A Overview and Guide to Road Bike Gear Ratios
Biking as a hobby or sport has a long history, and like any sport there have been a decent amount of technological advancements. The first road bikes only had a few gears, or even none at all. Over time we’ve gained more knowledge about the science behind the sport, and improving our main piece of equipment has led to massive gains in ease of use and performance.
Modern Road Bikes feature a large number of gears, and how exactly to use them can be a mystery to the less experienced. For the serious hobbyist or budding professional, understanding the concept of road bike gear ratios is an important part of understanding your bike and maximizing your riding performance.
Road Bike Gears: An Overview
Before we get into the technical specifications that make gear ratios an important consideration, it will be helpful to give a brief overview of how bicycle gears function and why they’re a necessary part of any performance road bike.
As you probably know if you’re reading this article, road bike gears function to make it easier or more difficult to pedal your bike. If you’re getting tired or hitting a rough patch of road, you can shift into an easier gear while sacrificing some of the power and efficiency of your bike. If you want to really increase your speed and have the energy to put in the extra pedaling effort, shift into a more difficult gear to expend more effort for better performance. The ability to shift between gears effectively is an important part of improving at the sport.
Most bikes have shifting capabilities both on the front and rear wheels. Two or three chainrings on the front wheel and 7 to 11 cogs on the back wheel allow you to adjust the resistance on either wheel simply by turning the dial on your handles.
As you shift gears, the cogs and chainrings move the chain on your road bike to adjust the difficulty of pedaling to your preference.
The combination of the cog and chainring mechanics function to give you a good amount of finesse when adjusting your pedaling. The angle of the chain between the front and the back lets you fine tune the resistance on your front and back wheels for very customizable pedal resistance.
Novice bicycle riders may make the mistake of making the angle between the front and the back too severe, which puts a lot of strain on the equipment and also decreases performance. A simple set of guidelines to follow is
– Uphills and Headwinds. Small or middle front chainring, bigger cogs in the back
– Downhills. Large front chainrings, a range of cogs in the back
– Flat Terrain. Small or middle front chainring, small cogs in the back.
An Introduction to Road Bike Gear Ratios
Now that we’ve given a primer on the basics of rod bike gears and how to use them, we can get into the meat of our guide: the idea of road bike gear ratios.
There’s a ton of physics and mechanics behind the perfect road bike gear ratios, but we’ll do our best to touch on the main points and give you an understanding of why exactly they matter. If you’re interested in a more in-depth scientific explanation of the ideas behind these ratios, there are a number of sources available just a quick search away!
We touched on the topic a little bit in our explanation of bike gears, but the idea of road bike gear ratios refers to optimizing the combination used of the front wheel chainrings and back wheel cogs.
There’s no hard and fast rule to the best road bike gear ratio, as it’s largely up to personal preference and experience. This section will deal with an overview of how ratios work, and how changing up the ratio will affect your performance.
Each chainring and cog has a measurement, and the gear ratio is expressed with the combination of those two measurements. For example, a 53T chainring paired with a 12T cog provides a 53 : 12 ratio, which simplifies to 4.42. This number indicates the number of rear wheel rotations per every rotation of the crank.
Even minor adjustments to the road bike gear ratio can have gigantic effects on how fast the bike can accelerate as well as the maximum speed that can be attained.
What Makes a Perfect Road Bike Gear Ratio?
So you have an understanding of how gears work and what a road bike gear ratio is. Now how do you choose the perfect gear ratio to maximize your comfort and increase performance?
As we mentioned above, the answer is pretty personal.
If you’re looking into perfecting your gear ratio, odds are that you’re a pretty experienced rider with a serious commitment to the sport. You’ve spent hundreds of hours on the roads, so you should have a sense of how often and to what extent you need to change gears based on varying situations.
A bike rider that enjoys spinning will likely benefit from a compact ring and a straight block, while a rider with more strength who enjoys a slower rhythm will look for a bigger chainring and larger increments in rear cogs.
Outside of these basic guidelines, you’re going to have to listen to your body and your experience in the sport when it comes to selecting the perfect road bike gear ratio.
Maximize Your Performance
We mentioned the importance of a proper road bike gear ratio earlier on in the article, and it’s a bit of a misnomer. For all but the most serious enthusiasts, it’s not really a factor that you should keep in mind. For experienced bikers looking to push their sport to the next level, a gear ratio that’s perfect for you will result in very real improvements in comfort and performance.
We hope that this overview of road bike gear ratios and a guideline on how to find the one that’s right for you has been informative and educational. These gear ratios are an excellent way to fine tune your bike, and you may find better times and better endurance if you follow this guide and choose the ratio that’s right for you. Like any biking purchase, research and a solid understanding of the mechanics will guide you towards a road bike gear ratio that lets you push more out of both yourself and your bike. See you on the road!