It wasn’t long ago that we all rode triple front chainrings on our mountain bikes. Then the industry switched primarily to double chainring setups. That trend has continued with the shift toward single ring setups. What is different about this latest evolution is that it’s not just about mountain bikes. Many cyclocross, gravel and road riders are also ditching their second ring. Here’s what you need to consider before you make the switch.
Will a single ring drivetrain give you low enough gears?
One of the most common complaints of cyclists who switch from a double to a single chainring setup, especially those who live in places with steep uphills, is that they no longer have a low enough gear to spin up those climbs.
Many stock single ring setups, such as those that come on new bikes, default to a higher low gear than what was standard for 2x drivetrains, but this can be remedied by intentionally selecting what size front chainring and cassette you install.
Use a gear calculator such as http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gear-calc.html to compare your low gearing options on your existing drivetrain with those for your potential new single ring drivetrain setup.
Will a single ring drivetrain give you high enough gears?
The opposite problem also occurs. Some riders miss their old higher gears when they’re on downhill sections. They find themselves running out of gears on the high end and spinning too much, maybe even getting dropped by their fellow riders.
Again, through intentional gearing selection for your chainring and cassette, you can select a setup that gives you the high gear that you want. Remember, though, that if you opt to go with a larger front chainring to get that higher gear, it will affect your low gear, making it higher too. So you may want to solve the problem by specifying a cassette with a wider range from low to high.
Use the same gear calculator mentioned above to check the high end of your new potential gearing combinations.
How will having fewer total gears affect my ride?
Let’s say you want to switch from a 2 x 11 to a 1 x 11. By definition, you will go from having 22 gears to 11 gears. In most double ring setups, there are duplicate or very similar gear combinations in terms of their rollout, so you’re probably not really losing 11 different gears. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll be missing a few.
Whether or not you notice potential larger gaps between gears will depend what kind of rider you are. If you always require the exactly perfect gear, you might miss a few of those gears, but if you’re more flexible about your gearing, you probably won’t notice they’re gone. And even if you do notice, you may adjust over time to the new gearing in the way that a singlespeeder learns to get used to riding whatever gear he or she has.
Do I need a new crankset?
The answer is possibly. If you simply remove a front chainring and your front derailleur and keep the rest of your setup, you may have trouble keeping your chain seated on your remaining front chainring, especially if the chainline is not perfect. You may need to install a chain guide. You also will notice a substantially reduced range of gears from what you were used to.
Sometimes it’s just easier to start over with a new drivetrain. There’s a good chance that yours is worn out anyway and needs replacing of some or all of it. Buying a single ring drivetrain will also mean you can exactly specify the gear range you’d like to have.
What about my front shifter and derailleur?
Good news – you won’t need these any more. You can remove them from your bike which will not only have the effect of making your bike lighter, but it will also clean up its cockpit, thus leaving more room for remote controls like those for your dropper post or suspension.
Ride. Break. Fix. Repeat. Most avid cyclists are familiar with this cycle. If you ride enough, your bike will experience routine wear and tear as well as occasional mechanicals and will sometimes require maintenance.
You can do plenty of bike maintenance yourself with minimal tools: lubing your chain, keeping your tires properly inflated, repairing flats, replacing worn tires and cleaning your bike are just some examples. However, some jobs are best left to professional mechanics because they require special tools and/or skills. Unless you already have the right tools and are mechanically inclined, you may want to reach out to the pros for help maintaining the following parts of your bike.
Properly working brakes are important for every rider, but brake performance inevitably degrades over time and will require maintenance. There are many different kinds of brakes such as V-brakes, cantilever brakes, side and center-pull caliper brakes, and disc brakes. Some are actuated mechanically and some hydraulically
Brake pads wear out with use and must be changed for all kinds of brakes. For mechanically actuated brake pads, cables and housing will have to be maintained, and for hydraulic brake, their hydraulic lines will require occasional bleeding and even replacement.
