Question: I took up riding again when I turned 40. I smoked 50 cigarettes a day and was fat and ugly. Now at 46 I’m still ugly but can ride 70 miles two or three times a week. Since I’m hooked on cycling, I want to buy a high-end road bike but don’t know whether to get a double- or triple-chainring crankset. I plan to ride across the U.S. this summer, so which crank do you recommend? — Mike P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: It’s hard to be certain without knowing more about you as a rider, your climbing strength, preferred cadence, the terrain where you usually ride, and so on.
However, it gets easier when knowing that a transcontinental is your goal. Chances are great that you’ll be much happier with a triple crankset. In fact, a triple is mandatory if you’ll be hauling any weight on your bike.
I’ve ridden across the U.S. twice, once from Seattle to the Virginia shore — 3,400 miles in 24 days — and once as a member of a Race Across America team from Irvine, CA, to Savannah, GA. That was a little quicker — 5 days and 11 hours. I used double cranksets on each ride. The tour was unloaded and a low gear of 39×26 was sufficient (though still a test when climbing the Bighorn Mountains and the Appalachians). In RAAM we had low gears of 39×23.
If I were to do a cross-country ride today, I’d almost certainly use a triple. It would be easier on my knees, it would make the climbs more fun, and it would give me more gear choices for any type of terrain or wind conditions.
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with having a triple-crankset bike if you live in flatter terrain. Just ride it like a double by ignoring the inner ring.