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  1. #1
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    Bike industry: don't take the 'mountain' out of our bikes (gearing + wheel size rant)

    Not sure if I'm going to put this nagging idea out there properly, and I'm sure there's gonna be 50+ people insisting I'm doing it wrong, but please have some patience and hear me out....

    I've been riding off an on since 1992, and the latest itch to scratch has been working my way into increasingly remote back country trails. The effort required is pretty intense so it's been a multi-year project even getting the skills and fitness to tear this stuff off... but oh man, the payback.... here's a picture of part of our local playground taken from a 6,400' peak I bagged Monday. We actually have bike legal ORV trails strung out on various valleys and basins to the ridge just in front of the biggest peak system in this pic.


    Stupidly steep pitches (GPS said my descent that day had a couple points w 49% grade) going on for many miles/multiple thousands of feet of vert with anything from great to abominable to apocalyptic tread surfaces are par for the course. Long stretches of gut-popping granny gear herf and HAB is guaranteed. But somewhere in the suffering is also extravagant bliss.

    So what's my beef? There's currently an unholy convergence of trends in the bike industry that aren't going to help with this sort of passion at all: gearing systems ratcheted up + larger wheel sizes.

    To be clear:
    I'm NOT saying that the newer drive trains don't work/aren't awesome (that new SRAM 1x11 sure looks tasty).
    I'm NOT saying that the bigger hoops can't do these sort of trails (they do).

    I'm simply saying that mathematically the combination is working together to wipe out multiple lowest end gears, which are the ones me and my peeps spend the most time in while riding in Real Mountains™.

    Here in the NW it's long been a tradition to convert a 3x9 into a 2x9, but the granny ring sure as heck isn't the one that's dropped! Even the stronger guys I've ridden with will typically be munching along ahead of me on the small ring/big cog for 1-3 hours of grinding up a ridge to get the goods, and as a woman I'm constantly trying to play those low gears to preserve every scrap of power I can so I don't blow up before I'm back to the truck. And then there's my old creaky knees again....

    Thankfully I'm still quite happy with my 2009 Ibis Mojo w/ 3x9 SLX drive train, but frankly I'm thinking I might quietly sit out the current fad until the scene circles back on itself and goes through a sudden re-discovery of 'low gears = good' before going bike shopping again. In the meantime I'm experiencing a certain degree of angst and sadness... although I guess I'm saving money, so I've got that going for me... *sigh*
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  2. #2
    undercover brother
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    Have you used a 36t rear cog? or a 42t? I can almost climb up a wall with a 32t up front and 36t out back. Let alone a 42t...

  3. #3
    Cleavage Of The Tetons
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    Haha....I am running 22 granny/36 (tallest rear)....can you just not find the right cranks or something?
    "We LOVE cows! They make trails for us.....

    And then we eat them."

  4. #4
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    I run my Alfine11 with a 24 x 23, which gives me a lowest gear equivalent to 22 x 40.

    If I knew gear inches this might even sound impressive...

  5. #5
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    So what's your lowest gear? If you are running either a 22/32 or 22/34 you can get pretty close to that by running a 28 tooth chainring with 1x11 with 42 tooth cog. That combo is equivalent to 22/33.

    While it's true that bigger wheels and 1x and 2x systems will usually sacrifice some of the lower gear ratios, the answer is quite simple: keep using a 3x system. Currently SRAM offers X9 and X0 in both 2x and 3x cranksets. So unless SRAM and Shimano completely drop the 3x crankset out of their lineup, then there is nothing for you to worry about.

    And if you are worried about the switch to 27.5, well, switching from 26 to 27.5 is like losing only 1 and 1/2 teeth of your rear big cog. Not that big of a deal and if you aren't already using a 36 in the back you can swap cassettes to get your granny gear back where it was.

  6. #6
    Yappy little dog!
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    Quote Originally Posted by tangaroo View Post
    Have you used a 36t rear cog? or a 42t? I can almost climb up a wall with a 32t up front and 36t out back. Let alone a 42t...
    ^^ THIS ^^

    I have a singlespeed, 1x10, 2x10, 3x9, 26er, 299er, and a 650B (yeah, a lot of bikes). What doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger.

  7. #7
    dru
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    Slowrider, I hear you and couldn't agree more. I rode up a 7000 ' mtn in 97 and it was a granny gear climb indeed, for about 2 hours straight.

    Just wait out the marketing cycle and keep riding what you like. I've been at the sport a long time too and the genuine equipment progress we've seen is often mixed with lots of ideas that are nothing more than flavours of the week.

    For instance how many different BCD patterns have there been over the years? I think XTR had four or five different ones in the space of 5 or 6 years.....

    Drew
    occasional cyclist

  8. #8
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    The single ring fronts don't make sense if you ride all the mountain.
    and I agree keep the mountain in mountain biking.

