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guideline for "do I need a triple?" ?(35 posts)

guideline for "do I need a triple?" ?DougSloan
Jul 15, 2002 6:03 AM
As I was slogging up Big Creek (20%) grade again this weekend (yes, faster and easier than last weekend) in my 30x25 granny gear, I began thinking about the FAQ that must be in the top 10 here of "do I need a triple?"

It occurred to me that the need for low gears is not directly related to power, weight, experience, or even hill slope, but is most directly related to *speed*. Assuming an efficient cadence range for climbing of around 60-90 rpms, I ran numbers for what speeds would then require low gears. For simplicitiy, I'll just deal with the low and high ends of the cadence range, 60 and 90 rpms at the cranks.

At 60 rpms and 90 rpms, respectively, the following common gear combinations give these speeds (all assuming 23x700c tires):

39x19=9.7 / 14.6 mph
39x21=8.8 / 13.2
39x23=8.1 / 12.1
39x25=7.4 / 11.1
39x27=6.9 / 10.3
39x29=6.4 / 9.6

30x15=9.5 / 14.2
30x17=8.4 / 12.6
30x19=7.5 / 11.2
30x21=6.8 / 10.2
30x23=6.2 / 9.3
30x25=5.7 / 8.5
30x27=5.3 / 7.9
30x29=4.9 / 7.4

Note that if you choose the 27 or 29 cogs, you'll be giving up some high end and intermediate gears, especially with the 29, which comes with a 13 small cog. Not so with the triple. The "normal" cogset with a triple is the 12-25.

From this, you can tell that if you do much riding under 10 mph, or if you ever ride under 5 mph (getting under 60 rpms at this point, even with the triple), then you likely need the low gears of a triple. This is especially true of you prefer to keep your rpms a little higher. Higher rpms is not a magic bullet, but it does seem to help save the legs on longer rides, if you have joint problems, or because that's where you find better efficiency.

For a decent compromise in the rpms, say around 75-80, I'd offer a guideline as follows:

If you spend a substantial amount of time (>20%?) under 10 mph, or if you ever ride under 5 mph, then consider the triple. (If the slope exceeds 15%, my bet is that you are under 5 mph, as I know I frequently am.)

While the triple in this range might not be absolutely essential, it will give you a decent selection of gears at those speeds and permit a "bail out" if you blow up on a steep hill.

Looking at the charts, you might think that you rarely ride under 10 mph. If you live in Chicago or Florida, that's probably true. However, if you ride in any kind of mountains, you probably spend a lot more *time* under 10 mph that you would like to think. I say "time" instead of "miles," because a steep climb can consume a great deal of time in proportion to the miles ridden. I have figured that in many long rides, I spend well over half my time on the climbs, even with a substantial amount of level miles.

Also consider that pros typically use a 23 cog or even lower in the mountains. They also have about twice the power to weight ratio that most of us do, meaning that they climb twice as fast. If they are climbing at 15 mph, then we'd be at 7.5 mph on the same hill. If the the pro were in a 39x19 gear (15 mph), we'd be in a 30x27 (7.5 mph), both at 90 rpms. So, you can see that speed is the greatest factor for gear selection.

This rule simplifies the decision. No need for detailed analysis of body weight, strength, and all that. Maybe call it the 10/5 rule? What do you think?

I think you're onto something here Doug....rwbadley
Jul 15, 2002 7:11 AM
I mentioned using 'Alpine ' gears on the bike in my previous post. This may be clarified this way..

I am running seven speed 126 spacing on this bike.
My common gears for this area are 53-42 front.
The rear cogs are: 12-13-15-17-19-21-24

When I switched to alpines the rear cogs were:

Notice the lack of 13-17 range. For this ride I knew it would be fine to run that jump, and it was until working paceline, it was a bit of a challenge. I was either spinning or grunting. Not a bad trade off tho' as I really spent the day using the 17-28 range, and was happy for them.

As far as running a triple for the steep stuff there are so many variables... Now that i finished 'that ride' I'll go back to my regular cogset and not think about it until next time.

And by that time, I will have forgotten the pain of Ebbetts, and will slog through in my 28 again... thinking about 'now why didn't I get that triple?' again :-)

Best triple rule of thumb I've heard so far. . .js5280
Jul 15, 2002 7:45 AM
and much better than "Get a double else you're a wussy and a Fred" that usually is offered.

Okay did you really think about this while riding or at 3am trying to get a certain someone to go back to sleep? ;-)
I find if I have the gears I use emColnagoFE
Jul 15, 2002 7:48 AM
Not always the best thing speed-wise. I can climb pretty much the same hills in a 39x23 as with my 26 but I just climb a bit faster with my 23. I'm sure it's psychological to some extent, but I bet if I had a triple I'd be spinning the low gears and go even slower. Anyone else notice this? I mean there is a some point you need a gear you can keep turning at a decent rate or you kill your knees, but I often find myself using whatever I have when I could really get up the hill faster a gear or two higher.
Same here, but ...Humma Hah
Jul 15, 2002 1:20 PM
... I know for a fact I can't climb 20% grade for more than about a 20-ft elevation gain without some serious gear reduction.

