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Why Are Road Bike Gears Getting Smaller? | SRAM RED eTap AXS Ratios Explained

Why Are Road Bike Gears Getting Smaller? | SRAM RED eTap AXS Ratios Explained

(techno music) – The launch of SRAM new
RED eTAP AXS Group set with its smaller chain rings, seems to be continuing the trend of road bike gears getting easier, and you may be wondering, why? – I wonder why road bike
gears are getting smaller? – Well, in this video
we are gonna explain, and also show you why in this case, smaller chain rings don’t
actually mean smaller gears. Then finally, we’ll be working with SRAM to talk you through
their thinking behind it. – [Narrator] Just to
recap, what SRAM has done is reduce the sizes of
the chain rings upfront. Instead of 53/39 we have, 50/37. Instead of 52/36 we have, 48/35. And lastly offering smaller gear ratios to 50/34, we have 46/33. – Three things have happened to spark this trend in shrinking chain rings. Firstly the roads that professional cyclists race on have changed. Secondly the roads that normal cyclists ride on have
changed, and then lastly, improvements in technology have actually allowed it to happen. – Now our journey begins
in the mists of time. 1999 to be exact, a year of Britney Spears, and Lance Armstrong. – Not together? – Who knows? Anyway, back to 1999 and
the fearsome Angliru, was something of a pivotal
moment in bicycle gears. It was the first time
that brutal super steep monster climb had
featured in a grand tour. – On a reconnaissance mission,
Pedro Delgado said that nothing like this had
ever been seen before. Pro cyclists were forced to adapt their gearing heavily just to get up. Even Jan Ullrich, one of the
biggest grinders of all time unusually opted for a smaller ring. – Anyway, the pros moaned, but it was a huge hit from the perspective of the fans, and so the race organisers
of the world tour in Dejiro sought out to include even
more brutal climbs like, The Zoncolan, and the
Alto de los Muchachos. Pro riders regularly had
to fit even smaller gears so manufacturers followed suit. – Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong,
was suddenly becoming famous for peddling with a really fast cadence, whilst dominating seven Tours de France, and at the time, many people were attributing to success to that. We now know of course,
that’s not entirely true. But there was a positive knock
on effect for the rest of us. Which is that while peddling a fast cadence is not efficient. Peddling at your optimal cadence, and having the gears to allow you to do that, suddenly became cool. Hardened roadies, started
to use easier gears. – A few years later a shift
in where we ride also began as for pro race organisers,
the rest of us also started wanting to explore the world more, and conquer brutally steep climbs. Take for example, Oman,
where we are riding now. It hasn’t traditionally been thought of as a road cycling destination. And that’s partly because many
of the beautiful climbs here are just so brutally steep in places. However, modern road bike
gearing is so versatile, that it’s making places
like this more accessible. Whereas in the past, you would
have required a touring bike, or even a mountain bike to get up these ridiculous 20% gradients. – And lastly, technology,
as technology is improved bikes have become more versatile. You didn’t have many gear
options with a six speed cassette riding up a super steep
climb like the Angliru or Jebel Shams in Oman where we are today, Simply wouldn’t have been
possible in the 70s or 80s with the technology available. – No but as chains, and
gears, and wheels improved, so to, did extra sprockets now
start appearing at the back and with each new sprocket so
the gear ratio began to spread – So pro cycling started
racing up super steep climbs. They now had the technology to do it. Riders like Lance Armstrong
made spinning smaller gears cool and normal riders like
us increasingly started riding up harder and harder climbs, sometimes not even on tarmac. – Nope, which brings us up to 2019. We now have twelve sprockets at the back, and even smaller chain rings up front but, this is not about easier gears. Perhaps the biggest shift
here. Thanks, is that SRAM say that they designed this
group set around gear ratios rather than just gently
evolving what has gone before. – Right okay, strap yourselves in now. Grab yourself a double espresso because Si is gonna go full on
uber tech nerd on us all. – SRAM have reduced the
size of their chain rings, that much we already know.
But, it’s important to know that in isolation, chain set size doesn’t actually tell us anything. And that is because gears work as a pair. So at that point we need to talk about SRAMs new 12-speed
cassette, which has a ten tooth. Now traditionally road bike cassettes have only ever really gone
down to an 11/2 sprocket. So actually, although the
chain rings are smaller, the top gear is larger, and that’s because that one tooth difference at the back, has a greater effect
on your gear ratio than adding four extra teeth