Thanks to constantly changing standards, there are more types of bottom brackets than we can possibly list in this article. Add to that all the different types of cranks, and you’d need an entire toolbox full of special tools to pull all the types of cranks and install and remove all the types of bottom brackets.
Fortunately, most modern bottom brackets are fairly robust and don’t require frequent maintenance, so you can save the investment in special tools and get your local shop to repair your bottom bracket whenever you notice issues. Keep an ear out for clicking and popping and notice any roughness as the pedals turn – all signs that indicate some maintenance is due.
Building and truing wheels is as much of an art as it is a science. You’ll need the appropriate spoke wrench for your spokes, a truing stand and plenty of patience. A spoke tensioner is also a good idea for ensuring correct and even spoke tension across the drive and non-drive sides of your wheels. Furthermore, depending on your wheel type, replacing a spoke may require you to remove a tire and rim strip tape, which can be an especially messy job if you run tubeless tires.
Routinely inspect your wheels to see if they need maintenance. Spin them and look for wobbles to see if they need truing. Visually inspect spokes and rims for damage and pluck each spoke with your hands to roughly evaluate whether spokes are consistently tensioned. An conspicuously loosely or tightly tensioned spoke may be a sign that you will soon experience more issues with your wheels.
Bottom brackets and hubs are like cousins. Hubs also come in many different designs. Some have replaceable bearings; others have cartridge bearings. Some come completely apart and some don’t. In general, different hubs require a variety of tools to remove the cassette and get into them. With many different pieces, taking them apart to service and clean and re-assembling them correctly is no elementary task.
We suggest riding ROTOR’s new, low maintenance RVOLVER Hubs, and then if and when you do need service, hire a pro with all the right tools and expertise to quickly and effectively take care of your hub maintenance. Service most hubs at least once a season – or more often if you frequently ride in wet or muddy conditions. Some signs your hub need attention are 1) a roughness in the bearings when you spin your wheel; and 2) side-to-side play in the hub bearings when the wheels are mounted in the frame/fork and a lateral force is applied at the rim.
Suspension designs vary widely by manufacturer and model, and each fork or shock will come with different service recommendations and require different parts for routine maintenance and repair. Some forks and shocks are more serviceable than others; some may even require getting sent back to the manufacturer or specialized shock repair shop. Thus, we suggest getting a pro to perform the required routine maintenance as well as help you troubleshoot any specific performance issues or failures.
Check manufacturer guidelines for your specific fork and/or shock for recommendations about service intervals; they will usually specify what kind of service to perform after a certain number of hours of being ridden.
Curious about gravel road riding? Let us help convince you to give it a try with these top 10 reasons to get out and pedal on some gravel.
#1 – Mix it up.
Add a new dimension to your cycling by taking up another cycling discipline. More different kinds of riding make you a better rider overall, and you’ll bring some novelty to your riding by not always being on the same old paved roads or trails.
#2 – Enjoy more roads to ride.
Ever notice how many places you can’t get to on paved roads that you could reach via gravel roads? When the pavement ends and turns to gravel, you don’t have to stop riding: keep going! In lesser developed areas with relatively fewer paved roads, you might double, triple or even quadruple your riding options by including gravel roads in your rides.
#3 – Enjoy different scenery.
Because you’ll be able to go so many more places, you’ll have the opportunity to take in more and different scenery. Just don’t forget to look around as you pedal, or better yet, stop and have a snack and give yourself time to take in the views.
#4 – Create your own bikepacking adventure.
Why limit yourself to just one day of gravel riding? Dig out your map and go big. Pick out routes to create your own multi-day adventure. With ever increasing options for lightweight and well designed frame and rack bags, there’s no excuse not to load up your camping gear and food and set out for a few days.
#5 – Experience more different conditions.
Gravel comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a gravel road is so hard-packed that it feels almost like a smooth, paved road. Or it may be super sketchy – covered big and chunky gravel or small, loose, fine gravel. And conditions you encounter on any given gravel road may vary widely from day to day or from season to season as weather conditions change and gravel road maintenance happens (or doesn’t!).