I'd seriously recommend that most riders should avoid the granny ring like the plague on typical "steep" hills. It is rare in most areas to find hills steeper than 8% grade, and those are climbable with a singlespeed bike with 2.5:1 gearing.

Now, you start talking 12-15% and lack of gears starts getting really excruciating. 20%, and we're talking in the superhuman range without a granny.
No need for a tripleNo_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 7:53 AM
Not even a hint of a thought about it.

I've never seen a hill that I couldn't climb with my 39/23 setup.
Jul 15, 2002 7:58 AM
To help my research and reasoning here, then, what's the slowest speed you'll see climbing and at what rpm? Thanks.

No problem!No_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 8:02 AM
During probably one of the major climbs I've done, I've been as low as 7 mph at, and this is a memory guess, around 40/50 rpm.

I switch between an 11/23 and a 12/25 on my DA ride and 12/25 on my Record bike.
curiousoff roadie
Jul 15, 2002 10:36 AM
My lowest gear on my road bike is also a 39x23. My other bikes are a SS MTB, and a MTB with a 22x34 bailout....

I haven't done any monster hill routes, but on the 30 milers I do, there's a few half mile 10% grades. I do those at 15 mph, dropping down to 12mph if I get worn down.
I was waiting for this responseDaveG
Jul 15, 2002 8:54 AM
Every time someone posts anything about triples there inevitably is a response like this where the person says "I can climb anything in a 39/23" or "I never use the 23" etc. I am in no way challenging these assertions but I suspect they come from very strong riders and/or folks who climb well at low cadences. Why is it that because you can climb in those gears that the concept of triples is invalidated for those of us not as strong, highly trained, or as genetically gifted riders. I don't understand this. If you think you need a triple you probably do. If you don't need one that's great. Lots of folks (me included) need a triple for the long steep stuff. Steering recreational riders away from triples because 'serious' cyclists don't use them seems like a disservice to me.
I wasn't steering anyone away from anythingNo_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 9:01 AM
just mentioning my thoughts on the issue.

Yes, I consider myself highly trained riding several times a week, spending quality time in the gym and teaching Spin classes from 3 to 6 or 7 times a week, racin' on Sundays.

There is no hint of a need for a triple here. If you think you need one, then by all means, go ahead and get one.

I'd stay far away from any guy who shows up at the starting line in my race with a triple.
Very very strong riders....muncher
Jul 15, 2002 9:07 AM
Or ones that live in not particularly hilly places, or at least ones with not very long hilly parts.

I am not the world's greatest climber, but do tend to climb out of the saddle in a fairly high gear. However, there are some real mountain goats in my club, one of whom did some pre-tour package last year.

His comment was that he threw a triple on for the trip, just in case of injury etc. However, he found himself using it a lot. He summation was pretty much if you are not a pro, then there is no way you can ride that terrain all day, day after day, and not need some very low gearing. You can do it for a while on your 39/23 or whatever, but sooner or later, you can't.
Exactly ...laffeaux
Jul 15, 2002 10:35 AM
"You can do it for a while on your 39/23 or whatever, but sooner or later, you can't." I agree completely!

The last time I needed the small ring was when I biked around Tahoe. At mile 55 I had just completed the steepest climb of the ride (by Emerad Bay) in my middle ring. There was a nice downhill, followed by another climb. I wasn't expecting the second climb, and as I was trudging up it in my middle rin, seated and turning about 40-50 RPMs, I finally decided to use my granny. My speed stayed the same, but the RPMs shot way up. After 55 miles of rolling hills (and 20 more to go) the triple was nice.
response just a example of why doubles work, not an invalidationoff roadie
Jul 15, 2002 10:44 AM
If others want triplets for thier routes, I fully suggest they get them. I'm not a particularly strong rider, but I do own a SS MTB- hill climbing at low cadence doesn't bug me. If my road bike had come with a triple, I would not have replaced it, but the double happens to work for me. I especially like the rim function, and have switched my geared MTB over to friction front shifting to get the same effect.
No need for a triplefirstrax
Jul 15, 2002 9:37 AM
Mount Washington auto road is open to bikes this sunday. Come on by with your 39/23.
yeah...that would be tough with a 23...ColnagoFE
Jul 15, 2002 9:50 AM
but in all fairness Mt. Washington is the exception rather than the rule. Also I've heard that pros use a 25 for Mt. Evans hillclimb. I've sone it in a 25 and it isn't pleasant...a 27 sould be advisable for mere mortals. Then again I imagine the pros who place or win never touch the 25 unless they absolutely need to.
Exactly, the exception rather than the ruleNo_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 10:23 AM
I would not even remotely consider changing bottom brackets, buying and installing a new set of cranks and whatever else might be necessary for one climb, one day.

