Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Boy, we roadies sure like our gearing! So far, 30 of you commented on last week’s Tech Talk in which I answered Dan’s question about whether his new classic steel Bottecchia could handle touring.
He only asked about the bike’s compact 50/34 by 11-29 gearing and if he needed to lower it to go touring. I basically told him that lots of people, including yours truly, have done serious tours on harder gearing than what’s on his Italian stallion. I recommended testing it and deciding before spending money upgrading a brand new bike.
If you missed Dan’s question and my reply, here’s a link to catch up: https://www.roadbikerider.com/which-gearing-steel-touring-bike/. Including all your comments, it’s become a helpful resource for others like Dan or almost anyone thinking of touring and wondering about how to choose gearing and set up their bike.
I especially enjoyed your touring tales, because it brought back that wonderful feeling of being out there without a care in the world except to keep pedaling and exploring. Every day a brand new adventure.
I want to thank everyone for weighing in and let you know that Dan told me he’s impressed so many people wrote with help and appreciates it a lot. If you go back and look at the comments now you’ll see that Dan added several replies, too.
A Few of Your Great Tips
While Dan asked about his gearing, you readers offered advice on much more. So, we’re going to cover some of the highlights today and I’ll add a few thoughts.
David Frost offered ideas for bike packing bags
“An important note is Dan’s frame geometry (short chainstays, steeper angles) is clearly intended for unloaded race-type riding. Bike packing bags could be a solution, but watch out for abrasion from the straps. There are methods to attach a rear rack without frame eyelets, but again, that lovely paint job will be at risk, and the load hanging off the back will create handling issues. A small front bag suspended from the bars, like those from Dill Pickle, Ruthworks, eoGear, Acorn and others, is certainly feasible. But going much bigger without a fork designed for a front load creates its own steering and handling concerns.
An expensive option might be a low trail fork that includes features for carrying panniers in front on a low-rider rack.. I’ve had a sporty bike converted as such. It works extremely well with a big randonneur bag, with or without panniers. Jeff Lyon in Oregon https://www.lyonsport.com/ or similar randonneur-oriented frame builders might be a good source for such a fork.”
David also pointed out that Stan Purdum has written great bikepacking equipment guides on RoadBikeRider.” Here are links.
David Finlayson told how to lower the Campy gearing,
“The original question is the easy part. The Campagnolo Potenza Groupset on his bike can accept an 11-32 cassette. If his derailleur is short cage, a medium cage can be swapped off a current year Centaur rear derailleur. A fresh chain may be needed to get the correct length, but no other mods are needed.”
In case you don’t know David Finlayson readers, he’s the tech guru and inventor behind the company PrestaCycle. I’ve raved about many of his products over the years in reviews here and in Bicycling Magazine. Check out his line-up of tools and accessories here: https://www.prestacycle.com/.
Johan Mokhtar wrote,
“I can’t agree or disagree with your ‘stick with the stock gearing’ suggestion without knowing more about Daniel. Reading between the lines, I could assume that he is closer to 28 years old than 67. I would rather know for sure than make assumptions about Daniel’s age, fitness level etc.”
And, Jeff Kessler added,
“I couldn’t disagree more with you regarding the gearing. Like you, I too could use the gear range you mention when I was in my 20’s, which was 30+ years ago. Now, even though I am plenty fit, I need to use what is essentially mountain bike gears to be able to climb even moderate length hills with a full load, let alone big hills or mountains. I think your recommendation is a recipe for disaster for either someone new to touring with a full load or someone who isn’t superfit, young, and possessing above-average talent.”
I didn’t learn anything about Dan from his email. He only asked about the gearing. But in his reply to comments he wrote that he’s a strong rider.
Brian Feltovich opined (and made me laugh)
“It’s a very pretty bike and my vote would be to leave the gearing alone. I’d also leave that bike at home. Find a used Surly LHT or Trek 520 (or any number of steel touring bikes) with better gearing, longer chainstays, and more appropriate geometry. He’d also have room for wider tires (more comfortable and less flat-prone) and better brakes. Honestly, I can’t think of a good reason to take that lovely Bottecchia on a tour.”
Rick Oberle says to use the gears you have
“My first question is “What is ‘better gearing’”??? Better in what way? I rode many, MANY miles on a 42 or 45/52 with a five speed 14 -18 and had no trouble at all. My objective was to micro-dial my gear to my speed so I could pedal 100 RPM give or take. As I say that, I rarely shifted anyhow as I only went two speeds – 17 or 30 mph so I only ever needed two gears in the first place. I exaggerate to make the point but I am pretty sure both the 14 and the 18 were wasted on me.
That was a long time ago and now I tour on my “racing” bike which has 39/53 13 -25 ten speed gearing, loaded with 25 pounds of stuff on the back rack panniers (only). I have ridden those gears in Vermont and the Laurentian Mountains but mostly in Michigan where the hills are not that long or steep. I usually climb in the 23 and save the 25 for the steeper/longer stuff which happens occasionally. Use the gears you have – they are all you need. As for the bike, there is always a better one no matter what you have so ride what you have and enjoy it. It’s all about the motor, not the machine!”
The hills in Vermont are no joke and I remember riding those types of gears many years ago there, too. Also, Rick makes a good point that there’s always something better than what you have. I’d never dissuade someone who wants to upgrade their bike. But, it can become a rabbit hole where you spend time and money and end up hardly ever riding and enjoying the bike.