#6 – Improve your bike handling skills.
The variety of conditions possible during gravel riding will make you a better bike handler. For example, riding loose gravel will help you develop a smoother pedal stroke with more evenly applied power; or riding fast over sketchy, loose conditions will teach you how to maintain control of your bike as you learn to go with the flow when things get unpredictable.
#7 – You can ride gravel when it’s wet without damaging your local trails.
Mountain bikers need not miss out on riding just because the local trails are too wet or muddy to ride. You can’t hurt a gravel road by riding a bike over it no matter how wet it is. So the next time it’s rainy, give your singletrack a day or two to dry out and firm back up, and head out instead for a spin on some gravel.
#8 – Meet new friends.
Because gravel roads are typically plenty wide and have scarce traffic, you’ll have more opportunities to ride two-by-two and thus have conversations with other riders. Head out on some local group gravel rides, and you’ll meet some new riding buddies, too.
#9 – You can ride gravel on your current bike.
You don’t need to invest in a new bike to ride gravel. Put some slick or less knobby tires on your mountain bike, or put some wider, knobbier tires on your road bike, and get out there and pedal. If you’re on your mountain bike, don’t forget to lock out your suspension on all but the roughest roads so that you can pedal efficiently without wasting energy making your suspension compress and rebound.
#10 – It’s an excuse to buy another bike.
While you don’t have to buy another bike to enjoy gravel riding, you could use your newfound gravel riding hobby as an excuse to buy a new bike especially designed for the job. Remember the answer to the question about how many bikes you should have? It’s N, where N = n + 1 and n is the number of bikes you currently have!
Photo: Mariano Herranz / MTBPro.es
Disc brakes are no longer just for mountain bikers. During the past few years, they’ve been steadily spreading onto bikes designed for other disciplines such as road, gravel and cyclo-cross. There are plenty of reasons why, and in this article we explain how disc brakes can improve your road riding experience.
Two technologies are most commonly behind disc brakes: hydraulic or mechanical. In both methods, force is transferred from the brake levers to the caliper where brake pads move together pressing against the disc. Cables activate mechanical disc brakes, whereas in hydraulic brakes, sealed lines with hydraulic fluid replace the cables.
Better stopping power
Disc brakes stop more powerfully than rim brakes. You’ll need to apply relatively less force to your brake levers to bring yourself to a stop from a given speed. Thus, your hands and arms won’t get as tired during extended periods of frequent braking such as on long, twisty descents in the mountains. It also means that disc brakes will work better for heavier riders and tandem riders, all of whom sometimes struggle to get enough stopping power out of conventional rim brakes.
You can more easily control the application of all of your stopping power with disc brakes because that application is generally more linear than with rim brakes. Yes, you can still lock up your disc brakes if you squeeze them too hard and/or too fast, but the action of doing so is more predictable, so you’ll have more control over whether you actually lock them up.
More reliable performance in wet conditions
The better stopping power mentioned above is often most noticeable when riding in wet conditions. Yes, it’s true that all brakes don’t work as well when it’s raining, but wet disc brakes will work better than wet rim brakes. They’ll grab more quickly and more predictably and will hold better.
No more worries about overheated rims and blown tires
Rim braking works because it produces friction between the pads and the rim. That also heats up rims, which can cause a tube to burst or a sidewall to blow off the bead hook, especially for carbon fiber rims. With disc brakes, these are no longer concerns because disc brake pads contact a disc rotor instead of the rim.
When your rims go out of true, your brakes still work well
Disc brakes operate well, regardless of how true your wheels are. That’s because the pads don’t have to squeeze a wobbly rim, but they instead squeeze a rotor. And while rotors do sometimes go out of true, it’s relatively uncommon, and they can be fairly easily bent back into shape.
