Question: My bike has a triple crankset and a 12-23 cassette. Recently, I’ve been having problems on climbs. Should I keep the triple and change to a cassette with easier gearing, or should I buy a double crankset and put a really low gear on the back? — Brenda T.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: The most effective (and least expensive) way to lower your gearing is to keep the triple and replace your cassette with a 12-27 (11-27 or even -28).
If you have a 30-tooth small chainring, this will reduce your low gear from 35.2 to 30 gear inches — a difference you can definitely feel on climbs. Meanwhile, you’ll still have plenty of usable midrange gears for flat or rolling roads.
Triple cranksets on high-end road bikes are seen less often these days, as compact cranks have all but replaced them. But if you already have a triple, you can get the same benefit without replacing it — unless you really want to.
As we get older and have less time to train, we simply can’t use the gear ratios that we once muscled up hills. Low gears save our knees. They make a supple and efficient spin easier to achieve.
They also make steep climbs more fun because there’s less mental strain — you know you won’t hurt so much. In this way, low gears encourage more climbing, and that means greater fitness.