How to find the right gearing setup with SRAM drivetrains

Which gear setting do you need for your bike? Since 1-by setups are common on mountain bikes and two chainrings on road bikes, you might think that the style of the bike would dictate the cassette and crankset. Brad Menna, SRAM’s road drivetrain product manager, says cycling discipline doesn’t always dictate gearing.

“I like to give the example of Paris-Roubaix,” says Menna, “because it’s a very flat race. You’ll literally never move the derailleur.” Menna recalls that in the past, riders needed two chainrings. They had run a big smaller ring because they didn’t have a very large bandwidth in their cassettes. The little ring helped them drag him out on the cobblestones. Today, with SRAM’s wide cassettes – 12-speed configurations from 10-26 to 10-36 teeth – pros can easily run a 1-by setup at Roubaix. “The Trek-Segafredo women’s team mainly rode chainrings with 50 and 48 teeth. Riders like Mads Pedersen ride a 54.”

You don’t need the legs of a pro roadie to reap the benefits of a 1-by setup on the road. “SRAM is based in Chicago. I drive nothing but 1-by. I can do any bike race within 100 miles of here because it’s so flat,” says Menna. So it doesn’t matter what type of bike you use when it comes to finding the best drivetrain for you. It starts with what terrain you will be riding on, followed by your fitness level.

When choosing a cassette, the terrain and the type of pedaling on that terrain are key. Take a cross-country skiing course. You go up, down, over a feature, and then back up. There are a lot of quick changes along the route, so a wide range cassette – like the XX1 Eagle’s 10-50 tooth arrangement – will let you find gearing for whatever the trail throws at you. On the road, the changes are more subtle. Correct pedaling frequency is important, especially at higher speeds. With SRAM’s road cassettes, you’ll notice that the small cogs increase in one-tooth increments: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 for the top end of the Rival’s 10-30 tooth cluster. This arrangement allows you to find the right amount of spin in your pedals on a fast group ride. Once you get to a climb and the group breaks up, you can get into your own rhythm on the 17, 19, 21, 24, 27 or 30 cog as it’s much easier to adjust your cadence, when you drive slower. Things get tougher on a gravel race with long, flat, fast sections mixed with steep, easy climbs. SRAM’s 10-44 tooth XPLR cassette aims to balance the steps between the sprockets and a wide range to let you go fast on the road and in the hills.

How do you know if you have the right setup? Well, if you have a SRAM AXS groupset with electronic shifting, you can use the SRAM AXS web app to see which gears you used the most on a given ride. If you have a 1-by setup and find that you’re consistently stuck with gears on the top or bottom of the cassette over many rides, consider changing your chainring. The change can (pun intended) shift your gear usage to the sweet spot on the cartridge, rather than its limits. According to Menna, there’s also a lower-tech method to gauge your gearing. “Successful gear shifting is when you ride the bike and don’t really think about the gear shift,” he says. “That’s really what it’s about.”

This story is presented by SRAM

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