Leon Webster learned from legends
“I was 21 when I got my first “ten speed” — a Peugeot PX-10 because that was the only bike the dealer (Prof. Scholz, at the N.D.S.U. had in stock. His sons are Hans and Alan who went on to be involved with Burley, and Bike Friday. Prof. Scholz shifted the bike into its lowest gear and told me I shouldn’t change the gear until I could pedal at least 80 RPM, even when going uphill. 11 years later I met Dan Henry, the legendary airline pilot. He seemed ancient at the time (probably about 60), but had ridden a century every other day during the previous month. He emphasized the value of spinning, and keeping one’s knees warm and supple.
50 years later I have followed their advice and routinely spin at 90 RPM while riding. My best guess is that I have 250,000 miles (much of it with panniers and full touring gear) on my knees and they are still going strong. This is compared to some of my compatriots who have had to retire from cycling or at least long rides. My touring bike has a low gear of about 19″ = 24 tooth chainring and 34 tooth large cog.”
Here’s a Wiki link to a short bit about Dan Henry – not nearly enough for all he did for cycling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Henry. I never saw him perform, but he used to ride his rollers in a public place fully kitted out in jacket and tights. He would then strip down to his shorts and jersey while riding! (In case you’re unfamiliar with rollers, you have to balance and ride a straight narrow line or you’ll fall off.)
Robert Shofield has updated 3 Bottecchias
“I am 69 years old and have been riding racing 10 speeds since 1963. I live in the foothills of the Easter Sierras and ride every pass from Reno South to Lone Pine along highway 395. I can only still keep this up due to gearing changes over the years. Without lower gears I would only be riding the flats. With proper gearing I don’t see why I can’t continue riding mountain passes into my 90’s..
I have owned and modified the gearing on 3 Bottecchias over the years without difficulty or without changing their character too much. With triple chainrings 48/34/24 (Velo Orange, Sugino and IRD) and wide range cassettes and freewheels, 13-32 (IRD offers a wide range of choices in both cassette and freewheel) one can set up gearing that will make climbing fun. As an extra treat, Soma Fabrications offers longer cage plates that fit old Campy Nuovo Record derailleurs so that one can maintain friction shifting if you want to go back to bikes that are real old.
I have a 1976 Raleigh Competition and a 1976 Motobecane Grand Record both set up as noted above and they can easily be returned to original condition, I ride them over 9,000 foot passes often. I have also similarly modified more modern designs including Specialized S Works road bikes. In closing, whatever makes riding pleasurable to each individual is the right way to go.
P.S. I should give credit to my LBS for their help in all of these projects. The Bike Smith, Carson City, NV.”
Mike likes his triple
“I have a 1986 Raleigh touring 14 which I converted to a triple with hill climbing gears for western and central New York. I was 73 then, now 80. Best thing I ever did.”
Fellow tech editor John Schubert has some fun and offers a gearing tutorial
“Jim, I agree with those who disagree with you. We went touring on poorly geared bikes back in the day. We also drove death-trap VWs, drank Boones Farm Apple Wine, and listened to The Carpenters Let us take the best from back in the day: We still enjoy touring. We drive safer cars, drink nicer wine, and listen to . . . classic Bob Dylan.
Climbing long hills with baggage with too-high gears is stupid for a 20-year-old, and even more stupid for . . . people who are some multiple of 20. Regarding gearing, we should start by understanding what the numbers mean. It”s actually easy. Look here: http://www.limeport.org/2009/08/bicycle-gearing/.”
DK says consider changing the crank,
“I recently built a gravel bike. The shifters and drivetrain consist of used Campy 10-speed components. The rear derailleur handles a max 29-tooth cog. So to get lower gearing with the Campy components I am using an FSA 46/30 crank.”
Shular Scudamore offers a great option
“In 2012 riding the Northern Tier, I met a young woman riding a classic Colnago pulling a B.O.B trailer about the time I reached the Erie Canal path. She had started at home in Wisconsin and was heading to school in Vermont. I was pulling a B.O.B also. It is another option and it is heavy.”
The trailer solves the problem of attaching bags, which is the great part. Not so great is the added weight of even the lightest trailers. Since it’s the heft that you need lower gearing to get up the hills. But it is a nice option to make a racing bike work.
Bruce Braley used lower gears to win
“Back in the days of 52-42 chainrings and 13-21 thread-on clusters, I won in record time a 93-mile, very hilly (three major climbs, with one that included about a mile of 10-11 percent) race largely due to being the only top rider with a 24 cog. The race was a loop, so there was just as much descending as climbing, but I sacrificed the 13 for a 14 and gained the 24. Much more time and effort is spent climbing than descending–even more so when carrying heavy loads.
While my competitors were muscling their 21’s, I got away alone on the second climb. I was able to keep my rpm’s high in the 24, keeping me fresher for descents and flats, as well as climbs. One rider eventually caught me on the third climb, but I easily beat him in the sprint, again due to the relative freshness of my lower-geared legs. Now, forty years later, and with much better gearing available, I still use.the lowest gearing practical.”
You reminded me of a racing gearing lesson I was given. It was during the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in New Hampshire. I remember I put on a larger freewheel but not much. I was a racer after all. Meanwhile, Frank, a friend of mine entered the novice division and put on a 14-34 freewheel, the largest available at the time. I saw him as I rolled to the racers’ starting group ahead of his and made fun of his pizza-size cog. He got the last laugh, though. We rode exactly the same time. For me it was good for 3rd. He won his race.
This is just a sampling of your awesome stories, tips and advice for Dan – and comments continue to arrive. So be sure to check back to see it all. Thanks again!
Ride total: 9,751
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.