I never chose compact cranks … they chose me. Or rather, when I bought my road bike, it just happened to have compact cranks*. (for clumsy explanation, see below)

Which was a lucky thing, because I reckon they’re great. One of the simplest laws of cycling is that heavy people struggle on hills. As I weigh 100kg, which is about 40kg more than your average King of the Mountain, I’d say the extra gearing provided by compact cranks has, for me, been the difference between suffering in the hills and, well, suffering horribly in the hills.

But the curious thing is that so many people have such a strong negative opinion about them. I’ve never understood why. I think a lot of this is because they’re a recent phenomenon, that's been embraced by novices. From what I’ve learnt, compact cranks only came into broader knowledge when Tyler Hamilton used them to stay competitive in 2003’s Tour de France after busting his collarbone and being unable to get out of the saddle. Lots of racers come with them now ... but I don't think the high-end ones do... 

So, many riders seem to view them as unacceptable. It’s funny, we spend thousands on buying a bike a teensy bit lighter, aerodynamic water bottles … but adding a bit more gearing to that bike, well, that’s cheating. Or soft. Or both. The number of times I’ve heard of people being told in a bike shop (usually by some skinny twentysomething), “naah, you don’t need those gears around Sydney.”

Well, maybe YOU don’t, buster, but they’re working just fine for me.

I’ve been meaning to start this discussion for a while but was jarred into action by this post by Will:



Especially the response (when talk turned to gearing), by Mikesbytes:

“39-25 is perfectly adequate for RNP. There is no need what so ever to change the gearing.” 

That’s a fair few intensifiers, Mikesbytes! Perfectly adequate. No need what so ever. I cycle the RNP with that ratio, and so should everyone. Now drop and give me 20! :-)

I’d say increased gearing may well help Will, and since he’s on a 53/39 set-up, a compact could be the way to go. There’s no shame in it if that’s your decision, Will! I'd suggest you join compact cranks anonymous ... but sadly there's no hiding those tiny rings.

Yes, it always helps to train more, lose weight, get fitter etc. But if that’s not happening and you want to ride the many hilly roads of our undulating city, but find yourself dying horribly, grinding up at a pitiful RPM while flailing around out of the saddle, then taking several minutes to get your breath back once you’ve mercifully reached the top, I’d recommend you take another look at the cheating, soft option – buying some bigger gears.


Some of the advantages, as I see them (I’m not a doctor but I can Google):

1 Higher cadence means more economic cycling, less lactic build-up during the ride and quicker recovery.

2 Kinder on the knees, especially if, again, you’re not a lean youngster.

3. Easier to stay in the saddle on ascents, for energy conservation.

4. If  the thought of say West Head or the RNP or the Three Gorges fills you with dread, but you find them easier to do with kinder gearing, you’ll probably do those rides more. And you’ll lose weight, get stronger, build your fitness and all the other things that people say you need to do to climb hills better. 

5. You can still attack hills on bigger ratios with a compact. You don’t HAVE to use, say, 34-28 just because you have it. But my guess is, if you’re suffering, you will. And you’ll love it.


Disadvantages, as put by skinny kids and some of my silly friends

1 The pros don’t use them. (OK, look in the mirror – is that Andy Schleck looking back at you?)

2 But I LIKE grinding my way up hills (“Enjoy your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone” said the Sunscreen song)

3 You’ll be fine on regular cranks if you just lose weight, train and HTFU (see 4, above)

4 You lose top speed (What happens to you more often – falling out the back of a peloton cos your gears aren’t big enough, or being dropped going up a hill? Besides, if you’re worried about that, change your cassette -  50/11 is a bigger ratio than 53/12)


But ultimately, it’s not what gear you use to get up a hill, it’s HOW you get up the hill. If having kinder gearing helps you get up a hill FASTER and easier, well, that’s what counts, surely? Not what gear you did it in

So that’s my take on the situation. I’d be interested to know what others think.


*For those wondering what this is about, my attempt at explaining. The crankset is that set of big toothed rings and levers that the pedals are attached to. Traditionally, racing bikes come with two rings – a big one with 53 teeth, and a smaller one with 39 teeth, ie 53/39. More recently, “compact cranks” with 50/34 teeth have been developed, to create smaller ratios; your legs will spin faster at the same speed as someone using a 53/39 with an equivalent set of cogs on the back wheel. Of course, many bikes have three chain rings, but this isn’t popular on a racing bike due to weight, an increased Q factor (you can google that yourself!) ... and it makes you look even more soft than a compact crank. 


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You may be on to something, Big Mig Mike.

Maybe I took it to extremes but I'd say the only reason I completed 250 km in one day on the Alpine Classic Extreme course recently, without extensive training and while carrying a load of food and emergency equipment (in case of a sudden weather change in the mountains), was the 22-tooth "granny" chain ring on my touring bike. It had a big workout. The other rings are pretty small, too -- 34 and 44.They all were used but despite my low top end gearing 44 x 12, I didn't feel disadvantaged. It was a relief just to freewheel down hills.

My legs felt fine afterwards due, I believe and as Mike suggests, to "less lactic build-up during the ride and quicker recovery". As he says, it is also "easier to stay in the saddle on ascents". But here is the rub, literally. You'll be subject to more chafing and saddle soreness due to the longer time in the saddle rather than "dancing on the pedals" like the pros. That was the only area where I really felt pain after that ride.

Of course, my proper weekend warrior carbon fibre road bike has proper gearing of 53/39 but I knew I would never be able to complete that ride on it!



NA, you might be better off with different saddles.  I've got the Lookin gel ones on both my tourer (wider ladies saddle for long days) and a narrower one for 60 deg riding position.  I do long distances on both without any probs.

