Which Chainring/Cassette?

Hi All

I have signed up to Le Etape de Tour in July 2020.

I have only been cycling a couple of years and am not knowledgable at all when it comes to components or technical aspects of bikes (so please don’t give technical answers I won’t understand),
However, my goal for Le Etape is just to finish it!

My present bike is the one below:

(In case anyone is wondering why someone who has such an expensive bike doesn’t know anything about bikes, this cost under 50% of the RRP as it was a crash replacement coupled with the insurance from writing off my old cheaper bike after colliding with a car).

The stats are it has a 52/36 chain ring with an 11/30 cassette on the back.

My questions is, in the event, I fully expect to need as many low gears as I can get so what would you far more knowledgable riders suggest I change to in order to give me the best chance of getting up very long climbs without ending up pushing my bike?

Thanks for your time :slight_smile:

To give a very simple answer, the lowest traditional gear selection for a road bike is:

50/34 chainrings
11-32 cassette

The easiest thing for you to do would be change the chainrings/chainset but that would only make a small difference.

The slightly better, but slightly more involved job, would involve changing the rear cassette to an 11-34, but this also requires buying a medium cage rear derailleur.

If you’re not mechanically minded at all then I’d recommend taking your bike to your local shop and asking them to make the necessary changes

That is already a fairly wide range of gears and should be ok for most riders. Do give more advice, we’d need to know your ftp and some info about the amount of climbing you want to do.

Also, how do you get on with it currently? Do you wish for lower gears?

An easy option would be to swap to a 50/34 ‘compact’ chainset.

Ive done letape and other races in alps… the gradients are very rarely above 10% due to the switchback roads in mountains. Not like uk where we build roads straight up and can reach 25%. So a mid compact 52 36 and 30 cassette is more than adequate. Just pace yourself and find a power you can hold for 7hrs+. Do not go above 80% ftp on mountains. And if you find you have loads energy in last part of last climb then go for it

I’ve only just got the bike but my old bike was a Cannondale Synapse with 50/34 and 11-32 on the back. That got me up every hill and when we rode Alpe d’huez last year I hired a bike with this combo on and it did me well.

My trouble is I don’t know how these different gear ratios feel and whether they make much difference. I keep reading that you need a ‘granny gear’ to help you on the long climbs (esp the last one when your legs are fried).

Splash - About me, my FTP is 245w although I was off the bike for a while this year after my accident. I ride 3-4x a week for a total of 7hours at the moment (3 TR indoor programs and one steady state ride at the weekend) but this will obviously increase next year.
How much climbing I will do - I have booked the Tour de Yorkshire Sportive, The Dragon Ride Sportive and we are cycling Mount Ventoux about 17 days before Le Etape (but I will be hiring a bike for Ventoux and using mine for Le Etape).

Andy_Mills - That’s great advice about not going above 80% of my FTP. I will write that down and use that on the Big Day - thank you :slight_smile:

Without knowing the exact routes, I’d guess you’ll find steeper hills in Yorkshire and Wales than in La Etape.

I had a 50/34 and 32 cassette on my bike, until I run out of gears when racing. Now I have a semi-compact 52/36, still with a 32 cassette, and during normal rides, I don’t notice a difference. However when the hills get very steep (over 15%), I’d much rather have the full compact, and I swapped back for one ride last year.

I’d go with the suggestion above, take it to a shop, ask them to swap the chainset to 50/34 and the cassette to a 32. That might need a new rear derraileur, depending what’s on there now. You can do one thing after the other if you don’t want to pay for both at the same time.

Also let me jump on the 34/32 combo. It’ll be good to have it available. Sure you can do it on 36/30 probably, but you’re there to enjoy the ride/experience it sounds.

With a medium cage derailleur, and a wolftooth road link, I have a 11-40 cassette on my road/gravel bike. I put it on for a 150mile gravel ride with 10k feet of climbing. Been too lazy to swap it back to 11-32. It’s actually nice to have the easy gears to prevent from having to go too hard on climbs during a recovery/endurance ride.

