Smaller Gears, Slower Riders? Tour de France Gears Explained | Tour de France 2017
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Smaller Gears, Slower Riders? Tour de France Gears Explained | Tour de France 2017

October 29, 2019


– Professional cycling has
changed in many, many ways over the last couple of decades. And one subtle way, but
nevertheless important, is the gear ratios that
the riders are using. Now bear with me, this is
actually very interesting. So we’re in the Katusha
Alpecin team truck. You can tell that
because it’s stacked full of beautiful red team bikes there. In this little cupboard
we have a selection of the cassettes; so the rear gears that the
riders have at their disposal. Now, about 20 years ago
there would not have been half that selection. Riders would have used
either an 11-21 or an 11-23. In extremes perhaps an 11-25. So lots of cogs all really
closely spaced together. Now, however, the smallest
cassette in here is 11-25. Then they have 11-26, 11-28,
which they use most days, then 11-30, and even four
11-32 cassettes up here that are reserved, principally it seems, for Tony Martin who likes to spend all day riding around in his big chain ring. So, it seems a little odd, doesn’t it, given that the roads
have not got any steeper, bike technology has got better, riders are not going
much slower, if at all, but yet their gears have got easier. I think we need to ask some questions. Jason is a former
pro-cyclist and you’ve been team liaison for SRAM
for what, 10 years now? So you were the guy that bridges the gap between teams and the manufacture. – Exactly, yeah. – Okay, so you’re pretty well placed then to comment on how gear
selection, gear choices, changed over the last couple of decades. – I hope so, yeah. – Okay, so why are we
seeing this shift then? If you’ll pardon the pun! – Yeah, I think we definitely
see like 10 years ago an 11-25 was the standard cassette. That’s what everybody
rode and mountain stage in the tour, they’d go to 26, whereas today a 26 or even the 28 is becoming the go-to cassette, and in the mountain stages
they’ll ride 30 or 32. But concurrently you see
that on the flat stages they’re riding bigger
chain rings all the time. So the gear range in general is just really expanded. – And so the reason it’s expanded. Is that a request from
teams that you then fulfil, or is it a case of, you
know, riders are using compact chain sets and benefiting from wider gear ratios
just out in the mountains, so people you don’t race, and therefore that’s
driving what the teams use? – No, I mean, we basically provide the teams what they would prefer to
use from what we can offer, and the WiFLi rear derailleur where they can go up to a 32 cog, really gives them the flexibility to ride one bike for the whole tour and they just need to change the cassette. They don’t need to do anything
like that with compact and it just simplifies
their whole life, basically. – Why are they doing it
in the first place though? Is it the fact that
cadencies are increasing, so how fast people are pedalling, or is it a case of, you
know, they’re just going a little bit slower? I mean, I don’t think that’s the case. – I think the riders are
going slightly slower uphill, I think the bikes are going
probably faster on the flats, whether it’s the benefits
of better training and much better aerodynamics on the bike than we had 10 years ago, 20 years ago, but if you look at videos from the 70s you really see, you know, they’re doing a lot of this stuff and today, you know, really nice pedalling
actions up the climbs. So the whole style of
cycling has changed, I think. Just because of… Now you have the possibility
to ride those gears. The guys in the 70s and
80s and even early 90s never had that possibility. – Now one thing that the
Katusha mechanics have told me is that the biggest fan
of an 11-32 cassette is actually Tony Martin. Now he’s arguably one of
the most powerful riders in the Peloton. And so why is a guy like Tony riding 11-32 because 32 is a big cassette isn’t it? – Absolutely, but he’s got a 58 chain ring on his bike for instance
– okay fair enough – and so the 32 cassette really allows him to ride the big chain ring almost the whole time and, you know, that’s
what he’s aiming to do. When it’s fast down hills
he’s really got the gear to get up to probably 75, 80Ks an hour and still pedalling but not completely spun
out or over revving. – So is a part of that, like you say, actually just simply being able to stay in the big chain ring for longer, and therefore not having to
use the little ring at all? – Absolutely. I mean, especially when you’ve got you know, massive chain rings like that you’ve got a huge gap between the big chain ring and
the small chain ring, so they’re definitely wanting to stay in the big chain ring
for as much as possible. – So riders are more concerned then with saving their legs
and trying to inflict less damage on them so
that they can effectively be fresher at the end
of a three week race. But technology has also played a key part. So let’s have a look in one
of the Katusha drawers here. Now, this is a SRAM eTap rear derailleur and it is, you’ll notice, a medium cage rear derailleur. So that bit there, between
the two jockey wheels, is a little big longer and it’s also what they call WiFLi. And so what it does is
it effectively means that this rear derailleur
can be bolted onto the bike all year around and the
mechanics can swap effortlessly between 11-25 cassettes and 11-32. Meaning that there is
no extra work involved. Whereas, back in the day, swapping between an 11-23 and an 11-28 would have involved potentially swapping out
an entirely new rear mech and indeed a new chain as well
to make it slightly longer. So it’s technological advances like WiFLi that actually enabled
riders to save their legs, use more appropriate
gears and then go faster. Now the team does still carry what’s called short cage rear derailleurs, so like this one here. You can see for comparison it is much smaller. But effectively it is only
really for time trial bikes, where they can be
confident that the riders don’t need any really light gears, because it’s not often you
climb super steep hills in time trials. So that’ll be the reason
why that’s still there. Well that has hopefully shed some light on the evolution of
gearing in the Pro Peloton. A mixture of rider
preference dictating a need for smaller gears for
faster climbing cadences, and then paired it with
technological development from components like SRAM WiFLi. Do make sure you subscribe to GCN. To do so just click on the globe and then if you’d like some more content, why not see Tony Martin’s TT bike with that monster 58 tooth chain ring. And then we’ve also got my own little test of riding standard versus compact gears and that was on the
fearsome Mortirolo in Italy.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Cadence Crusaders team only rides with a 11-46 on the back. Even on the flat days, in case they want to hit some hills 🙂

