Going Compact (Revisited)

June 1, 2011 at 11:48 am 1 comment

In an earlier post, I discussed the virtues of going compact.  At the time, I had primarily ridden compact cranks  and hadn’t spent any significant amount of time on a standard crank.

However, all of this changed when I purchased my (now destroyed) Specialized Tarmac SL3.  The Tarmac came stock with standard 53-39 crank and I found myself enjoying the feel of the new crank for one reason: the small chain ring.  A compact crank typically comes with a 50-34 setup on the chain rings, and I often found that the 34 was simply too small for my preference.  I found that I would rarely use the small chain ring on my Pinarello unless I was going up a major hill because it was simply too dramatic of a shift from the large chain ring for me.  With the 53-39 setup, however, I felt that the transition between the two chain rings was easier to make.  Maybe it’s just me, but I know I preferred it more.

With this experience, I decided to go with a standard crank on my Serotta and I’m loving it so far.  Based on my experience using both cranks, I’d like to re-visit some of the points I raised in the earlier post regarding benefits of going compact:

  1. Easier climbing.  [Original post text: The smaller gear ratios make it easier to climb.]  While the gear ratios may be smaller with a compact crank, I have actually found that my climbing has improved since I started using a standard crank.  Why?  I have no idea.  All I can tell you is that I’m pushing up hills better now (at 210lbs) than I was when I was in shape (and weighed 170).
  2. Reduced weight.  [Original post text: The compact crank weighs less than the standard crank and you can get maintain similar climbing with a smaller, lighter cassette (e.g. an 11-23) versus needing to carry a 12-25 or a 12-27 with a standard crank.]  One word for this insight: stupid.  The weight difference is so minuscule that I can’t believe I even raised this point.  This comment belonged on the Weight Weenies blog.
  3. Closer gear ratios.  [Original post text: Closely related to the previous two items, the larger your cassette span is the more your gears are spaced out.  A standard 12-25, for instance, has a gear ratio of: 12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25.  A 12-23, on the other hand, has a gear ratio of 12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-21-23.  On the 12-25 cassette you are skipping the 18 cog in exchange for the 25 with the result that the biggest 5 cogs in the cassette all skip at least one tooth.  Not that big of a deal except when you’re looking for a very minor change in gearing. ]  Again: stupid. Although there is some merit to the discussion (particularly where you’re talking about a very hilly course), I just don’t think this is a big enough issue to dictate which crank you choose.
  4. Reduced knee stress.  [Original post text:  Pushing the big crank is hard on knees, but the compact crank reduces this stress a bit.  This was one of the biggest reasons I chose the Pinarello over the Cervelo P3: my knees (old football/wrestling injuries) hurt on the P3 from about two minutes into the ride whereas they rarely hurt on my compact.]  This is probably the most valid point from the slowtwitch article.  I did feel knee pain when I test rode the P3.  I also had some knee pain when I rented a Look 585 (with standard crank) in Kona to ride the Queen K.  However, I’ve yet to feel any knee pain on either my Specialized or my Serotta.  Whether this has more to do with the fact that I’m not running right now or the fact that these bikes were dialed-in for me, I can’t tell you.  All I know is that I’m as comfortable on these bikes as my Pinarello.
In summary, I guess the point of this post is to say that cranks are all a matter of personal preference.  I think both have their own merits, but personally, I’ll be sticking with a standard crank from here on out unless injury or pain dictates otherwise.

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3 days down; 63 to go Here we go again…

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