to your big chain ring. For example, if you were to use 50/10, that has a gear ratio of
5:1 meaning that for every turn of your cranks, your back
wheel will spin five times. If however, you’re using a
traditional racers top gear of 53/11, that’s got a
ratio of 4.82:1 meaning that for every turn of the cranks,
you would travel an extra 37 centimetres when using 50/10. Now that might not sound like very much, but if you’re spinning at 100 rpm, that’s 37 metres per
minute. 2.2 kmph faster. – The effect of that ten
tooth, is so pronounced, that even on this bike
where I’ve got a 48/10, I’ve got virtually the same gear ratio as the racers choice of 53/11. Now, in practical terms,
that means I’m currently doing 60 kmph, and
peddling at just 100 rpm. Of course you don’t get something for nothing with gear ratios, if you wanna go faster, you are going to need to put more power output. But, it does go to show
that if you’ve got the legs, or in this case the descent, you do have the gears
to allow you to pedal. – At the other end of the spectrum, my 35/28 gear, is allowing
me to inch my way up this killer section
about 20% on Jebel Shams. – With some nerdery, and
practical demonstrations, we can see that smaller gears doesn’t necessarily mean smaller ratios, and by redesigning the three hub body, it’s allowed SRAM to fit this super small ten tooth
sprocket at the back. But also make the most of
twelve gears by minimising the jumps between the
individual sprockets. But that doesn’t explain
SRAM’s thinking behind it. – No. So apparently it’s not just about high top gears and lower bottom gears. By moving the range of
the gears to the cassette, it’s allowed them to reduce the gap between the chain ring sizes up front, which they say improves front shifting. So instead of a sixteen tooth gap on a traditional compact chain set. Across all three of the
new chain ring size options you’ve got just a thirteen tooth gap. Which SRAM say, allow them to tweak the design of the front de railer, and also, that smaller gap means the chain doesn’t have to climb as
far anyway so both things they say improve that front shifting. – By having most of the
range at the back and pairing it with a smaller chain ring. Either 3, 4 or 5 tooth smaller, it means that riders can use the front de railer less anyway. Because although you have
the small ten tooth sprocket giving a higher top gear, when
you pair the smaller chain rings with the rest of the cassette, it means you actually have
easier gears in the big ring. – Why does that matter though, particularly if you’ve
got super smooth shifting? And it’s a good question,
I think for most of us, we tend to try and avoid
using the front derailleur as much as possible, it always feels quite a significant event,
disrupting your cadence, potentially losing a bit of momentum. And so, being able to do that less would be something of an advantage. Particularly, in a situation like this one where I’m riding along a flat road and getting towards a little ramp, and instead of having to shift,
I can simply leave it in the big chain ring and avoid that potential loss of momentum at the bottom. – SRAM will have to convince
us cyclists of two things. Firstly, the minority of people that still believe that big
chain rings are cooler. – Yeah, there is a certain amount of snobbery in certain cycling circles. Even gear snobbery would you believe? To ride a traditional 53/39 chain set with a close ratio 11:23 cassette, is viewed by some as a badge
of honour showing just how strong and powerful you are that you are able to turn those gears. – Yeah and on the flip side,
if you ride smaller gears such as a compact chain set,
there can be the perception that that’s because
you’re a weaker cyclist, or perhaps less experienced. On the internet I believe
they’re called noobs. – Well we strongly disagree with this. Your gears show where you
ride, not how strong you are. And as you’ve heard already,
the best climbers in the world choose to ride smaller gears
for the most fearsome climbs. And yes, whilst Eddy Merckx did once tell me that he
didn’t need a compact, I don’t think Eddy Merckx
ever went up the Angliru. – And the other thing, which
one or two people pointed out at the launch of the new group set, is the perception that smaller
cogs are less efficient than bigger ones and this
is because on a smaller cog, the chain actually has to
go through a tighter angle which is thought to perhaps
increase drive train friction. – Yeah, theoretically, a ten
could cost you a fraction of a what to an eleven tooth sprocket. But if you are genuinely
interested in drive train efficiency, then you’ll also
understand that given how much SRAM redesigned the chain and
the cassette, and the chain rings to actually make any
meaningful comparison between new and old, the whole system
would need to be tested. – Absolutely, and if you
want to find out more, about SRAMs gear options,
and the new group set, then you can click down here. Because Si, has done an excellent
video explaining it all. – Thanks mate.