NA, you might be better off with different saddles


im 93kgs, 175cm tall, and ride 52/39. I've done the 3 gorges ride, and generally look for hilly rides on the road bik. I prefer my road bike to not have compact cranks. compact doesn't shift as well at the front, and the top end does suffer. but if you can't get up the biggest hills with 53/39, then you should definitely go compact. of course i would never ride those gears on my commuter.

I too am a fan of the compact crank and lower gearing, but the sexist bike industry knows that and my road bike came standard with the CC because it was the "ladies' version".  My husband has the same bike in the "male" version and it has regular macho male gearing.


I like it that way because it gives him the necessary disadvantage when he rides with me.  :-)


One question though (regarding Will's original problem): once you have worked your way down to your lowest ratio, (whatever that is on your particular bike), and there are still a few kms of hill left to climb, doesn't it then come back to weight, fitness and hill-climbing practice?


I was thinking of Will this morning as I rode up hills to work on my laden commuter bike, with mudguards, panniers and large pump.  One good way of hill-training is to ride a heavier bike when you are training then hop on a light-weight road bike when you want to blitz your friends.

Hi Michael


At 100kg your hill climbing issue is not gearing but weight.  Go find your favourite hill and ride up it, then put on a 10kg back pack and ride up it again.  You will soon see why the weight weenies get away from you.


What you do have at 100kg is excellent power, much better than weight weenies of similar fitness.


Put yourself in calorie deflect and bring your weight down to about 80kg and you'll fly up the hills.  In preparation for the road racing season I did a planned diet starting on the 10th January @82kg and go myself down to 75kg 16 days later. Yes that still puts me heavier than my competitors, but my greater power should help level the playing field.  PM me your email address and I'll see how I can help you with weight loss.  Its not as hard as it seems, once you are empowered with good knowledge.


In regards to RNP, I ridden it on a fixie (Waterfall in, Audley out) on 77" and had no problems with waterfall -> gary beach hill and flat rock.  Audley exit was tough though.  If going the other way aka Alterality (spelling?) hill is the toughest in the park and will test many, I'm not brave enough to ride a fixie up that one, especially as my fixie is now on 81"


Another consideration with gearing on a crank set is crank length.  5mm of crank length is roughly one tooth on the ring, hence 170mm on a 52 is about the same foot velocity as 175mm on a 53.


Hi Mikesbytes, it'd also be relevant to mention that I'm two metres tall, which some people would easier recognise as 6'7". 

A couple of years ago I did one of those "follow the Tour de France" trips, and at the end of that period I had my weight around 95kg, but then I did spend a week riding up a 1200m pass every day. I was in pretty good shape but one can't always be on a European cycling holiday. I was loving the big gears on such climbs as the Cormet de Roselend, the Col de Madeleine etc ... and I see no reason why I'd want to swap to smaller gears to climb similarly steep yet not nearly as long hills around Sydders.

My feeling is that cycling up hills is a lot about cadence. It's true different individuals have different "natural" cadences ... compare Armstrong to that arch-grinder, Ulrich. But if you're finding yourself struggling along at 50rpm, unable to pick up the pace, you'd simply go better with a better ratio. And that'd help you get better and thus be able to attack hills faster, on bigger ratios, in the future. Esp if you're not a natural at cycling, hills etc.

As opposed to the old Army basic training approach: "If hanging a man kills him, keep hanging him until he gets used to it!" :-)

50rpm is way to low even Ulrich didn't ride those cadences.  Agree that cadence is a personal thing and the comparison between Lance and Ulrich is the classic.


The issue of the original thread that I responded to was about being dropped on hills in RNP by other riders. In the circumstances described, it seemed that a lowering of gearing would suddenly make the rider quicker on hills in RNP and I doubt that in those circumstances that a gearing change would of made sufficient change to reflect the need to not get dropped by the other riders


At 200cm you still have scope to easily loose 10kg.  Australia is the second fattest country in the world and this has lulled us into thinking we are slimmer than we are, as we are comparing ourselves with what is normal in Australian society.  For a fit person such as yourself, your much better to ignore the normal and work on what is best for you.  There's a guy in my club is who is 194cm tall and weighs 75kg

Can't ever recall being 90kg. First time I took any notice of my weight was when training with a college basketball team in the US, I was 20 years old, 92kg and eating everything I could find to try gain weight and stop being pushed around by the blokes bigger than me. That was some time ago...

Almost all of us could lose some weight. A great way to lose weight is exercise (with diet of course). So it's the chicken and egg thing. If you're struggling to keep a high enough cadence on the hills, better gear ratios would help. This would make those long hilly rides more enjoyable, meaning you'd likely do them more often, etc. 

I don't think the immediate consequence of me changing from compacts to 53/39 and 11/25 would be me losing weight. I think the consequence would be a tendency to lie around on the lounge on my day off, eating peanut butter toasted sandwiches and watching the Super Bowl on TV instead of going for a cycle to Church Point. Oh, wait....


Hmm being tall and lanky I just dont like CCs. I try them and keep going back to standards as I prefer to ride hills at a somewhat slow tempo but higher ground speed.

175mm is still not enough,180mm cranks and a set back seat post = the duck's guts.

What make of 180mm cranks, "other" BB?

I started on 175s and was happy to cos I came to cycling after knee surgery. Steve Hogg was on my case to get 180s but they only tended to be in Dura-Ace etc at the time and I wasn't sure I was going to stick at cycling. 

bb not BB....

FSA on the SS, Sugino on the tourer and will replace when worn out the Sram GXP 175 mm with another set of Sram GXP 180 mm on the CX /commuter/ light tourer.
Sram are not bad cranks and nowhere near the $$ needed for DoYouRace. Not sure if all the Sram range (top end) goes out to 180 mm but the middle range sure do.


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