Author Topic: Recommendations for gearing  (Read 6505 times)

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Offline fedinspector

Recommendations for gearing
« on: February 24, 2018, 12:51:17 am »
Hello everyone,
I have a Novara Safari 2016 model from REI. Love the bike except for me, the gearing isn't the easiest for. The bike rides fine and pedals well on the flats and down hill. The issue comes in on the hills. It just feels like i could use some lower gears. I have a mountain bike with mountain bike gearing that is great on the hills. I am relatively new to this sport and i know there are tons of riders here with plenty of experience that might be able to steer me in the right direction. I am a heavy rider at 240 pounds so when the bike is loaded up for bear, with my weight and gear it's pretty heavy. Hence the hills give me trouble. I understand this bike was probably designed by REI for a 170 pound rider but that's not my world. I wish it was and am working on that. Here is the specs on the Novara Safari. Crankset is Shimano 48/36/26, - Bottom bracket Shimano Octalink, - Front derailleur - Shimano Deore, Rear Derailleur - Shimano Deore Shadow, Rear Cogs - Shimano HG4009, 11-34, 9 speed. 27 gears, Chain is Shimano Deore. Can anybody give me some tips on how to get lower gearing without changing out the entire drive train and breaking the bank?

Offline Nyimbo

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2018, 02:02:17 am »
I'm not the most knowledgeable gear person around these forums, but I'll go ahead and start the comments. 

I have a Novara Randonee which came with 48-36-22 and 11/32 on the rear.  When fully loaded it wasn't quite enough for me on the 6% or + grades.  I swapped out the cassette for a 11/36.  I tried to buy a 11/34 cassette at the time but couldn't find one so got the 11/36.
I used the 22-34 combination the most on the steep hills and was fine.  I rarely used the 36 tooth cassette as it seemed too slow to keep moving well. 

If I couldn't ride the hill with 22/34 combination I would just get off the bike and push it up the last bit.  Actually on the second half of the cross country when I was in much better shape I didn't have to push -- well maybe once.  8)   Anyway, it's likely all you would need to do it swap the inner front ring from 26 to 22 and you will be ready to go.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2018, 08:50:48 am »
How low you need to go depends a lot on where you ride and how much you carry.  Also individual riders vary in gearing preferences.

The easiest change would be to put on the smallest ring that your crank will accommodate.  That would most likely be a 24 or a 22.  Doing more gets to be more expensive and more trouble.

Personally, I think folks tend to go a little overboard with the low gearing, but it is a personal preference thing.   I rode the Trans America with exactly that gearing and found it okay but in the Appalachians there were a few days where I would have used a bit lower gear if I had one.  My two companions had the same gearing but swapped out the 26 for a 24 (the smallest that would fit on the crank we all were using).  Back then we were packing in typical touring fashion with loads ranging from 30-50 pounds.  Neither of them ever complained about their gearing and continued to use it on subsequent trips.  I did put a 24 on mine, but don't feel it was a critical upgrade.

I later used that same setup with a moderately light load and did at least one tour (Kansas City to Santa Fe) without ever shifting to the little ring.

Since then I started packing lighter each trip to the point where I started using a lighter road bike and packing ultralight.  As the load got lighter I needed less and less low gearing to the point where my gear was 14 pounds and I didn't need very low gears (a 26T ring with a 28T cog was sufficient).  That allowed very light camping and cooking gear to be comfortably hauled.  I had 39/26 and a 12-28 with that setup for the Southern Tier and found it worked just fine for me.

That may or may not work for you.  You probably need some trial and error to work out what you personally need.

Offline dkoloko

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2018, 10:45:48 am »
The suggestion you swap 26T chainring for 24 is reasonable. Switching cassette for one with a low of 36T may be something you may or may not be willing to pay for. (I'd look for 12-36, rather than 11-36.) With either or both changes you may not get the benefit you think. Lower gears than these changes would require considerable expense.

Offline fedinspector

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2018, 12:14:45 pm »
All, Thank you for your thoughtful responses. It is becoming obvious to me that this will be a process for me. Accelerate my riding schedule and distance while training. Drop some pounds off of ME and my gear. My wife backpacked from Mexico to Canada and she is all about ultra light. I could learn something from her. The changes you all suggested are wonderful for a start and cost is certainly a huge factor as I'm not made of money. There is so much hands on knowledge in this forum, i feel as if i found a gold mine of information. Thanks again.

Offline misterflask

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2018, 12:34:59 pm »
Using the arcane system of gear inches may help you get to the setup you want.  Gear inches are calculated by front sprocket / back sprocket * tire diameter in inches.

At the low end I run a 24front and 32rear and my 700x35 tires are about 27.5" diameter, yielding 20.6 gear inches.  I imagine that opinions differ, but I would say something around 20 inches for your low gear is a good credible setup for a touring bike.  Your current setup is about 21".  If you make the suggested swap to a 24 chainring that puts you at 19.4".  Swapping to a 22 puts you at 17.8".

Carrying the arithmetic a step further, at a 60rpm cadence, your current setup will climb at a brisk 3.75mph.  If you get the gearing down to that 17.8" you will climb at a more leisurely but steady 3.2mph at 60 cadence.  I've heard the argument that you can walk that speed, but I don't see strolling that clip on a steep uphill with the additional 10lbs of force it will take to keep your bike moving. 

