Editor’s Note: Some time ago, a Premium Member wrote in to ask if we could update an article we ran in which a couple of us on the RBR Crew provided a quick rundown of our favorite tires, and why we liked them.
It was an excellent idea. So good, in fact, that I immediately decided to make it a regular feature – providing a rundown from RBR Contributors on our favorites across the spectrum of components, nutrition, clothing, accessories, you name it. Today we discuss our groupsets and gearing. (Here’s a link to the gamut of RBR Favorites.)
We will plan to run a different “favorite” each week for the next several.
We also want to hear from readers on your favorites! Join in the fun either by commenting below the Newsletter version of this article or using the form at Tell Us About Your: Favorites (you can always find it in the Talk to RBR section on every page of the site.) We’ll gather up your submissions and run them as a follow-up to this article (and future RBR Favorites pieces).
Enjoy, and let us hear from you about your own Favorites.
– John Marsh
Nothing’s more important for enjoying cycling than having the right gearing for your fitness level and how and where you ride. Kinda sounds obvious, right? It should be, but gearing is confusing and it’s easy to end up on a bike with the wrong gears for you – especially if you’re not knowledgeable about gearing.
So how do you know if you’re on the wrong gears? The surefire sign is that you’re struggling to scale the hills you ride and/or no matter how much you shift, you poop out toward the end of your longer loops. Both these indicate that you’ll benefit from upgrading to lower gearing. The good news is that there are finally loads of ways to go low so, unlike in the distant past, this won’t be difficult today.
As an example of changing gearing to suit your needs, I recently switched my cassette from a largest cog of 25-teeth to 28-teeth. I run a 39/53 crankset. The 28-tooth large cog was necessary because my knees were hurting climbing on the 25 due to the additional force of pushing the harder gear. The 28-tooth lets me sit and spin rather than sit and push or stand and stomp, both painful when my knees are acting up. FYI: I couldn’t make my crankset gearing any lower because a 39 tooth ring is its limit. I could buy a new crankset to lower its gearing but that costs a lot more than the cassette with the 28-tooth (the cassette is the cluster of cogs on the rear wheel).
I use mechanical Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace drivetrains on my road bikes. On my time trial rig, I use Shimano Ultegra Di2 electric shifting. I have ridden Campagnolo and SRAM components and like them, too. But, for optimum shifting and reliability, it’s best to run matched components from the same brand. If I was building a new roadster, I would equip it with SRAM eTAP because it’s wireless for simple installation and service and it shifts like magic. I just need to win the lottery first.
I’ve always been an ultra racer and tourist, never a road racer. I choose equipment based on comfort, functionality and reliability.
Gearing – it’s a triple. The front is 45x39x32 and the rear is a 10-speed 11-30 cassette. I almost never use the big ring … I just coast.
Like Coach David Ertl, my first road bike had Campagnolo gearing. I can’t even remember the groupset, but I do know that I always thought – after switching exclusively to Shimano – that both have their relative advantages and disadvantages. On the Campy, I loved being able to crest a hill and in one throw shift across the entire cassette at the start of a steep downhill. A shortcoming was using the thumb shifter while in the hooks or on the drops.
But that’s ancient history. Once I purchased a new bike with Shimano Dura-Ace, I’ve never looked back. But I have since dropped down to Ultegra for everything on my main bike except the D-A front derailleur. I run Ultegra 6700 with a 50×34 up front, and an 11-25 cassette, 10-speed. For the numerous hills I ride regularly in and around Atlanta, the 25 is just fine; I almost never touch the 25 anyway. But if I head into the mountains, I’ll put on an 11-28. (I don’t keep on the 11-28 full-time because of the jump up in gearing from 21-24-28, while the 11-25 is a smoother 21-23-25.)
As many others have mentioned, Ultegra to me really delivers a lot of quality for the price. Earlier on, I thought I had to have Dura-Ace, but wait a year and it’s Ultegra. I have no trouble waiting now!
Next Week in RBR Favorites: A Recap of Recent Reader Favorites
My rain bike has old Ultegra 6500 with 53×39 up front and 12-27 in the rear (that’s right, still running 9-speed). My summer bike has Ultegra 6800 with 52×36 up front and 11-28 in the rear, 11-speed. I find the semi-compact 52-36 to offer great high and low range and is a great compromise between the standard 53-39 and compact 50-34.
Everything 11-speed except the Track Bike (single speed):
Trek Emonda SLR 6 – Ultegra 6800 – 172.5mm crank arms: 50/34 & 11-28 (that’s what it came with) – PowerPod power meter
Cervelo R5ca – Dura Ace 9070 – 172.5mm crank arms: 52/34 & 11-28 – 4iiii dual power meters
BH Ultralight – Dura Ace 9000 – 175mm crank arms: 53/39 & 11-28 (that’s what it came with) – Pioneer dual power meters
Blue Competition Track bike – 165mm crank arms: 49T 15T
In general, most cyclists’ (road & Tri) crank arms are too long, saddle too high and stem too long. I used to be a 175mm guy but 172.5 is more comfortable now and with 165 on track bike, I’m thinking 170mm for road bikes from here on out. Im 6’0″ – 34-inseam inseam.
On my main road bike I have Shimano Di2, 50×34 compact chain ring and 11-32 cassette. 11-speed. SRAM Force on my other road bike.
Since I am very much an everyday rider, my equipment has changed over the years to reflect my current style of riding. I am currently using a Deore mountain crank set with 44x32x22 rings coupled with a friction 9-speed 11-32 cassette – the triple gearing makes climbing a breeze even when hauling 75 pounds’ worth of gear.
When I started racing in 1973, I always went with Campagnolo Nuovo Record. My paper route supported my taste in fine Italian components. I’ve always appreciated the quality, tradition and appearance of Campy components.
But when I bought a fully assembled Trek in 1998, it came with a Shimano drivetrain, and from then on I’ve used Shimano. Once you go with a drivetrain, you need to have matching cassettes and wheels, so I’ve stuck with Shimano. But I really do like the Shimano. I had a bike with SRAM Force and didn’t care for that. I have Deore XT on my mountain bike and Ultegra on my road bike. I find Ultegra works just fine. I had Dura-Ace on my original bike but Ultegra is a much better value and very satisfactory. I have a 53×42 chain ring up front and run an 11-25 cassette on the rear. I don’t like the 39 in the front because in flat Iowa a 42 is good enough. I do have a 39 I put on when I go to hilly places. Call me old school, but when I was a kid all we had were 42×52 chainrings with a 14-18 freewheel on the back. As you can guess, I’m not a spinner.
Shimano all the way. Ultegra Di2 with 50×34 up front and 11-28 out back. It’s an 11-speed. I find the 50×11 combination is still useful for me as I spin it out on a few descents and I can crank out a sprint, too.
Tell us about your Favorites by commenting below the Newsletter version of this article or or using the form at Tell Us About Your: Favorites.
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he brought our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.