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Get the lowest gear you can. Forget machismo or over-confidence.

I’m a reasonably strong rider on hills (69kg and 265FTP) but in the Maratona dles Dolomites last time, I was cramping towards the end and had a one hour climb (Passo Giau) at average 10% to deal with. Having a very low gear meant I could ride seated just below the point that the cramp was a disaster.

Normally on such a mountain I’d have been on a gear at least two cogs higher, but it was a great relief to have over-compensated on low gear ratios because when I needed it I REALLY needed it!

So in short, for a Gran Fondo type ride, figure out the lowest gear you need and then get one extra lower gear! Have fun, train hard and enjoy, they are amazing events!


36:30 = 1.20 roughly has the same gear ratio as 34:28 = 1.21, so if you used compact chainrings (50/34) in the front and a 11-32 cassette in the rear, you’d have one extra gear compared to now.

I agree with the others, you will not need the slightly faster 52:11 (you are not racing on closed roads), and in the worst case you won’t need your 34:32 gear combo. But if you should need it, you’ll be happy to have it.

In case you don’t want to change chain rings and cassette, then you can change just the cassette.

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I did the Fred Whitton and Dragon in 2018 both have 30% pitches, the Fred Whitton - Hardknott pass the hardest.

I changed out the cassette to a 11-32 from a 11-28 (cost £20) and got a longer mid-derailer cost ~ £50 - 60. I kept my 52/36 chainrings.

I thought about changing from a 52/36 to 50/34 chainring but that was going to cost over £150 for very little benefit plus I would have been down grading a groupset from SRAM RED to FORCE. Also I would need to change it back after the events, I wouldn’t run a 50/34 and 32 rear throughout the year but I did keep the 52/36 - 11/32 combi

Anyway, 52/36 & 11/32 was just enough for the Fred Whitton and made the Dragon easy enough even with 25 - 30% grades. The longest climb on the Dragon is the Black Mountain about a 30 minutes climb
Distance: 5.5 km
Average gradient: 5.6%
Maximum gradient: 21.6%
and that was very easy, didn’t use the 32 rear (used 30, so one gear spare), for context I was about 67kgs at the time.

I would change the cassette maybe even a 34 but don’t think I would change the chain rings although if you have a big budget why not. If you have a Kg or two of body weight to loose that will make more difference than a 36 to 34 chainring.

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Day, this is what I would strongly recommend. A Wolf Tooth RoadLink allows you to put a larger rear cassette on your bike than Shimano officially supports, giving you a MUCH more comfortable low-end ratio for slogging the long climbs of l’Etape.

In the best case, you wouldn’t even need all of those gears all the time — but if you need to slow down while climbing at some point that would be one of the best ways to save your legs and not burn too many matches before the final climb of the day.

EDIT: I looked at the bike and you likely need a Direct Mount RoadLink, as Shimano changed their mounting in the last year or three.

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I looked at that back in 2018 but couldn’t source in the UK at the time.

I know they’re available in the EU now via Germany’s Bike-Components shop:


So better hurry before January 31st :wink:

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Thanks for all your help guys, it’s been a really useful read to get everyone’s opinions.

So judging by the most common suggestions, I it seems like a medium cage derailleur and a 32 cassette is the most popular choice but I will look into the Wolf Tooth RoadLink as it’s always better to have too many gears than too few.

Some research my end from here but thanks a million for all your help. Feel a little more informed when I go to my LBS and discuss it with them now :slight_smile:


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How did you get on with the Wolf tooth road link?

I’m doing the Fred in June and I’m currently looking at options.

Thanks in advance

Hi Slowmart

Sadly I got my new bike in late October last year and on the first ride the back wheel came loose and scratched all down the side of the bike and the carbon wheel.
My LBS took the bike back and sent it back to the manufacturers to see if this is covered under the warrantee and I haven’t seen it since! I have phoned but no news.

As a result, I haven’t bought a new cassette as don’t have the new bike. Sorry not to be able to report something more useful