Changing gears here (ha, ha), if you have an M592 Deore Shadow, Shimano rates it for a maximum front difference of 22teeth and a total difference of 45teeth.  If you follow their guidelines, you are at spec for the front (48-26=22) and for the entire system ( (48-26)+(34-11)=45 ).  It would surprise me if you can't cheat on the tooth count a little and I'll let someone else weigh in on that.  Digging into the Shimano table further (, I see only the RD-M8000-SGS is rated for more total capacity at 47teeth, so your deraileur is no wimp on this front.

I used the setup described (20.6") on the TA and started with a weight close to yours.  I didn't use the absolute bottom gears except for a handful of steep climbs in Missouri and appalachia.  Wouldn't have minded another gear-inch lower for those.

Offline fedinspector

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2018, 03:35:57 pm »
Thank you for the information! I was able to find a 22 tooth front chainring 4 bolt 64mm for $7.19. I am going to go with that as the most economical way to move forward and see what happens. I am not sure what that will do to my chain with regards to shifting. Its amazing to me how you can figure all that out from the numbers I gave you. I have to learn that!! Thank you for taking the time to figure all that out for me. I have learned that if you don't figure out stuff before you leave, it will figure out for you and usually in a place that's not the best or how you were hoping.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2018, 05:37:03 pm »
I rode the TransAm a bit heavier than you, on a Randonee with a 26/34 low gear (20.6 gear inches).  I had to walk a fair bit in the Appalachians and the Ozarks; the Rockies I rode up all the hills, but walked a while into a 55 mph headwind.  (My daughter kept pedaling and got about 100 yards ahead of me after 10 minutes!)

I could have gone to a lower gear, 24 or 22 chainring.  But I don't think that would have let me pedal up all those hills, often exceeding 15%.  In addition, particularly at the beginning of the trip, I was not particularly skilled at pedaling low gears on a loaded bike.  That's a skill that takes a while to develop - you're not traveling fast enough for a minor wheel turn to catch you, and you have to learn to (a) stay balanced while pedaling like a circus clown, and (b) make some wild turns when you're riding at 3.5 mph or less.  You can almost walk that fast, although the pedals will bark your shins.

Don't be afraid of walking.  Do wear MTB shoes with thick lugs that can wear a bit.  Enjoy the trip - isn't that what it's all about?

Offline RonK

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2018, 06:22:00 pm »
10 years ago my first tour was on a Surly LHT, which had a 26t inner ring as original equipment. It just happened to be a very hilly route, and it was struggle on some of the climbs even on the lowest 26x32 combination.

After that tour I converted the bike to a 22t inner ring and 11-36 cassette. And have used that combination on the touring bikes I've owned since. I don't find it difficult to keep the bike balanced, and I rarely have to walk now.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2018, 06:23:43 pm by RonK »
Cycle touring blog and tour journals: whispering wheels...

Offline fedinspector

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2018, 07:24:22 pm »
Thanks Pat and Ron,
Thanks for the encouragement! Its nice to know others have had to deal with similar issues. Not to say that misery loves company. Its good to know there's progress. I'm learning that at starting a new sport at 65 years old can sometimes be discouraging because my brain thinks I'm 40 but my body soon brings me to reality. This is a process and I have learned much through this thread. Mostly, I'm learning, Just get it done + deal with the issues as they come up + enjoy the ride = experiences.

Offline Goodaches

Re: Recommendations for gearing
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2018, 11:33:14 pm »
Most of the discussion thread appeared to miss the significance of wheel size. MisterFlask brought up gear inches which is really the only way you can make comparisons among bikes. A 28T chainring going to a 34T sprocket will yield less hill climbing power on a larger wheel than it will on a smaller wheel. It has taken a couple of years for the drivetrains to catch up with the idea that mere mortals want to go bikepacking on larger wheels. For 2018 models I noticed that some are now providing low gear at something at or under 20 gear inches. In 2016 and 2017 I saw a lot of bikes that looked in photos like ideal off road bikepacking rigs but the specs revealed lowest gear around 23 gear inches (they don't tell you that, you have to do the math that MisterFlask mentioned).
In my case I carry most of the load so that my very petite wife and I can go about the same speed for the same range every day. So I'm pulling a BoB Ibex with about 80% of the load for two people. If I don't have a low gear under 18" I can get stuck pushing the whole rig up too many ridable hills. And it's not only about my conditioning - there's is an obvious difference for the bike between me spinning up a hill or me flexing the heck out of the frame and cranks to mash my way up.
For reference, I won't suggest a low gear any less than 17 gear inches. Any lower than that and you can push the bike faster than you can pedal it. For loaded touring I see no problem giving up a top end gear to get better low end choices. I find that if I can go over 20 mph chances are I'm in a situation where gravity is providing all the power I need. So if I'm over revving with a top gear of 90 or so gear inches that's OK, I don't need that 110 gear inches because my bigger concern is rapidly becoming how am I going to keep me, my bike, and loaded trailer under 30 mph without smoking off my brake pads.