100 comments on “Why Are Road Bike Gears Getting Smaller? | SRAM RED eTap AXS Ratios Explained

  1. I find this very interesting. I am 62 don't race, and live in a very hilly area. My current bike is a second hand mountain bike with a 21 speed shamano. My lowest gear is sometimes not low enough and I end up pushing the bike.
    Hopefully this year I will be purchasing a Giants custom fitted bike, but don't know which gears to order for hilly terrain.
    Any suggestions?

  2. When I started cycling I put an xt derailleur and a 36t sprocket on my compact crank roadbike. And still not being the lightest, it was perfect for me.

  3. Psh. Smaller chainrings and cassettes have more friction, wear out sooner, are more likely to break a chain, and have larger gaps between gears. No, you don't need a 53/11 (or even a 50/11)… so don't get an 11! I race with a standard 53/39 and 12-27, or 12-29 for big hills. Having an 11 tooth means one less single-tooth step between gears, and a 10 means two less. No thanks. For performance, having the right cadence is far more important than being able to power down a hill, when you get the least amount of benefit for the effort.
    So get a 12-X cassette, and a crankset to match your fitness with that cassette. If you're a casual (slow) rider, you may well need that compact 50/36 crank, but you'll certainly never need that 11 or 10 tooth cog.

  4. remember the 52/42 chainrings and the seven speed cassette and the down tube shifters that demanded sitting down to shift. i wish i could have rode with todays technology when i was young.

  5. Meanwhile, in another universe, Ceramicspeed is fighting to reduce friction by increasing the pulley wheel size. Bizarre.

  6. I prefer riding 54-11. I do suffer on the 20-22s (steepest climbs in in my area), and I am passed to be sure, but descending I find a tensioned chain keeps me, though quite fast, more stable, and those speeds are a big reason I ride anyway. Pity about the tone of these chaps. There must be a better shill out there for such interesting contributions to road cycling.

  7. Why? Because the smaller the number of teeth, the faster they wear out, so rich morons will buy more frequently from "clever" producers 🙂

    My stuff: (2×7 – 48/39 – 14/21), (2 x 8 – 50/34 – 11/28).

  8. Okay, so I get why 50/10 is better than 53/11, but why not go 53/10 and be able to get even more speed out of a flat/descent for the same cadence? Okay, sure, front shifting is smoother, but why is that such a big deal?

  9. Shifting the chainring and disrupting power flow became such an issue for mountain bikes that a large number of high-end bikes no longer have provisions for mounting a front derailleur. Also, having access to a larger number of gear ratios for efficiency isn't critical to professional mountain biking for the most part.

  10. Thanks for the explanation which helped but still didn't really explore the downsides of which I see plenty. What about the fact that running the chain around fewer teeth (front and back) means the whole thing wears out faster. And because there are so few teeth these small cogs don't seem to work well in bad conditions — for example in snow where I found the chain jumps a lot. I raced on a 54/42 chainset with a 13 through 21 block. My current 10 speed leaves me with 5 cogs which I never use (three cogs too small and two too big). I don't get this trend for seeking out and wanting to cycle up and down the steepest hills. Can't you just enjoy riding without having to do a "challenge".

  11. Triple cranksets have their place. You can have a 52 tooth and a 30 tooth on the same bike, with a nice 42 for the vast majority of your riding

  12. The technology to do this is been around for decades. The difference is the engineers back then had the wisdom to understand that if you made stupid decisions like this you're going to end up with a drive train that wore out faster costs more money and was noisier and more vibration prone.

  13. I ride on flat surfaces here(where I live) in The Netherlands.

    Thanks to this information I'm changing the gear-sizes on my Trekking-bike.
    I own a 'Gazelle Medeo' with A drive-train of 3×9.

    First I had a 28-34-48 Crank and a 11-32 cassette.
    Now I use a 24-34-42 Crank and A 11-28 cassette.
    When I need to replace the Chain and cassette I will change it to a 12-25 cassette.
    Smaller gaps between gears, helps me to slow down/speed up more gradually.

    And that increases the comfort of my bike.
    I ride (every now and then) A distance of 100km (or more).

  14. I don't like it. When you change gear at the back from the 10 to the 11 that is a big jump and your cadence will suddenly change. It's better for your cadence to ride gear ratios that are all close together which means a minimum sprocket of 13 and a dinner plate size chain ring.