  2. The answer here is not complex.  It is an engineering problem.  Even as cyclists get stronger, you simply cannot put smaller than an 11T on the back.  To compensate, they are riding larger chain rings.  To compensate for that, they need larger cassettes.  Simple engineering.  Tony Martin is running a FIFTY EIGHT tooth chainring.   That's massive.  So he has to run a 11-32 rear to be able to climb, and when descending he can hit 75kph without spinning out.

  3. hidden bike motors are all the rage. the end.. wait. a 58 chain ring? no wonder they use bigger fuckin cogs! hit 55 mph with a big ring.

  4. They are doing steeper climbs in the Grand Tours no doubt, also 2-3 extra gears on a cluster makes for lower low ends. Come on GCN.

  5. Bigger chainrings and bigger cogs on the cassette means less tension on the chain and higher efficiency. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15721260-700-big-is-better-how-sprocket-scientists-have-given-cyclists-a-speed-boost/

  6. As an etap rider of course I wanted wifli when it was announced but was like fuck that's too much money I'll just go compact and buy a red quarq meter set up and be tough about it. But that ability to jump to a 32 does sound tasty.

  7. The "professional" road bike I bought in 1970 came with a five speed cassette going from 13 to 26 with a 42/53 up front. I rode some very difficult climbs through the years on that bike. Now I'm laughing. But at the time, I didn't think anything of it.

  8. No mention of individual gear ratios per given front ring size, and no mention of tire circumferences which also effect the gear ratios. How about having a video on how to accurately calculate a given ratios per tire circumference ?

  9. Speeds haven't slowed. They've stayed roughly the same. Bikes and equipment have gotten better. It's gotten somewhat harder to use products, but…

