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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I've never been able to understand this obsession that some people have for only 2 chainrings, just because the pro's don't use them.  I've always had triples and my most recent carbon toy was bought mainly because it came with a triple Ultegra setup.  It has 52-39-30 with 11-27T cassette and gets me to most places that I want to ride it.  The things that p me off are these young sprogs in bike shops that say a 39-25T combination will get you anywhere.  Might get them anywhere, but the chances are that i'm giving them 30-40 years start and not riding as much as them, or I might even be carrying 30kgs of luggage on my 48-36-24 tourer with 11-34T cassette.  You don't have to choose the small ring, but it's always good to have it there.


One of my observations is that when people are climbing, they often seem to hang on in a big gear when they should have dropped back to an easier one much sooner.  Works for me!

Yeh a triple is definitely another option, they typically give you the benefits of standard gearing (53/39 or 53/42) while keeping a low gear in reserve for that rear hill. 

30kg Dabba !!!!, you must of been carrying a full set of camping gear mate.  I went touring in October long weekend on my triple, around 220k per day and the lowest gear I hit was 42-23 (wouldn't click into the 25).  It would seem I was carrying a little less luggage :)

@mikesbytes: Please define "touring" as you understand it ;-)
Sorry, what are you looking for?

you must of been carrying a full set of camping gear


Absolutely - and for cold and variable conditions too, not to mention additional food/water!  You can never have too many gears on a tourer.  Most of my trips also seem to involve climbing the Great Divide a number of times, so there's always need for a good granny combination.

I am glad you (Dabba and Neil) raised that with mikesbytes as I was wondering too.


The other thing I was wondering was if (Dabba) your new carbon toy carries 30kg gear, how is it mounted?  You can't put panniers on carbon bikes (as far as I know) unless you use the ones that grip onto the seatpost but they're not rated to carry 30kg (as far as I know)..........?

Carbon toy carries spare tubes, toolkit + water.  It's my "go faster' toy.  As you know, us old farts have to have something in life left that we can enjoy, apart from wine, women and song!
Agree again!!

Yeh, with all that load, I'd be be making the most out of those gears too.  I've done my touring in recent years on a racer with a carrier fitted.  In my youth I use to do it on a kmart style 10 speed, I recall decending Mt Victoria at night only with flashers LOL

One of these days I need to get a proper tourer...

@mikesbytes regarding the super skinny tall guy in your club - has he had his bone density taken?


One of the problems with having very low body weight is loss of bone density (discussed on this site previously) and is very common in professional and competitive cyclists.  I was going to ask you to give me some weight-loss tips because I am trying to shed 10-20 kg myself.  But calcium intake is very important.

I have no idea what his bone density is.  He did break a collar bone in spring, thanks to a 25 bike pileup.

I agree that bone density is important and I try to cross train with a bit of running and some weights.


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