  15. One small point of clarification. Not being able to ride lower (smaller) gears on brutal climbs in the past (70's and 80's) is not entirely true. The traditional derailleur of choice, the Campagnolo Super Record (and Nuovo Record), had a maximum capacity for a 28 tooth cog in the rear. Now and then serious roadies doing super steep climbs would throw on the Campagnolo Rally with it's long cage, or something similar made by Suntour, to handle those special events, and the corresponding 32 or 34 tooth rear cog. There were even some clever ways to get smaller chainrings up front–Avocet made a 41 tooth chainring that fit the Campagnolo Record/SR chainwheel pattern 🙂

  16. good review. some basic math and a little power transmission engineering on the worlds most perfect basic transportation machine. and of course a nice nod to Scram marketing. Don't forget there is more to cycling than what the pros can use …

  17. Couldn't the loss from pulling the chain through a tighter angle in the derailleur be offset by the need to pull less chain through a full cycle of the drivetrain?

  18. Well I never. A fabulous new absurdly expensive new innovation that makes practically no difference to normal riders who ride compact cranks and ever larger cassettes anyway. Oh hang on, I've thought of a difference – smaller sprockets and chain rings will wear out more quickly. Hooray! What cyclists need more than ever is a way for the bike industry to squeeze yet more money out of them.

  19. Firstly, when did 11 tooth become traditional?
    secondly they are significantly understating the power losses from using small cog like an 11 or even worse a 10.
    Smaller chainrings also reduce efficiency as they increase the tension in the chain. This can be calculated in theory, and measured.
    this is why track riders these days, including all hour record attempt, are using huge chain rings

  20. So how does leverage fit into all this? The Crank Arm length. Big MIG had a 180 and had lots of leverage with his size and weight. I still hear about new bike reviews complaining that the manufacturers are putting out 170's and opting out of a 172.5 or 175 for their production models. What do you guys use? Why?

  21. I am a super clydesdale. I use 52-36/11-32. I fly on the flats, and can climb just about anything with this set up. Of course I won't set any speed records going up hill. Unless you are a Pro, or any kind of racer for that matter, i dont see any reason why you would need anything else. Maybe a 50-34, in really hilly areas, but that's it!👍🚴‍♂️

  22. I put a 50/39/30 triple on my road bike and replaced the 30t front with a 26t. With a 32/11 on the back, I can ride any in the Peak district where I live in the saddle. How I laughed on Pym's Chair in the damp winter watching a couple of grinders slipping the back wheel and having to walk, while I spun away with the front wheel barely touching the ground.

  23. "We now know that's not entirely true."

    Bullshit. Armstrong was no more or less juiced up than anyone else. Just look at the amount of people excluded from results each of the years he won. That's called a level playing field. Fight me IRL (or in the comments down below) bro.

  24. 10:45. It's also about weight. There may be more resistance but with a smaller sproket, you also save more weight. So I think it balances out. Not that you would notice anyway.

  25. Love the “nerdery” of this video. As an avid commuter cyclist for some 8 years, and a cyclist just for the freedom when I was a kid, learning how the gears will improve you ability to pick a top speed based on you cadence and gear choice is invaluable. Give us “nerdery” any time!

  26. I moded my 11s as I like hills. 48/36 12-13-14-15-16-17-19-22-25-29-34; 36:34 ~= 34:32. I don't mind loosing the high gear as based on time used it was minimal compared to the advantage of the range useable across both chainrings so I don't end up changing rings constantly. No changes required other than lowering my fd; needed a new cassette & outer anyway.

  27. But in the Pro Peleton they are actually going Bigger!!!! Simon Yates standard road bike for a normal stage is running 54/42 & Peter Sagan runs a 55 ring on a flat sprint stage!

  28. If drugs were the reason lance peddled faster, why didn't they all pedal faster since they were all equally guilty. No, he decided to do it.

  29. oh ok. campy 11 with a shimano xtr m980 40/28 10s crank works. i mean it shifts good. use 11s fd. that is, if you are stuck with a campy 11 set of shifters. not that it is a bad thing.

  30. when Ceramicspeed payed for your video, you "explained" that larger pulley wheels save us up to 3W (though they are moved without load); now you promote the smaller chainrings and sprockets (though they are moved under heavy load, where it matters much more)… I'M TIRED OF ALL THIS MARKETING CRAP!!!!!

  31. Makes a lot of sense! Surprised this seems to be a huge technological shift. For instance, compare this to the technology that goes into motorbikes, whose cost is similar to modern bicycles…Cycling…

  32. We aren't going to mention that a 10t rear cog will wear out 9% faster (or more) than the 11t because each tooth gets used more often and the stresses on each tooth are higher?

