Compact or Race … ūü§Ē


Several years ago, I holidayed on Maui with my kids. I call them kids, but they are really young adults. We all cycle, and wanted to do the West Maui Loop together – an epic, breathtaking, 100 km ride around the base of the smaller volcano. They are good enough to still want to cycle with me.

We didn‚Äôt take our bikes on this trip. We were only there for 10 days, and there were many other things we wanted to see, and do. So, we visited one of the local bike shops looking to rent road bikes. They had them. Carbon bikes all equipped with Ultegra compact cranksets (50-34). I was worried about the ride, and had been advised there were several short, but difficult climbs. I asked if they had a triple for rent. The owner smirked at me and said, ‚ÄúWe find the compact is all most people usually need here.‚ÄĚ.

A few days later, we returned with our pedals and shoes, rented the road bikes equipped with the compact cranksets, and off we went. This was my first experience with this setup. I had always ridden with race cranksets (54-39), even on the west coast. I thought that’s what good cyclists did. Push big gears. Thought that was how you got stronger, and faster. And when I had difficulty climbing, I just needed to train harder.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the West Maui Loop. The climbs weren’t as difficult as I imagined. The compact setup was more than adequate. I never felt like I needed a lower, or higher gear. I pedalled more easily, and for longer periods without tiring.

I’m not going to debate the relative benefits of the compact or race cranksets. Plenty has been written about them already. I will tell you that after I returned home, I installed compact setups on both of my road bikes. I climb more easily. I maintain a higher cadence with less effort. Travel as fast, if not faster than before. And, I ride longer without tiring. I completed a 40 km ride yesterday averaging 25-30 kph with little effort, all in Zone 1 (if you are familiar with heart rate training). The only time I may feel I need a higher gear is on long descents, and in those instances, I remind myself that 60 kph is fast enough.

It is the perfect setup for me. I live in a hilly, mountainous region. And, I like to ride most every day.

I‚Äôm just say‚Äôn ūüėČ

Compact crankset …


I have been waiting a long time to write this post.

My son gave me new, compact chainrings for Christmas this year. For those of you who may not be familiar with compact cranksets, they have two smaller chainrings that are particularly well suited for climbing. At the time, my son¬†didn’t realize they wouldn’t fit on my standard crankset.

What was I to do?

I had learned over the past several years that for the type of cycling I do, not to mention my age, they are preferable. I have a compact crankset on the Roberts and love it. I haven’t lost any speed, except perhaps on long descents, and I climb more easily, and faster.

There was nothing else to do but purchase a new compact crankset. My son and I looked online, and eventually found a good deal. This past weekend, we installed the new cranks, and I immediately went for a ride looking for hills to climb.

For a road cyclist, hills on a light, carbon bike with a 50-34 crankset is like a bone to a dog. You just can’t get enough. Hills are easier to climb. On the flat, you maintain a higher cadence and tire less quickly, travelling farther with less effort. Is there anything better?

I got my first taste of compact cranks on a road bike several years back. I took my kids there for a holiday. A week in the sun to swim, snorkel and relax. And, cycle. We discovered a bike shop near where we were staying that rented carbon¬†road bikes equipped with compact cranksets. We couldn’t resist, and one day cycled¬†the West Maui Loop, an epic ride around the perimeter of the small volcano which includes several category climbs.

I subsequently learned that professional cyclists are equipped with compact setups, particularly for the long, climbing stages. Where had I been? Now, both of my road bikes have compact setups.

So, if you are out there considering a new road bike, or wanting to upgrade the one you already have, ask about compact cranksets. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

An easy 65 km ride …

I cycled more than 525 km in the past 2 weeks, a combination of long difficult rides, climbing and sprints.

I am planning to do the Canada Day Populaire again this year, a 147 km ride in the scenic Fraser Valley.  I did the ride last year and really enjoyed it.  This year, I am better prepared.  I have put in more miles and, have a bike particularly suited to randonneur type events, the Roberts Рa steel frame touring bike equipped with an Ultegra compact crankset.

I wanted to do a tempo ride yesterday in preparation for the July 1 event. ¬†I rode the Roberts out to Steveston and back, a 65 km round trip on flat, rural roads for the most part. ¬†There is a 4 km climb at the end, there is always a long climb at the end of a long ride. ¬†Why is that? ¬†I didn’t want to work too hard ¬†It was more like a recovery ride. ¬†The entire ride, I used the small chainring, maintaining a relatively high cadence averaging 25-30 kph.

I had not been on the Roberts for a couple of weeks. ¬†I had forgotten what a comfortable ride it is. ¬†The steel frame, although it may be heavy, is very forgiving, absorbing the bumps ¬†better than the Garneau’s carbon frame. ¬†Last year, I rode the Garneau. ¬†This year, I am planning to ride the Roberts. ¬†It is not quite as fast, but it is easier on the body over a long period of time.

But I digress. ¬†I want to discuss the compact crankset. ¬†I enjoy riding on the smaller chainring. ¬†I seem to have gears that I can’t find on a standard crankset. ¬†I spin faster and more easily but do not lose a lot of speed. ¬†And, climbing is easier as well. ¬†Again, I select a larger cog on the back and spin faster, and more easily, up the hill.

I first discovered the compact crankset on a rental bike in Maui a couple of years ago. ¬†We rented bikes to do the West Maui Loop, a 100 km ride that circumvents the west volcano. The north end of the loop has several challenging climbs so the bike shops equip their bikes with compacts instead of either the standard or triple cranksets. ¬†I have been riding with the compact crankset since rebuilding the Roberts this winter and don’t know why I haven’t done it sooner. ¬†In fact, I am considering putting one on the Garneau as well.

The compact option is more popular today not only with recreational cyclists but with the pros as well. ¬†I’d like to know your thoughts. ¬†Do you ride with a compact? ¬†Do you like it as much as I do?

Here is an article outlining 10 reasons to consider compact cranks that may change your mind if you have never considered changing your cranks.

I cycled the West Maui Loop

maui-maps-goodThe West Maui Loop is a must ride for the serious cyclist.  A 100 km ride with a mixture of terrain.  Long, steep climbs.  1,000 meters up.  A series of Cat 4 and Cat 5 hills across the northern section.  Long, fast descents.  1,000 meters down.  Long flat sections across the island and back up the coast.  And, spectacular scenery every pedal stroke of the 4-5 hour ride.  We were fortunate not to have battled head winds but by mid-day it was close to 30 degrees celcius.

This was my first trip to Maui.¬† Little did I know it is a biking meca.¬† A perfect place to train.¬† Professional riders frequent the island for pre-season training.¬† Some even have homes there.¬† The weather is always warm and there is a variety of terrain including a challenging¬†climb up HaleakalńĀ (the large volcano to the east), a distance of 36 miles to an elevation of 10,000 feet.¬† The heavily travelled roads have wide shoulders in both directions making cycling enjoyable even¬†in heavy traffic.¬† And, the less travelled roads wind through scenic coastal and rural roads.

I am already planning next year’s trip.¬† Next time I will take my own bike even though the rental bikes were just fine.¬† They were equipped with compact chain ring sets¬†making the climbs a little easier.¬† Something I may consider for my bike.

This is my second 100 km ride this year.  My goal was to complete one in good enough shape that I would enjoy more longer rides.

“And, I don‚Äôt mean just do it.¬† I want to be able to do it comfortably and enjoy it.¬† At the completion, I want to feel like doing another one.”

I have accomplished that.