Better accommodation of wider tires
Running wider tires on your existing rims is easier with disc brakes because they don’t have to clear rim brake calipers when wheels are installed or removed. You can also switch to wider rims to go with those wider tires without having to readjust your brakes.
Disc brakes require relatively little routine maintenance once set up. Most kinds automatically self-adjust as the pads wear so that they will continue to work well until the pads are mostly consumed. Yes, you will still have to replace worn out pads, but swapping disc brake pads is simple, typically requiring the removal of one bolt for each pair of pads.
Occasionally, disc brakes will require bleeding, a process of removing extraneous air bubbles from the hydraulic brake fluid. When your braking starts to feel spongy, you’ll know it’s time for a bleed. Most manufacturers recommend bleeding once or twice per year, depending on how much you ride.
They keep getting safer
Many road pros initially resisted the adoption of disc brakes into the peloton. They were concerned about possible injuries that could be caused by a disc slicing into a rider’s body during a crash.
While their concerns were not unfounded, incidents of disc brake-related crash injuries have turned out to be far less prevalent than many predicted, and brake designers have been working to make the brakes safer with each iteration. For example, many rotors now have rounded edges instead of sharp edges to reduce their ability to cut. Better designs also dissipate heat more efficiently so that you are less likely to accidently touch them and get burnt.
Cranks come in many different sizes. So how do you know which one is right for you? Well, it depends on a few factors.
Crank length is typically measured from the center of the bottom bracket or crank bolt to the center of the pedal’s axle where it attaches to the crank arm. Although other lengths do exist, cranksets commonly come in sizes from 165mm to 180mm. Most manufacturers spec each size of their bikes with a crank of a length that is appropriate for the size of the cyclists likely to fit on them.
Very generally speaking, your crank length will be proportional to how long your legs are. If you are short, you will be better suited to ride shorter cranks, and if you are tall, longer cranks will work better.
However, other factors such as type of riding and riding style also play a role. For example, a trackie who likes to spin may be more comfortable on shorter 165mm cranks. It’s easier to spin shorter cranks at higher cadences, plus shorter cranks give a more clearance to maneuver on steep-sided velodromes.
As another example, that same rider as a mountain biker who pedals at slow cadences and wants leverage to power through tough sections may choose a longer 175mm crank for his or her mountain bike. But mountain bikers have to be careful not to select cranks that are too long, or they will hit them frequently on roots and in rock gardens, especially if their mountain bike’s bottom bracket is low to the ground.
Road riders commonly fall somewhere in between trackies and roadies, often riding 170mm, 172.5mm or 175mm cranks.
Cranks are almost always available in 5mm increments. Think 170mm, 175mm, 180mm, etc. However, many also come in 2.5mm increments, adding sizes like 172.5mm and 177.5mm. Just like how making small adjustment to your seat height can significantly change how it feels to pedal your bike – changing your crank length can have a similar effect.
Should you decide to change your crank length, you may also need to adjust your saddle height and saddle fore/aft position. For a longer crank, consider dropping your seat and/or sliding your seat forward; and for a shorter crank, you may want to raise your seat and slide your seat backward. In both cases, allow yourself plenty of time to get used to the new fit before you pile on the miles or Watts.
There are several common formulas out there prescribing crank length – they may work better or worse for you. Most say your crank length should be a percentage of your height, leg length or inseam. But there is no substitute for the experience of pedalling cranks of different lengths and feeling which ones are most comfortable and effective for you.
Changing cranks can be expensive, so you may be better off trying a few demo bikes with cranks of different lengths to get a sense of how you’re affected by the different options rather than investing in multiple sizes to try on your own personal bike. With some experience, you’ll quickly get a sense of what might be the best crank size for you.
Truth be told, crank length may be less important than you think. Most studies show little or no effect on pedaling efficiency for different crank lengths, and the biomechanics of cycling is complicated and influenced by many fit factors; therefore, it’s probably best to listen to your knees and ride the crank length that feels best to you when you’re pedalling for the kind of riding you’re doing.
