Lets Talk About Gears!

Hello! Lots still happening over here in Evergreen Cyclery land! I have some cool projects that I will begin to talk about. Here is a sneak peak of one such project. Special thanks to the lovely and talented Jenica (Shes all mine and you can’t have her!). Business cards will be here next week!

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I am still working on that local post but until then, here are some additional thoughts that I think integrate well with my previous blog post detailing why I buy my bikes used and my attempt at convincing you to do the same.

At the conclusion of that article I concede that there is lots to consider and I completely get how daunting it can be knowing what is important to prioritize when buying a bike and what isn’t. I hope to slowly tackle common features of bikes and hopefully help with forming some opinions for those looking to buy a bike for the first time.

In this article, lets talk about a feature that I think gets entirely too much airplay-gears!

As a kid, I was obsessed with gears. I reasoned that the number of gears that a bike had was the absolute best way to tell how good it was. I remember when I got my Giant Commotion and it had 6 speeds. 6 speeds! Boy, did I think I was hot shit. There was a gear for easy peddling. Like, if I wanted to cruise and take it real easy. That was the same gear I used when trying to keep up with my dad going up hills. Then, when I was in the flats I could dial it down, push real hard (it got harder to pedal) and I would blast off to 18 mph (I had a speedometer!).

Giant Commotion

Pretty much the bike I had as a kid except mine was red and did not have the grip shifters (too old for that).

I thought my Giant Commotion was awesome. A couple of months after getting it, I asked my dad how many speeds his bike had. When he told me 21 like it was no big deal, I was bummed. I could only change into 6 different gears. He could change into 21… No wonder he was so much better at climbing the hills than I was.

“Modern” bicycle technology now has us all the way up 12 gears. What does that even mean? Well, they are referring to the number of cogs on their rear cassette. Whoa! What is a cassette? There are two clusters of gears on a bike. The Crankset has one set, typically between 1 and 3 gears. The other cluster is attached to the rear wheel and is called a, “cassette.” The cassette can have anywhere between 1 and 12 (apparently) gears or cogs as a part of its cluster. To determine how many gears are on a bike, simply multiply the number of gears on one cluster by the number of gears on the other cluster. As an example, a bike with the cassette and crankset below would be a 27 speed bike (9×3).

Cassette

A 9 Speed Cassette

A Beautiful Triple (3 Chainrings) Crankset

So when we say that modern bicycle technology has us up to 12 gears, that means in theory there can now be 36 speed bikes out on the road. Do we care? Absolutely not! Why don’t we care? Keep reading and I will try by best to explain it.

What makes gears different from one another? It it the number of teeth that each chainring or cog has. On the crankset, the number of teeth on each chainring is usually larger than on the cassette. On the crankset (the front), the larger the chainring, the more difficult it is to pedal. On the cassette (the rear) the larger the cog, the easier it is to pedal. The different combinations between each of the cogs and chainrings allow for all sorts of different gear ratios from extremely difficult to pedal but great for going fast, to extremely easy to pedal but not going much of anywhere (great for climbing a hill).

Does having plenty of combinations of gears make it easier to bike on all sorts of different terrain? Absolutely. I would submit however, that there is a limit to this way of thinking. Rather than worrying about how many gears you have (like I as a young boy did), worry more about what range of gears you bike has.

That 12 speed cassette that probably costs 600 bucks? Probably has a range around 11-28 which means that the smallest cog is 11 teeth and the largest cog is 28 teeth. The other 10 cogs are numbers between 11 and 28. Instead, why not get a perfectly functional 8 or 9 speed cassette that will cost 60-80 dollars. You can still probably get a range from 11-28. The only downside being that the number of cogs between the 11 and 28 is slightly fewer, as you have fewer gears.

Further making that 12 speed cassette less attractive is what they have to do to the other parts of your bike to make 12 speeds work. For simplicity, lets say that the spacing in your frame where your wheel fits is fixed. Well, in order to fit 12 cogs where most bikes have 8 or 9 what do you suppose they had to do? Make them thinner! Along with making the rear cogs thinner, they made the chain thinner (the gaps between each cog can be smaller that way). Sounds great doesn’t it? No! As a result of thinner chains and cogs one also get decreased durability. So that 300 dollar cassette that was maybe good for 5000 miles is now good for only 3000 miles. Not cool. Not cool at all.

In conclusion: Rather than focus on the number of speeds a bike has, concentrate more on the range of those speeds. Most bikes have a range from the low to mid teens, up to the high 20’s or low 30’s. Unless you are sponsored, or money is no object, a bike with 14 to 30 gears should be perfectly fine for most people. Heck, if a bike is bought and the gears ratios just aren’t working out, with very little effort a new cassette or new chainrings can be bought an installed.