  9. #9
    giddy up!
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    Quote Originally Posted by tim208 View Post
    The single ring fronts don't make sense if you ride all the mountain.
    and I agree keep the mountain in mountain biking.
    For me....the exact opposite is true. 1x11 with a 26t ring in the front yields me the same exact climbing gear that I would have with a 22-36......without the weight/sh$tiness of a front derailleur. All that I lost was my high end gears....which are all but worthless in the mountains. Win-Win.

    BB
    www.thepathbikeshop.com

  10. #10
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    Aloha, yes, I am in the same boat as you. People often say "I can walk faster than you riding up that hill in your granny" but that's not the point. I can say I rode it all.

    I've managed to put together my custom 9 speed set up by using old school stuff. 94/58mm 5 bolt stuff with 42/29/20 chain rings turning a 13-38 cassette stack. Most of my climbing and trail work is done with the middle ring (especially good here with all the mud we have). When needed, I can do most of my climbing with the 29 middle but I can in a pinch switch to the 20 which allows me to climb some pretty amazingly steep stuff. If I need to do some fire road or pavement miles to get me to trails, I spin the 42.

    Good luck with your set up. My only fear is some day not being able to get any more 29's in that bolt circle or bottom brackets.......So far so good. Action Tec, FSA spare 29's and other various parts will keep me going well into the future. Well, until the last of the frame manufactures do away with 73mm threaded BB's..........

  11. #11
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmats View Post
    Aloha, yes, I am in the same boat as you. People often say "I can walk faster than you riding up that hill in your granny" but that's not the point. I can say I rode it all.
    It's not even bragging rights necessarily, it's preserving as much energy as you can when the ride slips into the 3rd/4th hour and beyond so you can just hang on and survive.

    ..I've managed to put together my custom 9 speed set up by using old school stuff. 94/58mm 5 bolt stuff with 42/29/20 chain rings turning a 13-38 cassette stack..
    Nice! I've run into a number of guys now who are quietly putting 20 tooth granny rings on for a number of reasons... our massive/steep hills, bad knees, bikepacking, etc.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by verslowrdr View Post
    It's not even bragging rights necessarily, it's preserving as much energy as you can when the ride slips into the 3rd/4th hour and beyond so you can just hang on and survive.
    Or maybe not even the 4th, 5th or even 8th hour and beyond, it might be the 3rd, 4th straight day of insane riding. Just to be able to say we earned it with the climb.

  13. #13
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    We're surrounded by mountains in which the climbs involve 1hr+ in the granny ring and coming back down you really need the big ring. I can certainly ride everywhere using a single ring upfront but the efficiency is so greatly reduced that it would definitely make the all day rides so much harder.

  14. #14
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmats View Post
    or maybe not even the 4th, 5th or even 8th hour and beyond, it might be the 3rd, 4th straight day of insane riding. Just to be able to say we earned it with the climb.
    ^ this. 'zackly.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  15. #15
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    Quote Originally Posted by TigWorld View Post
    We're surrounded by mountains in which the climbs involve 1hr+ in the granny ring and coming back down you really need the big ring. I can certainly ride everywhere using a single ring upfront but the efficiency is so greatly reduced that it would definitely make the all day rides so much harder.
    Yeah, in this country the descents are so technical you're not going to go fast enough to use the big ring 90% of the time, which is why it's often just replaced with a bash guard. But middle is good... in fact that's almost always how I'm going down even if I'm not pedaling at all, just to take up some chain tension and prevent slap.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  16. #16
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    I feel your pain... and anyway you put it, you're right. Problem is, everyone likes to believe that what they ride is the best. And it is for them. And the problem with the bike industry is that it has to reinvent itself every few years to remain relevant and viable. This is not to say that bigger wheels and different gears don't work well for particular purposes. But IMHO, the industry is trying to get riders to own a quiver of bikes for specific terrain. It's at the point (seems to me at least) that getting a complete bike off the shelf to do exactly wht you want it to do is near impossible. The frame geomentry you want may not come with the wheel size you need or the suspension you like. And the gearing is never changed from the stock specs to accommodate larger wheel sizes (a 24 tooth little ring on a 26'r is noticeably lower than on a 29'r).

    Now if you're a 20 or thirty-something in great shape, a 1x 11 prolly looks way cool. Or that 2x10 with a 24 tooth on a 29'r may never be noticed. But from where I stand looking back at 58 years and down at 4 knee surgeries and back issues, those gearing choices absolutely suck. So I have no choice but to swap out little rings and even consider upgrading to that 11 speed cog set and derailleur to get the lower gearing for monster climbs like what you describe. Not to mention that all the new bikes with the geometry I want (73+ degree seat tube and 67 degree head angle) and 5+ inches of suspension travel all come with 27.5 wheels now. Great for point and shoot, but for tight twisty rocky trails, nothing works like a 26'r. Not to mention the added weight of bigger hoops and tires.
    No doubt I'm labeled a retro-grouch by some; don't really care. But when I see some of the best 26" trail bikes being phased out to bring in the latest wheel craze it seems a little "backwards" to me as well.
    That being said, may i suggest you upgrade to a 10 speed drive train and swap out the 24 toofer for a 22 up front. Cheaper than a whole new bike...

