Posted by: Ian | July 14, 2010


I’ve been emailing BespokeCycling recently and giving ever more concrete thought to my new training bike. One topic about which I’m still undecided is gear ratios. After riding around the hills of San Francisco on a Giant equipped with standard road double chain rings and cassette I wondered whether I really needed a compact groupset like I have on the Felt, with 50-34 front and 11-28 rear. Since then, though, there have been several occasions when I’ve been grinding up Somerset’s hills in the Felt’s lowest gear and wondered why on earth I’d consider anything else.

Riding the Tempo provides an alternative perspective. Yesterday after reading this post about Swains Lane I had an urge to cycle up it on my way back to Notting Hill. I persuaded Emily to join me, although she frankly admitted that while it’s more or less on her way home she wasn’t feeling very motivated about tackling the only hill in London featuring in the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book on her commuter fixie.

We tried it once before and then, not knowing how steep or how long it was going to be, I had to stop three or four times on the way up. In fact, it’s quite short and yesterday I resolved to get my speed up before the climb begins and go for it. Passing the gates of Highgate Cemetry, I cycled past another guy on a singlespeed. “Good luck,” I said. “You don’t need luck, you need will,” he replied – a bit snottily, I thought. Within yards he came past me at a pace, spinning effortlessly. His bike was lower geared than mine but nonetheless his fluent pedalling was impressive and made my laboured out-of-the-saddle exertions feel very inelegant.

As the road steepens it also narrows and there are pairs of speed bumps that traverse it, with a narrow gap in the middle of each pair that any competent rider can cycle through. I managed it most times but in one set I missed. The extra gradient was surprisingly noticeable, both on the up and the down side.

When the road got to its steepest I remembered a suggestion that Emily had made last time and tried zigzagging a little. Just as I did so a car came up behind me, forcing me back onto a straight path. Pleasingly, though, I made it to the top and it felt like a real achievement. Now I’m back to thinking that if I can get up a hill like that on 48×16 gears then a 52-39 x 12-26 groupset for my new bike should be perfectly fine. But I’m still dithering.

My other choice is whether to get an Ultegra groupset or go for the cheaper 105, which in its latest version has apparently caught up quite a lot with the higher end sets. Although the quality gap is possibly hard to discern now, I have such a positive experience of the Ultegras I’ve ridden, not to mention the Felt’s Dura-Ace, that I have a reluctance to downgrade.

I know, of course, that the much advertised weight difference is totally immaterial. Returning from Swains Lane, I watched the pros on the Tour de France on TV. Contador still looks like a winner, notwithstanding the efforts of Andy Schleck. He is quite literally lighter than I am to the tune of three of his entire bikes.



  1. Richmond park sounds like a bit of an adventure. It’s 20 miles from here so I’d have to leave pretty early.

    • Regent’s Park, not Richmond so not so bad! Stu made it in from Essex last week. You can do it!

      • Regent’s Park is 18 miles, so yes not so bad. What mornings do you do?

  2. Reading this very helpfully crystallises exactly why I should get a compact groupset. It’s not for the hills that are 25% instead of 20% but for those occasions, which happen *all the time* in Somerset, when I come to yet another big gradient with ever more weary legs.

    Ant, you should join us for park loops one morning.

  3. My take on the gears situation is the only time you really need those low gears is hours into a ride on a very steep climb. If this is your training bike how often is that situation going to arise?

    Say hi to Barry for me when you go to Bespoke.

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