Do you remember how many gears your bike had as a kid?

How many gears does your bike have now (assuming you have one)?

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Why I Buy my Bikes Used (and Why You Should Too).

So I know that I said that I was going to talk local next. I like to keep my word, but I this is an interesting topic that I have been thinking about and I thought I would share my insights. It also ties nicely into some stuff that has yet to come. I promise I will talk local soon.

The last time I had a brand-new bike was sometime in my teens. For Christmas, I was surprised with a Mountain Tek Boulder. It was a Mountain Bike, 26″ wheels, aluminum rims, nice and shiny red. It is funny because that bike was in my life at a time when I honestly cannot remember much more than that. It was a great bike and I rode it all over.

Then one weekend my aunt and uncle has a garage sale. My trusty Mountain Tek had recently somehow stripped threads on the crankset, making me replace it. I was baffled how silly the whole thing was. I went to a pre-garage sale and found my uncle selling his Raleigh Technium Mountain Bike for $50. It fit, it wasn’t my Mountain Tek (the local used bike shop was willing to buy it from me for $40), and best of all, It was the exact same bike that my dad owned.

Now, my dad was and still is, an avid cyclist. He used to work at Safeco over in Redmond, and-year around from Seattle, he would commute by bike. His winter bike was a Raleigh Technium mountain bike. Unlike the Mountain Tek, I was actually able to find a representative picture of what it looks like:

1989-raleigh-technium-mountain-bike-965_2

That should tell you a little something. It should also be telling that Mountain Tek is no longer in business…

As a 15 year old, I was absolutely stoked to have the same bike as my bike warrior of a dad. Not three hours after I had acquired my new Raleigh, my dad convinced me to sell it to him for $20 plus his Raleigh, as his had definitely seen some miles. Eager to make a quick $20 at the age of 14, I went ahead and made the deal.

Why do I tell you this story? How does this tie into me advocating for buying used bikes? Well, I received the Mountain Tek new. MSRP on a 1996 Mountain Tek Boulder is $249-that is to say, it was a fairly entry level bike. The Technium, safe to say, retailed for quite a bit more than that-it was defintely a late 80’s mid-range bike. In 2007, I finally sold it to a gentleman in Bellingham who had every intention of riding it longer. Below, is a list of points why buying a used bike might make sense for you.

Bike technology is not as rapidly evolving of an industry as they want us to believe. The bikes made 20 years ago have very few technological differences from the ones sold new today. As long at the frame fits your needs, any of the other parts can be changed out anyway.

Jenica and I trying out our new Tandem!

Jenica and I trying out our new Tandem!

Bikes can still be classified as fitness equipment. I think everyone has, or knows someone guilty of buying a treadmill around New Years only to use it for a few months and then have it sit in the basement before being sold at a garage sale or craigslist for maybe 10% of what was paid for it. Bikes are very much, for the average person, fitness equipment. It is not hard to stumble across lightly used bikes that people are happy to see go, and the prices reflect that.

exercisebikeGet so much more for your money! My story should illustrate this well. Sure it was nice to have something shiny and new, but  a few months of riding in the rain do you think it really made much of a difference? Stopping in at bike shops and looking at the latest and greatest (and how much they want for it) can be quite fun. It is astounding how much buying a new bike costs these days.

Customization! Buying new also assumes that you want to buy exactly what is for sale. Parts evolve and so do frames. Do you think that top of the line race bike built in the 70’s or 80’s is that much heavier or poorly built that that mid to low range bike you bought fresh off the bike showroom floor? Maybe you don’t like the ride feel of steel, aluminum, titanium, or carbon? So don’t ride it. I was surprised to find that many of the entry level road bikes sold today are almost all aluminum. I personally prefer steel to aluminum so rather than pay a premium for modern steel, why not get something with some character and a little age?

76-international

international-005

Here is a personal favorite of mine. The Raleigh International is a wonderful touring bike made in the late 60’s all the way up until the late 1970’s. I find the ride quality and geometry of this bike to be wonderful (I own a 1974). On the left is the original bike out of the catalog. One the right is a customization that I found on another blog (https://veloapocalypse.wordpress.com). Looks like the parts were modernized, and a more relaxed ride was created with more upright handlebars and stem. Bar-end shifters replace the down tube shifters the bike was originally equipped with.

As an aside, As of 2011, Raleigh is making the International again! The cost? A cold $3990…

After writing all of this out I concede that it can all be daunting for someone that is looking to get a bike for the first time. There is so much to choose from and short of spending lots of time testing everything, it is hard to know what to do. Take heart! There are many resources out there that can answer these questions, myself included!

What is the biggest hurdle to you buying a bike (assuming you are thinking about it)?

What are any concerns you have about buying a used bike vs. a new bike?