Like I've said, my trainer is a 25 and I remain that I've never been on a hill I couldn't climb with either a 25 or a 23. Of course, some are tougher than others and I suppose there is one somewhere that I wouldn't be able to manage. I have yet to see it.

Where is this mountain? Perhaps I'll skip Sundays race to climb it.

Don't get your panties in a knot!
Exactly, the exception rather than the rulefirstrax
Jul 15, 2002 11:49 AM
This Sunday is the practice ride open to all (need to call ahead though). 8/24 is the race.

Tyler Hamilton holds the record. He used 39-32 the year I saw him. Got an Audi A4 for setting the record (twice).

I am using a double but with a 34 on the back with an XTR derailleur.

My panties are not in a knot, my post was not intended to be mean. Just a friendly challenge.
reason for the ruleDougSloan
Jul 15, 2002 11:55 AM
I think what most people do not realize is it, although they *can* climb in their 39x23 at 40 rpms, they might well be much, much faster in lower gears keeping rpms around 80 or so, plus their legs will stay much fresher for later in the event.

The premise of the rule is that if you spend much time under 10 mph, *and* you want decent rpms, the triple makes sense. It's a simple as that.

probably a good ruleNo_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 12:15 PM
If you spend a really large amount of time in the hills and under 10 mph pedaling slowly.
mt. washington.rufus
Jul 15, 2002 12:50 PM
they held a pro race here in new hampshire about 12 years ago, and one of the stages was about 60 miles around a loop with some decent climbing, and then over to and up mt. washington.

i asked nate reiss (subaru-montgomery) what he was using for gears and he said 39/26.
So what gears would I need to climb Mt. Washington?Kristin
Jul 16, 2002 4:28 AM
It sounds like anyone with the right gears can ride anywhere. Is that really true? Could I ride up Mt. Washington without stopping? Somehow my guess is...NO. To figure a gear ratio, don't you need to consideration the strength of the rider?
no need for power considerationDougSloan
Jul 16, 2002 6:04 AM
The sole issue is "how fast will you be going?"

With the right gears, I guarantee you that you can ride up any paved, dry, smooth road in existence (that is, no traction concerns). You may be going 2 mph, but you're going.

You're Ready for the TTgrzy
Jul 15, 2002 4:13 PM
Ft. Ross looks very different depending on what you've done before hand.

It's all relative to the amount of climbing you do on your typical ride. Anyone can climb one steep hill early in a short ride. Question is how many times could you climb your worst hill in the 39/23 setup after 160 miles?

The SF Bay Area and the Sierras tend to make believers out of most people. Then there's Colorado and the Alps.....
good pointstarwheel
Jul 15, 2002 9:20 AM
My main issue with triples is that I have heard that they can be difficult to get and keep adjusted right. Note that I said "heard" because I have never owned a triple, except on my mountain bike. However, I used a 13-29 cassette on my Gios until recently switching to a 13-26. I switched because I rarely use the 39/29 combination -- but it sure is nice to have when you need it. I am hanging onto my 13-29 cassette for when I ride in the mountains. Although some people complain about the big jumps between gears with large cassettes, it doesn't bother me. Perhaps this is because I rode for so many years with a 6-speed and downtube shifters, when almost everyone had more jumps between the cogs.
Jul 15, 2002 9:52 AM
I have both and the triple is more finecky and it's a bit more hassle to shift between front chainrings. You can't just slam the shifter down or up like with a double. This is mainly important for racing. In "normal" shifting situations it isn't all that big of a deal.
re: guideline for "do I need a triple?" ?Spoiler
Jul 12, 2002 6:02 AM
Lance certainly didn't use one today, and he still finished second in the TT to Botero.
Triples also make it harder to clean bikeMaartin
Jul 15, 2002 11:37 AM
I have a triple and never use the inner ring but it is too late. I think for most riders Triples are only needed if you live in the mountains or really hiller areas.
Silly boy, that's where you park the chain ...Humma Hah
Jul 15, 2002 1:22 PM
... when you're cleaning the two chainrings you actually use. The granny ring should almost never need cleaning.
Here is another rule for the tripleNo_sprint
Jul 15, 2002 1:34 PM
I need a triple after reading this,MXL02
Jul 15, 2002 3:01 PM
triple Jack Daniels that is. ;-)
re: guideline for "do I need a triple?" ?bic
Jul 15, 2002 5:00 PM
It sounds like you have too much time after you ride, work on number 2,3 and 4. To be blessed, er cursed with an obsessive personality. How bout if you just can't get up the hill without dying. ie. Remember my fat ass posts about KOPS. :)
what about your other rule?ET
Jul 15, 2002 8:36 PM
The one that says if you get a triple, you'll always bail out and never get in good enough shape to use a double. :-)

Your rule, and it sort of contradicts this one!
different bikesDougSloan
Jul 16, 2002 6:11 AM
I use different bikes for hard, short hill training and long distance rides, one with double/11-21 and the other with the triple. Cheating?

Interesting, but still might not help newbies that much. nmLeisure
Jul 15, 2002 11:32 PM