I don’t think I’ve ever been a good climber. When I weighed 150-lbs, I rode a six-speed crit bike with a 42x21T as its lowest gear and 99% of my riding in flat terrain. Now that I’m well over 200-lbs and carrying more stuff, I really appreciate the lower gears afforded by 10-speed compact gearing. However, the 34x28T setup which came with my bike (and most other new road bikes today) didn’t quite cut it during the Wilderness Campaign. My rolling load was 260-lbs! I didn’t have to walk the bike on any climbs. But my knees ached as I slowly ground my way up two 10% inclines and many other climbs at 5-mph and low RPM! I imagine my upcoming 400-km ride from Warrenton could be worse. Even if the hills aren’t steeper, I know there will be more of them and the route is twice as long. I’ve considered converting to a triple crank on many occasions. But I find the expense, limited chainring options and reports of finicky front STI shifting to be a bit of a turn-off. Therefore, I considered options which allowed me to keep my compact double as well as my existing Shimano 105 shifters (the expensive parts).
I was put in touch with DC Randonneurs rider, Barry McMahon, because he also rando’s with a Madone. He told me how he was able to lower his gearing by installing a cassette with 32T cog and a 33T chainring. With Barry’s advise in hand, my goal was to mount a 12-32T cassette. I chose a SRAM PG-1050 12-32T. Before I could use it, I needed a Shimano long cage derailleur designed to clear 32T. My Shimano 105 derailleur clears 28T. So I mounted a Deore XT mountain bike derailleur. It will clear up to 36T! Before you run out and order a 10-speed mountain bike derailleur or wonder how I got one to work with STI shifters, know that I made it a point to get a 9-speed derailleur. A little research online confirmed that the 9-speed XT ramping is compatible with STI shifters while 10-speed XTR is not.
I tested the derailleur on a ride with my 11-28T cassette. The shifting is minutely slower than my road derailleur. But it’s still very quick, accurate and does the job. I mounted the 12-32T once the shifting was dialed in. The 32T cassette looks huge on a road bike! It rides fine during my regular rides in flat country. I essentially gave up the 11T cog in favor of the 32T. My 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 28 are still the same. The 22 and 25 are close enough. The existing 46T “large” chainring allows me to favor riding on the smaller cogs. Sure, a 46x12T doesn’t give me the “legs” for speeding downhill. But I find it sufficient for sustained runs at 28-mph and sprints to 32. Barry told me his unusual gearing, especially for a Madone, has prompted him to refer to his bike as a “Muttdone.” I like it! 🙂 I’m surely using my Madone far beyond what it was designed to do (performance road riding/racing), especially with the loads I carry. Perhaps I’ll go with “Madonkey.” 😀
I rode in the hills this past weekend to prepare myself for May’s 400km ride from Warrenton. I started on Saturday with 62 miles from Smithfield, VA. The hills are mild and easy enough to climb with 24/28T cogs. But they gave me a small taste of shifting on the rollers. “Shifting? What’s so hard about that?” Indeed! Giving up the 11T cog means the small chainring is a tad less useful at speed. That means more shifting between the large and small chainring. It’s not a big deal. I just needed to get used to new crossover points. I got separated from my group late in the ride. I managed a stint at 25-28 mph in an attempt to catch them. However, I guess they had abandoned the advertised B-pace (and the ride leaders, I learned later). I wound up missing a turn and catching the C-pace group that was “behind” us and entering a loop. I rode the loop a second time with them, which is how my 50 mile ride turned into a metric century. More mileage is better, anyway. 🙂
I took to the hills west of Charlottesville on Sunday. I rode with a group of ten for 45 miles. Okay, I’ll clarify: I departed on a ride with a group; but did most of the climbing alone! 😀 That was to be expected. My true purpose for being out there was to get a taste of what I might experience on a much longer ride with a lot more climbing. The steepest hill I climbed was 15%. UGH! Starting and regrouping with other riders made the ride more enjoyable than riding it alone. The 32T cog made a significant difference in my comfort level while climbing. Sure, it’s no triple. But it’s still a 14% reduction to the gearing I had before and very close to what I’d have with a 30×28 triple. The downhill stints were easily spun out beyond 32-mph. At that point, I just tucked and coasted. I think my 12-32T cassette brings a great compromise between hitting the hills and cruising in my flat stomping grounds of York County. Overall, I rode 45 miles, climbed 4000 feet and burned 3800 calories in 4 hours and 25 minutes. My rolling average was 12.6-mph with an overall average of 10.2. If I can maintain that level of intensity for an additional 205 miles (HA!), I may actually finish the Warrenton 400-km brevet with 2.5 hours to spare. That’s cutting it a little close, especially since I expect to slow as I tire. Time will tell.
Ready for the Hills,
Nice article, Scott. I also ride a Domane, but if yours is a “Madonkey,” I hate to think what mine should be called with its’ 52,42,26 triple and 11-34 cassette. Good luck with the 400K. A few suggestions: 1) Keep a moderate, even pace, and NEVER go anaerobic, say to keep up with a fast group up a hill, and 2) Be sure to eat. The requirement for eating is one of the biggest differences between a 200 and 400K, and learning what your system can digest comfortably is an important part of training. So try different foods on your weekend rides, even if you don’t really need them for those distances. (I eat cookies and salted peanuts, but everybody’s different.)
Thanks for the advice, Bill! Your wide crank reminds me of my tandem with 53/36/24. Riding alone on most of my permanents has made me disciplined enough to not push on the hills. I easily let the faster climbers ride away from me yesterday. I didn’t try to keep up. I just picked a level of effort and stayed there. I took another piece of advice and rode to heartrate, somewhere between 150-160. I backed off a tad anytime my HR got above 160. I don’t think I ever felt I was overdoing it. But it also was “only” 45 miles. 😉
I will second what Bill says about going anaerobic. I did so on the Civil War Tour 200K, racing up Mountville Rd trying to keep up with a faster group. Got to the top & had to stop, get off the bike & vomit. It took me a couple of hours of easy riding to recover. That single aerobic episode on one hill climb ended up costing at least an hour against my finishing time.
Gearing is important, but Eddy Merckx advice is still key, “Ride Lots.” Ride hills whenever you can, take spin classes, and do interval training.
Agreed! I don’t do intervals. I should. I need to ride a nearby route in Toano more frequently. That’ll get me more time in the hills. Not mountains… but hills with a few moderate climbs.