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Embracing Compactness


Maximum Pace
Oct 13, 2007
Mountains are where I love to ride, so I happily use compact cranks and run a 12-25 in the back. Sometimes, however, I wonder if I'm being wimpy or somehow "cheating" when riding with people using heavier gears.

But after reading the following in Road Bike Action magazine, in which Levi Leipheimer talks about his gearing for the Giro, I feel somehow ... vindicated.


RBA: What about gear selections on the climbs?

Levi: They're not using the mountain bike stage we used last year so we'll have to see. Last year I ran a Compact crank on that stage with a 34-28 gear. Contador ran a 34x30 gear on that stage and I wish I had more gear. It's funny to think about the gearing now compared to back in the day. It used to be that a 23 gear was considered big, then it was a 25 and then it went to a 27. I run an 11-28 for early season training and I remember thinking this year, why not just run a compact all the time?
Deej, thanks for sharing this. I hope it will put all these prejudices about compact crank users to a rest. Let's face it - it's a matter of personal preference. Some like to push big gears, say that this is less exhausting and they don't get knee problems. Others (like me) say the exact opposite. How "good" you are is a matter of how fast you can go up hills, not what gears you are pushing.

I'm really glad I have 34-27 in the mountains. I sometimes wished I had a standard crank in races with steep downhill parts and on some downhills with traffic where I try to draft traffic at over 55km/h, but then this is so rare, I can do without it. If there was a Dura Ace 7800 cassette with a 11 to 27 (or more) range, I would get it, but upgrading everything just to get the 11 doesn't seem worth it, at least to me.

Cheers, Ludwig
Laid bare

I made the switch earlier this season.

On these types of climbs, there's no real need to be ashamed of having a compact in my very humble opinion, especially if you're an occasional weekend warrior. Where any help beside fitting a motor on the bike is welcome, I think a compact really does the trick.
I'm a big fan of compact cranks too, and regularly use the 34/24 and 34/27 ratios for the mountain passes of Japan. Maybe it's my MTB background, where I have 22/32 at my disposal for the really steep stuff.
It's funny how web and magazine reviews always criticise 'race' bikes with compact cranks. I wonder how many of the reviewers can really spin out a 50/12 top gear without any assistance.

Ludwig, Dura Ace 7900 cassettes work fine with 7800 stuff and you can get an 11-27 or 11-28. You would need to wind in the b-tension adjuster on the rear mech and the chain might be looser in odd combinations like 34/12 or 34/11 but you would have a wider range of gears.
Yeah, I've grown to really like compacts. I have them mostly so I can survive the occasional foray to the west side :D, but the big ring 50 actually makes a lot of sense for out here on the flats of northern Boso. Lots of headwinds here, and with a 53 I'd often be crosschaining, or flicking between the 39 and 53 trying to find the right cadence, but on the compact I stay in the 50 and forget about it.

An 11-23 gives me a reasonably tight range, a bigger top end than 53-12, and a low enough gear for anything I'll encounter in Chiba, north or south. (For the west, on goes the 12-25).

So, tighter range at the back, bigger top end, less cross-chaining, less shifting at the front, lighter (front and back), less need for a bunch of different cassettes.

Disadvantages are: you don't have the 53-11 option if you ever need it, slightly more drivetrain wear(?), harder to match cadence for those super-serious roadie rides, and a bigger gear change when you drop to the inner ring. This latter sometimes leaves me spinning too much as I go into a hill, which loses me momentum. Might be an issue in a race, although I've never raced on a course yet that required the small ring.
Shimano do the Ultegra SL range in 11-26 and 11-28 both compatible with DuraAce 7800 and 7900. You can also use SRAM cassettes on DuraAce with no issues.
wow. lots of information. when i bought a compact crank it was a desparate solution. finding a way to keep up with my cousin in the hills who was working 28/39 going up. i found a sugino crank 34/48. there is a lot of shifting in the city, but the superbad advantage in the hills was the 110 crank length compared to 170. short cranks on corners, short cranks accelerating. i think shorter cranks alter the relative (torque) and influence ratio?? does that sound right. i am shameless and enthusiastic about compact cranks.
Compact all the way!
Could have used more gear than the 50/11 on the down hill at Fuji Speedway but the 34/28 is really useful on Wada and Kazahari rindo!! Maybe there is something wrong with my legs or cycling technique, but I can ride below 40 rpm.
compact vs triple

Yes, I switched to a compact crank 2 years ago since most of my riding is in
mountainous areas only. My only question is regarding triple cranksets. Would that not even be a better option, or is chain alignment /extra weight too much of a factor with them? Or is there just a "dweeb" factor?:eek:
I find the compact double gives me an adequate range of gears for (unloaded) road riding. Triple would give a bit wider range but I don't feel the need, plus there are the chain alignmment and (marginal) extra weight issues you mention. Plus there are a lot of duplicate ratios, so the benefit is less than it seems at first sight.
"Back in the day" before 9 and 10 speed cassettes became common, a triple made more sense, because to get a large spread of gears at the back needed large jumps between sprocket sizes. Not ideal for road riding, so to keep the ratios fairly close, the largest cogs on the cassette were smaller, necessitating a smaller chainring to get low gears. Now we can have closely stacked gear ratios and a wide range.
Older front derailleurs could not cope with such big jumps between the chainrings either, especially with no pins or guide ramps on the chainring. E.g. my father's 1960s era road racer - 13-23 five speed at the back and 48-51 at the front (half-step gearing, for the gear freaks amongst us)
My late 2000s era road racer - 12-27 ten speed at the back and 34-50 at the front.
Triples of course still have their place. For loaded riding, extreme long distances or just to give a wider range of gears for people that want/need that. Maybe they don't look 'pro' but neither does walking up hill when you run out of gears. Use what works!
all these rave reviews persuaded me to take the plunge and try a compact


will let you know how it works out.....:bike:
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