on how that goes I may switch to a double.
I'd keep itDog
Nov 21, 2001 9:54 AM
The California mountains can have some really long, really steep climbs. I'd keep it for that.

Can't see needing it in Iowa, though. I grew up in Missouri, and used to ride a 52/42 with a 13-20 freewheel, no problem. Iowa, as I remember, is about the same terrain.

You might consider keeping the triple crank and putting on a 12-21 cassette. You'd get more useful gears that way, with closer spacing.

double all the way!weiwentg
Nov 21, 2001 10:10 AM
i'm 125 pounds, so a hundred grams does mean a bit to me. i switched to a 39/53 double, and i'm going to change the cassette from 12-25 to 11-21. reason being that my cranks are 175mm - as opposed to 170mm for the old ones - and that gives me extra leverage. there's another solution: get longer cranks!
anyway, no mountains in Ann Arbor, MI.
Thoughts on using a triple.MB1
Nov 21, 2001 11:55 AM
#1 All our bikes are set up with triples except the fixtes.

#2 It is all about gear range not gear arrangements. I would rather have a narrow range cassette 12-21 or 12-23 than a wide range one 11-30 or 12-34. I like the simplicity of staying in one chainring and having close ratios rather than having to know which gear ratios are on which chainring.

#3 After riding the fixtes and SS a lot I'm thinking gears are overrated.

#4 After riding hilly/mountainous long rides like the Central Coast Double or a 600K I think you can't have enough gears on your bike.

#5 I change cassettes a lot. We own a variety and if I know something about the ride we are going to do I'll set the gears up for that ride.

#6 It is all about what works for you-ride your bike and be prepared.
for campy fans - interesting perspectivedupe
Nov 21, 2001 12:32 PM
campyonly did a test on the veloce triple.

could less be more?
Triple guyMe Dot Org
Nov 21, 2001 12:58 PM
I had a 2000 Bianchi Veloce with the Veloce triple. I crashed it and got a Carl Strong with a Chorus racing triple.

There is cerainly not a lot of difference between the Chorus and Daytona. I think the Chorus stays "in tune" longer than the Daytona - it is less finicky.

I agree with what MB1 said: It is all about gear range not gear arrangements. I would rather have a narrow range cassette 12-21 or 12-23 than a wide range one 11-30 or 12-34. I like the simplicity of staying in one chainring and having close ratios rather than having to know which gear ratios are on which chainring.

For me, that is what I like best about a triple. When you're headed up a long hill on a long ride, there is nothing like finding the exact right gear.

I've got a rebuilt right knee (7 screws), I'm 50 years old and I live in San Francisco. I ride a triple and make no apologies. On most rides I don't use the little ring, but it's nice to know it's there in case I run out of gas or have a really nasty hill to climb.
Chris is just young and immortal.Leisure
Nov 22, 2001 6:37 AM
Coach Fred's response sounds spot on with just about everything I've learned.

I think much of the issue of triples revolves around not being able to separate the training aspects from the egotistical. And some of it is just people not realizing that others are not necessarily able to just hop on the bike on a whim and be world-class racers.