If you want to transform your bike, forget the wheels and change your cassette

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Campagnolo Veloce crankset w a 39x53 combination. A lost piece of art.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – In the pursuit of Tour de France combinations, ideal gearings for sportive riders are being lost.

This was the one treat I allowed myself at Stalen Ros. A Campagnolo Veloce 39-53 crankset. It was being sold off because people want compact chainsets, now. They have been a boost for climbers, but the rear cassettes have become the bane. I thought gearings were poor enough back in the 70s. It is even worse, now. Gearing has become the abandoned aspect of bike set-ups. People ride with 30 gears, but can only use ten. And bikes are being sold with 53×11 combinations because that is what professional riders in the Tour de France pelotons have – as if the average rider, even with training, can make that combination turn around.
I rarely get out of my small chainring – a dated 42 – but I rarely get dropped from training rides; not because of high speeds, anyway. If I keep this 53, then I will look for a 16-27 cassette. This is radically far away from the standard today. At the low end, a 39×27 is so easy to turn over for a sportif rider. Even then, I might look for a 50 tooth large ring to make the ride smoother at the top end. You can go quite fast on a 50×16. And don’t kid yourself. It is faster to spin a 50×16 than grind a 53×11.
Flat blocks, combinations that change one tooth at a time, are a godsend, and yet harder and harder to find. You can make subtle changes in your cadence and keep a far faster ride overall, especially on hilly circuits. But people insist on, or get sold, a jarring, widespread combination they can never use efficiently.
If you want to do yourself a favour, look for a cassette with minimal changes between rings. It can be as revolutionary as better wheels and tires. Junior racing cyclists are limited to 52×14 combinations. It used to be 50×15. I would ride the latter, if I had my way. I used to hold near 40km/ph for 40 kilometre time trials and would regularly race a 50 kilometre criterium in an hour. Take a look at your riding and speed and just spare a thought. Do you really need town gears you cannot use? Do you need anything larger than a 52×14? Next time you replace your chain and cassette, consider something flatter and easier. You will be faster.
My thanks to George Noyes of Velo Consulting near Kortrijle for letting mer have this piece of art for a fraction of its worth. 
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