|Not enough teeth!|
When I upgraded to my Felt, it came with an 11:25 on the back, I swapped it almost immediately for a 12:30.
Even with that I still cry out for a compact crankset as the gradient rises above 10%.
"No one ever failed to finish a sportive because their gears were too easy," as the saying goes.
Except I don't have my old ratio any more. Because when my bike came back from its service they'd swapped it for an 11:28.
Now, on one level I love having an 11 again - but, 28? That's like cutting off my old "help me" gear. I needed that gear. In fact, I probably needed another one some days.
The new cassette has four advantages: 1) the 11 cog give me more speed and control descending (I'm not kidding anyone if I claim I'll be spinning out a 52-11 on the flat). 2) It's lighter. 3) My chain won't be stretched out to breaking point if I accidentally end up in my lowest gear on my big ring. 4) I should probably harden up.
On top of all that, Ian Stannard, one of my favourite riders, rode the Tour of Britain a year or two back with an 11-28 on the back. I don't think anyone in the peleton rides a 12-30.
This weekend, with the new gear ratios on, I rode some of Surrey's hardest hills - it was an education.
Meeting up with fellow Etapers David and Lucy (and their shiny new titanium bikes) we headed out for the ride - loosely following the Legs of Steel route and topping out at 160km with 2km of climbing.
|More climbing than I had planned for|
The extra top-end speed was a joy on descents too - I could spin up to 60kmh easily. But the new gears were a mixed bag overall.
Thanks to my slightly odd crankset (52:36, sitting between the 'standard' 53:39 ratio and the 'compact' 50:34 one fitted as standard to most bikes) I had the equivalent of a 26-and-a-bit rear cog on a compact with the new cassette. My old 30-cog being the equivalent of a 28 on a compact.
This wasn't enough to spin my legs on slopes of more than about 6%. 7-11% I could get up without standing on the pedals, but it hurt a lot more than it used to.
I got round without dismounting though, up Barhatch (probably Surrey's hardest climb), Ranmore Hill, Leith Hill, Crocknorth (a steady 11%, so a decent analogy for bits of the Etape), Coombe Bottom with its 25% sections and the ZigZags at Box Hill (among others).
More, I set personal records on all bar Box (where I set my 3rd fastest time).
The harder gears meant I was pushing harder to keep a solid cadence, climbing faster, but it hurt.
I was getting out of breath sooner, but oddly this didn't stop me - I was still operating within my limits, just closer to them. It was an education that, when made to by my gears, I can go harder for longer. My legs felt it but didn't stop, my lungs felt it, but I didn't explode.
I was driving rather than spinning sooner and for longer on slopes. I also needed to be out of the saddle sooner.
I found out going up Holme Moss that I could sit and drive for a long time (more than a kilometre) at 11% with my old gears. I really don't know if I could have managed with my new gears - especially given that my cadence dropped to 40 for a while with my old ones.
Looking in more detail at the Etape, I could probably manage the Tourmalet with the new gears. I might even be faster up it. But the Hautacam? It has sections at 14%. There's a kilometre that AVERAGES above 11%.
I ordered another 30-cassette.
That said, post Etape, with no 30km-long climbs to face - the 11:28 is going straight back on. It should rock on the London100 as well as helping my climbing power overall in the long run.