  17. #17
    Elitest thrill junkie
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    Wiping out the lowest gears? You realize the cassettes were 30t back in the day right? I get along fine with my ultegra cassettes...up MOUNTAINS. Not that everyone should do this, but even back on a 22-32-42 and 11-32 setup the 32 in the rear was just too low to use with the granny gear, but for some reason people went crazy about the 2t effective increase of 29ers and here we are trying to ride 36 and 42t rear cogs. It's insanity.

    At least 1x11 brings it back to the sane level by not having all crazy redundant gears and more things for my thumb to get arthritis on. It's probably better range than the non-microdrive rings and 11-30 cassettes we used to ride.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  18. #18
    official eMpTyBRain
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    verslowrdr, I know what you mean. If I were you, I would start stock piling what works for you now. If you have a good supply of spare (new) parts, you can keep it right for your needs forever.
    ...and proud member of the anti-sock puppet desolation

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by donkey View Post
    For me....the exact opposite is true. 1x11 with a 26t ring in the front yields me the same exact climbing gear that I would have with a 22-36......without the weight/sh$tiness of a front derailleur. All that I lost was my high end gears....which are all but worthless in the mountains. Win-Win.

    BB
    donkey this is the set up im thinking bout! what single ring set up you run up front???

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by donkey View Post
    For me....the exact opposite is true. 1x11 with a 26t ring in the front yields me the same exact climbing gear that I would have with a 22-36......without the weight/sh$tiness of a front derailleur. All that I lost was my high end gears....which are all but worthless in the mountains. Win-Win.

    BB
    what goes up must come down, i agree on the climbing side, but not the descending side. I want to be able to have both worlds. the single up front is just to limiting. I need the granny to get up there, and i love the bigger ring to scare my self going backdown. I run a 2x10 on my main bike.

  21. #21
    251
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    FWIW, "back in the day" my '95 Stumpjumper M2 came with an 3x8 drivetrain consisting of an 11-28 cassette and a 24/32/42 chainrings. My current 1x9 hardtail is setup with an 11-34 and a 32t ring on the front. The bottom gear "back in the day" was 24/28 (.86) and the apparently unable to climb a "real" mountain 1x9 is 32/34 (.94); put an 11-36 on the back, and it's pretty much on par with the old 3x8 at .89. What's more, I do believe in the long-ago early '90s, 3x7 drivetrains with 26t granny rings were more common than my ultra-low mid-'90s 24t ring.

    So, I think you're not properly remembering "the day", and it's really the soft, mushy midsection of time in between then and now when 22t granny rings and dinner plate 32t cogs were commonplace.
    Dave
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  22. #22
    Slothful dirt hippie
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    Quote Originally Posted by 251 View Post
    ...So, I think you're not properly remembering "the day", and it's really the soft, mushy midsection of time in between then and now when 22t granny rings and dinner plate 32t cogs were commonplace.
    HA! Yeah I MORE than remember it.... I still ride a ~1999 Cannondale with original drive train from time to time. It sucked then and it sucks now, which is why my old ~'94 GT was retrofitted with a 20 tooth cog in the 90s and I was freaking ecstatic to nab lower geared drive trains as they came out.

    Nobody around here misses that part. We don't miss cantilever and V brakes that made our hands cramp and ground down our rims on those long downhill shots either.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  23. #23
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    New for 2014 Shimano have released a crankset designed for ^^^^ I too was fed up with the trend to 1x and 2x

    It's a triple 10sp 22/30/40 so I'm happy to put that on my 29er bikepacking rig!! It's sitting in a box waiting

  24. #24
    251
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    Quote Originally Posted by verslowrdr View Post
    Nobody around here misses that part. We don't miss cantilever and V brakes that made our hands cramp and ground down our rims on those long downhill shots either.
    Reading this makes my hands ache.

    In all seriousness, I think there are more gearing options out there now then there has ever been. While there are certainly trends in what drivetrain comes on most bikes from the manufacturers, there are more than enough options for those who want something different.
    Dave
    Blog / Strava

  25. #25
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    If you look at the Sheldon Bown website and compare your 22/32 front 11/34 rear to the new 11 speed (10/42) with a 28t chain ring you'll find them surprizingly similar. I am a dedicated small ring climber and have been delighted with my SLX 22/36 crankset. If you can only get your 11 speed with a 30 or 34 chain ring it's going to be too hard for a lot of people to do long steep climbs. We often climb steep hills for an hour or more to get to the goods. My Garmin files show that the downhill speed rarely exceeds 15 mph so unless you're riding down fire roads you don't need big gears. We ride down tight single track

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