Q: I’m a recreational rider living near Madison, WI. My road bike has an 8-speed cassette that ranges from 12 to 21 teeth. I’ve had some knee pain, so I think I may need to spin a higher cadence on hills. Would you recommend increasing my largest cog to a 25 or 26? Or would it be better to replace the entire cassette so the gears will be “matched” better? — Kevin S.
COACH FRED: :I rode about 600 miles in your area in the summerof 2003 while coaching at the PAC Tour Midwest Cycling Camp. Wisconsin has wonderful roads and some testy hills, too.
Based on the terrain you’re in, I recommend a new cassette with a wider and more evenly spaced range of cogs. I use a 12-25 at home in Colorado and find it adequate for most of the mountain passes, which are usually fairly steady grades. The altitude, however, makes even a 6-percent grade harder than it would be near sea level.
Gearing is a highly individual thing. Some riders prefer higher cadences, some lower. You need to experiment to find the best climbing approach for you.
Ever since Lance Armstrong began climbing with a high cadence it seems lots of riders have installed lower gears. The thinking is pretty obvious: It’s good to do it if Lance does! In fact, I hear that Lance may be using a 25-tooth cog for training in the hills. If he needs a 25, you and I sure as heck do, too — or maybe a 27!