    2011 3431km, (2144m); 198 starters, 167 finishers (84%); Winner: Cadel EVANS, 34, avg: 39.8 kph (24.9 mph)
    2010 3642km, (2276m); 197 starters, 170 finishers (86%); Winner: Alberto CONTADOR, 27, avg: 39.6 kph (24.7 mph)
    2009 3459km, (2162m); 180 starters, 156 finishers (87%); Winner: Alberto CONTADOR, 26, avg: 40.3 kph (25.2 mph)
    2008 3559km, (2224m); 180 starters, 145 finishers (81%); Winner: Carlos SASTRE, 33, avg: 40.5 kph (25.3 mph)
    2007 3570km, (2231m); 189 starters, 141 finishers (75%); Winner: Alberto CONTADOR, 24, avg: 39.2 kph (24.5 mph)
    2006 3657km, (2286m); 176 starters, 139 finishers (79%); Winner: Oscar PEREIRO, 30, avg: 40.8 kph (25.5 mph)
    2005 3593km, (2246m); 189 starters, 155 finishers (82%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 34, avg: 41.7 kph (26 mph)
    2004 3391km, (2119m); 188 starters, 147 finishers (78%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 33, avg: 40.6 kph (25.3 mph)
    2003 3427km, (2142m); 198 starters, 147 finishers (74%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 32, avg: 40.9 kph (25.6 mph)
    2002 3278km, (2049m); 189 starters, 153 finishers (81%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 31, avg: 39.9 kph (25 mph)
    2001 3458km, (2161m); 189 starters, 144 finishers (76%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 30, avg: 40.1 kph (25 mph)
    2000 3662km, (2289m); 177 starters, 128 finishers (72%); Winner: Lance ARMSTRONG, 29, avg: 39.6 kph (24.7 mph)

    Read more at http://www.velonews.com/2011/07/news/186088_186088#fkoWmFrp55f2MeYj.99

  10. I hate to admit it, but I decided that I'd try one of these HUGE cassettes. I picked up a 10 speed 12-28 and got it to work with my 7800 system. I didn't even have to change my chain. I just had to raise my front derailleur by 1mm. I have to admit that this allows me to stay on the big ring for just about any condition. The bike is quite silent, even when I'm in the 53×28 (close to a 39×21), for short periods……..I may never use the 12×23 cassettes anymore, and replace them with 12-28's……..No more jokes about "manly" gears.

  11. Dare to investigate the elapsed times of majors, esp. single day events from 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago (22/23 pound steel rigs with cage pedals and friction shifters. 5/6/7/8 cog rears) and you spinners might want to change your righteous myopic mantra, but not before taking some Thorazine………………. In equal breath, how many these days can do it all like many did in decades past………….?

  12. The additional extra cogs that 11 speeds give you is one of the reasons that wide range gearing is now used for racing. In the 70s 6 speed clusters were the go, so if you went for wide range you had large gaps in the gears. As the number of cogs increased the chance to have evenly spaced wide range gearing has became a reality.

    It does seem strange though to see racers using clusters that not that long ago were the choice of touring cyclists.

  13. Another key factor is that there is less doping and the riders simply can't climb in the longer gears as they did when doping.

  14. remember touring around France in 1990 and my lowest gear was a 42-24, jesus, I'd never be able to cope with that these day, saying that, 3 stone heavier (all muscle.lol)

  15. Here are two important points:

    1. Your statement that "roads have not gotten steeper" is incorrect. Starting with the Angliru in 1999 followed by the Zoncolan etc., Grand Tours have increasingly used much steeper long climbs which cannot be dealt with efficiently using previous standard gearing.

    2. The move from 9 speed to 11 speed cassettes in the last 20 years means that more gears are available, so the standard 11-23 cassette moved to 11-25 and 11-28 just because there was room for extract sprockets.

    -ilan

  16. It all depends what cadence you feel comfortable with. Gears are not easier if you are keeping the watts the same.

  17. So there's been all this colossal amount of marketing and billions of $$$ of consumer-spending for the bike tech progress since the 90s and it turns out not to have offset the crackdown on doping in terms of pro performance. At the same time, no-one even trusts the pros not to be doping now. What does that say about consumeristic bike marketing's ultimate claim behind all the hype then, namely, it must be the best because the pros use it… oh dear. It's not about the bike.

  18. Team sky have also found more subtle ways of systematic doping. brailsford as guilty as bruyneel. british media and cookson turning a blind eye.

  19. It is true. I see proof of this all over the place. i live in a hilly city, right next to mountains, so low gear ratios are the proper choice. being less fit, then most riders relying on lower gears, allow me higher cadence and lower effort, but higher average speed because of cadence. i actually overtake on hill climbs, most power riders, because they struggle on their way up. the truth is that the proper gear ratio choice is real critical, for your performance, for the given terrain.

  20. Could this have to do with meeting minimum weight requirements? If you're bike/equipment is getting lighter and you need to up the weight in other ways, why not go ahead and add it in a functional way with changes to the cassette? Seems like a perfectly reasonable trade-off and still be able to stay within the rules.