  33. Eddy Merckx didn't ride the Angliru?
    No, because this stupid idea was born later.
    Escartin used 32: 23 = 1: 1,39 = 39: 28.
    28 was available in the time on Maillard 700 or Campagnolo pro cranks – though rare.

    No doubt, Merckx would have made it without compact sprockets 😉

  34. My Campy equipped 1975 Motobecane Le Champion had 42/53 up front with a 14-26 5 speed cluster. Considering my riding was in the Catskill Mountains and hilly Hudson Valley that seems crazy to me now… My mountain and touring bicycles all wear triples up front with a wide range of gears in the rear. I am partial to Strumey Archer 3 speeds and my 1983 "city biked" Trek 850 around town however.

  35. Didn't Leonard Zinn just report on testing of 1X vs. 2X chain ring setups where the result showed, in general, larger chain rings, and larger cogs, are more efficient?

  36. I have an 8speed 11-32 shimano cassette and a 54-36 crank,
    If you tried it you'll understand fully the gap between gears and why it's inefficient.

  37. In regards to Lance's spin to win as his vehicle to success: "we now know that that wasnt entirely true." If it comes out that team Sky/Ineos' success also isnt due to just "incremental improvements in sports science" will GCN be as non-chalant to dismiss wins? Sometimes the favoritism to their countrymen is frustrating.

  38. I was doing this a whole year 48/ 36 and 11-28 cassette. Now i have shimano di2 i hope they have a 48 chainring for ultegra 6870 soon

  39. Sram is so expensive in where I live, a whole Shimano 105 groupset generally cost a bit less than the cheapest Sram groupset that is not even in the same category.

  40. Been watching for about a year now and I have a solid mission 9 and a Carrera Vulcan….
    One time my LBS sat me on a road bike (owners a roadie) and it just felt weird, yet here I am.

  41. I remember trying, but failing, to get up the Ditchling Beacon back in '94 on a 52/42F 13-18R 6-speed gear set back in '94.

  42. i stick with the traditional mechanical R8000 groupset, train my fitness by taking on more rides instead. Simplicity breeds happiness.

  43. If the average rider can sustain (say) 200W on her/his average ride, with X amount of torque, and their preferred rpm, then they should be able to pick a ratio up every hill that allows that. Most people need smaller gears than they've got at least some of the time. The interesting point is on really steep hills, when the bike doesn't coast between pedal strokes. Because then you're winching yourself up the hill. You've a requirement to get the pedal over top dead centre with force. That's a different requirement.

  44. Alas, the Spinal Tap "it goes to eleven" reference doesn't work as well when the smallest gear is ten tooth.

  45. That is a complete non-sense that the professional bike racers of the 80 or 90's would have a difficult time ascending mountains on the old gear set up, triple chanring, 53 11 set up. I would bet everything I have that they not only could excell on the old setup but dominate.

  46. Everything has its strength and weaknesses. While small front gears and cadences are reducing the mass you have to turn considerably, saving you a lot of energy (it's school physics, basically), they have one, big disadvantage – smaller leverage hence the smaller diameter which ultimately results in much greater forces those mechanical parts have to take in. In the end, that'll cost you durability – less material, more stress.

    Here is a very good counterexample: A friend of mine uses his bike on a daily basis to get to work – 15km in the morning, 15km in the evening. He has a cardan shaft(!) with an internal gear hub(!!!). He got it 3 years ago and in that whole time, he never ever had to change or repair ANYTHING at the power train. 🙂

  47. Can't believe how complicated bike component companies make understanding gear ratios. Make the ratio how many times you have to turn the crank to make the rear wheel go around one (1) time. Say you have a 52 crank and 11 tooth cassette. Divide 52 by 11 and you turn the back wheel 4.78 every time the crank goes around once. Just divide the crank teeth by the cassette teeth and you get a much more usable number than percentages, gear-inches, etc. You can use this number to see how your new crank or cassette compares to your old one for gearing. All you need is a calculator.

  48. to cover flat and super steep climbs, i slapped on a 53/33 chainring with 11/34 cassette. been using it for years!

  49. Why are road "BIKES" themselves getting smaller. There's a aim to push in smaller almost teenagwrish type forward leaning cycles … You see less roadsters…

    You go ot europe its the exact opposite , people riding better and straighter riding cycles. That's why they ride daily and without discomfort. Their seat saddles are also of good humanize to cover the bum. Meanwhile here they use seats the size of people's hands and end up with banging their nuts.

    Cycling is cycling. There's a deliberate push to make a nice sport pass time hobby and interest into a lesser affordable complicated that someone somewhere can earn more out of lesser people.

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