Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Last week, a roadie named Daniel, who just got a magnificent vintage-style steel Bottecchia (photo) wrote with a question that caused me to do a double-take. I started banging out a reply and then hit the delete key and sent something completely different.
Have a look at Dan’s question and my response. It’ll be interesting for him and for me to hear if you agree with what I told him. Please share your take with a comment.
Hi Jim, my question is about touring with my new Bottecchia Leggendaria with Campagnolo components. Is there a way to give myself better gearing for touring with the bike?
It is a 50/34 up front and an 11-29 cassette for the rear cogs. I’ve been trying to read up and watch videos, but getting the compatibility down and figuring out what would work has been a bit complex. I figured it’d make riding a bit more enjoyable carrying panniers and bags.
My Double Thoughts
After reading Dan’s letter and checking out his bike online , my initial thought was to give him a list of options for changing his components to provide easier gearing. But then a wonderful memory came to me.
I recalled visiting the Carnielli factory in Italy in 1990, home of Bottecchia bicycles. It was only a year after Greg LeMond won his third Tour de France riding one of their time trial bikes. And, we American cycling journalists were treated like family. A company director proudly gave me one of their beautiful headbadges for my collection (on the left in the Bottecchia photo at the top of the page).
Thinking about Dan’s new ride being a tribute to classic Bottecchias and about LeMond, a grand champion from a bygone era, changed the way I was thinking about his touring gearing question. And instead of my first idea, I sent the following:
First of all, we used to tour with bags, panniers and everything else on more difficult gearing than you have on your new bike. When I was 28 years old and my wife was 22, we rode about 5,000 miles across America. We left New Hampshire in October a week after the first snowfall.
We rode to Florida first to find warmth and then headed west to Los Angeles. There we turned north following the awesome Pacific Coast Bike Route and stopped in Santa Cruz where we live today (in case you don’t know where that is, we’re right on the coast, 75 miles shy of San Francisco).
Because the weather was unpredictable on that winter crossing, we each carried 60-70 pounds of gear. We had front and rear panniers, handlebar bags plus the racks to support them with sleeping bags on top. And I toted a lovely Bill Moss tent that I recall weighed 7 pounds.
Old-school Alpine Gearing and New-school Compact Gearing
And, here’s the key thing. Back then, bicycles with wide-range double- and triple-chainring drivetrains were available for touring. But, a standard option on many bikes was what was called “alpine” gearing. It consisted of 10 gears with 42/52 chainrings and a 14-28 freewheel. That’s what our gearing was.
Your gearing has a lowest gear with a 34T chainring with a 29T cog, which is called “compact” gearing and is significantly easier to pedal than our 42 x 28 alpine lowest gear. Yet, even carrying all that gear we did perfectly fine. It was my wife’s first long ride too.
Give your Bike’s Stock Gearing a Go
So, I believe you can totally tour with the gearing on that bike already. If you head up super steep long climbs, yeah it’s going to be hard pedaling but you can choose easier roads and do fine.
If this sounds undoable – or unreasonable, maybe it’ll help to think of all the people over 100 years ago who biked all over the world on basic bikes with only a single gear. Yes, they had to walk when they couldn’t pedal. But, it didn’t stop them at all.
Fast forward to our XC ride in 1979 on alpine gearing and we only had to walk part way up one hill all the way across. I don’t remember more than it was somewhere in the hill country of Texas and a howling frigid headwind wore us down.
If fitness is an issue, you’ll want to plan your route accordingly. As long as you give your legs and lungs time to rest and recover after harder days, you will get stronger as you rack up the miles on your tour.
If you want to test what I’m saying, an easy way to do it, is to load up a backpack and go for a ride. Having the weight on your back is not as easy as using the bike as the mule. Still, I think with the gearing on your Bottecchia you’ll be fine.
My Current Gearing
For another comparison, I can point to my current gearing and how it has changed from when I did that USA crossing. Today, I am 67 years old and on my bike my easiest gear is 34-tooth chainring with a 28-tooth cog (compact gearing).
I climb the steepest hills around here. Not with packs. But by choosing routes carefully and carrying a lighter load, I could still tour with this gearing.
Summing up, give it a try, Dan. I think you’re going to like it.”
Now it’s your turn readers. Weigh in with a comment if you agree or disagree and why. Thanks!
Ride total: 9,744
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.