  21. They need the lower gears to drag around all the extra weight from having too damn many cogs on the cassette.

  22. wat a bunch of BS and baloney, i could do the anything with fixed gear when I really start training. i suggestion you to do a poo and die

  23. Would be interesting to see how modern riders would fare on a vintage 42-21. And visa versa, making someone time travel from 1953 to try and ride a modern bike.

  24. What is e-tap and what is wifli? I have red 10sp drop bar brifters to replace broken durace. I used a 10sp 11-36 and a 11-28 cassette with an xt shadow long cage 9sp rear derailleur. What sram derailleur do I need to get? And am I limited then to the 11-32 in 10sp? What cassette to get? (Top of the line)

  25. If u cant speak in a low pitch voice..dont do it…speak in ur normal manner…it really feels abnormal and bothers my ears…

  26. Watts is watts, and you can push more watts with slower cadence – but for a shorter time with more lactic acid and soreness the next day. Guys in the TDF need to be fresh every day over a weeks long race, so they're spinning higher cadence with the longer term goal in mind. Just like they said in the video, they'r actually going slower up the hills than they used to, and this is the reason. If you race in a one-day, or even two or three day stage races, you'll be more competitive pushing higher gears and suffering through it.
    Bottom line, unless and until you're doing races like the TDF, don't emulate what they do – train and gear for the types of races or rides you do.

  27. Jason was massively out of his depth here. He’s clearly just a guy selling bits to teams; there’s zero insight into the questions being posed to him.

  28. Another reason the grand tours have had a higher average speeds is the tours have also got shorter. In the 60's 70's 80s the tours were aprox 600km longer than they have been in the last two decades.

  29. Katusha is So awesome. Canyon, zipp, oakley, sram, look. Every one knows that Red is faster. And the Best thing is that you wash your ass with alpecin. Love them

  30. I wonder how the Aqua Blue riders are really getting on with their 1x setup when it comes to any kind of mountain stage? On record I'm sure they'll sing it's praises but behind closed doors I wonder if opinions are slightly different?

  31. Pure nonsense, folks.

    When was the last time anyone rode – even uphill – in their small chainring and largest cog? You’d be pedaling rapidly and riding barely fast enough to stay upright. And that’s with 11-21 rear combined with 53/39 front.

    This is yet another ploy by the bicycle industry to take money from its customers… many of whom are uneducated suckers.

  32. This guy is an idiot – power meters have proven that you get more watts over a longer period with less fatigue with a higher cadence than pushing big gears.

  33. From an amateur point of view living in southeast Tennessee mountains it allows me to use a compact and still have the necessary speed on the flats.

  34. I think for teams they spend most of the day in the same gears, but now just have a bigger range because the cassettes are bigger. "Back in the day" when 23 was the usual they had 8 or 9 speed cassettes. Now we have 11-speed. So the space remains the same between gears, but you just have moe gears. I remember when 11-speed came in and 28 speed cassettes became the usual. Before then, 25 was the usual. I guess when 12-speed comes in 30 speed will be the standard. and why not!

  35. 58×32 is abt 47 gear inches. Tony Martin could have achieved a similar ratio with a 42×23 which should give him a better chain line with less friction and better efficiency and put less strain on his legs. Thou I doubt the guy cares as some riders in the peloton just know how to ride their bike well but not very bothered abt the tech side of it.

  36. I don’t think derailleur cage length dictated sprocket size, it was that the cassettes they used didn’t require long cages and therefore they didn’t make them.

  37. The use of smaller gears is down to a move to spinning higher cadences… which is a direct result of increased O2 uptake…. which is a result of EPO/blood doping in the sport. Lance started the high cadence movement and we all know he doped to the gills. Froome is the same….

  38. 52/36 and a 11/32 cassette makes for the perfect combination, especially when you live in a hilly area! AND doesn't drain your gas tank/energy as much at the end of a long day of cycling…

  39. 50/34 with 11/30 cassette is what I ride on. I try to avoid using the 30 cog but when cimbs get super tough I am glad I got that 30 cog.

  40. I do have both 11-32 and 12-27 cassettes and having 42-52 chainrings, I use dependently on how I want my ride will be…

  41. I use a 11-42, 11 speed, with a 60t chain ring. Makes going up hill really nice. Even if it's at a 15 to 25% grade climb. Can still do 20mph up.

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