For more information on crank length, including some charts and common formulas for determining it based on height, leg length or inseam, check out the following:
Relative to many sports, cycling is generally good for the knees, but nonetheless, many riders still experience knee pain at some point in their cycling career. Most such knee pain can be attributed to one of three causes: 1) too abruptly ramping up your training or chronic overtraining; 2) changing your equipment or position; and 3) your own anatomy and your body’s biomechanics.
In a properly functioning knee, the kneecap or patella tracks along a groove in the distal end of the femur or thigh bone. The patellar tendon connects powerful leg muscles to the patella. When the muscles around the knee are imbalanced – too weak or too strong or some combination thereof, they pull the patella off track or compromise how well it glides. It can lead to issues such as patellofemoral syndrome and patellar tendonitis. Likewise simple trauma to the knee, such an impact during a crash, can cause pain and inflammation.
If your knee pain is due to inflammation, try icing your knee two to three times per day to reduce swelling over time. Sometimes consistent icing is all it takes to make your knee happy again. Apply ice immediately after exercise and in between rides as needed
Take Anti-Inflammatory Medication
Oral anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin will often reduce knee pain caused by inflammation. But beware if your knee pain is due to a chronic issue. Medication will not help you fix most causes of knee pain; it will simply mask its symptoms.
Give it a Rest
While your knees are not subjected to much weight bearing during your rides, they do experience many cycles of bending and unbending, which add up over time. If you ramp up your training hours or efforts too quickly, you’ll be more susceptible to overtraining-type overuse injuries, so take your time and build up your time and distance on a bike gradually so that your body has time to adapt physiologically. Doing too much too soon might result in you having to take some time completely off the bike so your knee can recover.
Check Your Cleat Alignment
Poorly positioned cleats are a frequent culprit of knee pain. If you’ve recently changed shoes, cleats or pedals, and your knees suddenly start hurting, revisit those changes as the likely source of the problem.
Common alignment issues include having your cleats rotated too far in either direction, which you’ll experience as your heel being relatively too close or too far from your crank arm. This kind of knee pain often manifests on the lateral or medial sides of your knee.
Having your cleat too far forward or backward on your shoe is another common cause of knee pain. It will often lead to pedalling too flat footed or with your toes pointed too much downward. A rule of thumb that works for many is to align your cleat so that the axle of your pedal appears to be “under” the base of the joints between your mid-foot and toes when you look down at your foot while your leg is fully extended during the pedal stroke.
Ask a Coach for Input About Your Gearing
Pushing gears that are too big puts significant strain on the knees, especially for cyclists who are not used to doing so. Consider dropping to easier gears and spinning more; pedalling a lighter gear at a faster cadence will still produce the same amount of power but require less torque through the knee joint.
Try ROTOR’s Q-Rings
ROTOR’s Q-Rings improve your performance, minimize fatigue and reduce stress on the knees. They virtually decrease the gear ratio in the dead spot and increase the gear ratio in the power phase where the rider exerts the most force. The ability to pick from five different Optimum Chainring Positions (OCP) gives you the option to find the best setup for your knees.
Become More Flexible
Tight muscles sometimes are the cause of knee pain. Sometimes the quadriceps are too tight; sometimes it’s the hamstrings or calves. All of these muscles attach near or cross your knee joint and can affect how well your knee tracks. In addition, too-tight glutes, groin muscles and IT bands may alter the proper tracking of your knees.
If you’re prone to tight hamstrings, calves or quads, start a regular stretching program. One of the best ways to gain flexibility is to adopt a regular yoga practice: find a class near you or try out some videos online.
Get a Bike Fit
Saddle too high, too low, too far forward or too far backward relative to your bottom bracket? All four situations can cause knee pain – typically in the front or back of your knee. It’s difficult to evaluate your own position on your bike since you can’t see yourself, so if you’re struggling with knee pain and the above suggestions haven’t worked, hire a bike fitter to check your position.