Good news! Unless you are attempting an epic climb at a 15% incline, there is (probably…) nothing wrong with you.
Sound like good news? IT IS! If you feel like everyone else can climb hills but you, you may just need a “friendlier” gear ratio for your fitness and strength.
What the hell is a gear ratio?
Put simply, it’s the gear range you achieve through the combination of your cassette (the ones at the back) and the chainrings (the ones at the front). As you know, when you are riding along on the flat, you can click up and down the gears to make things easier or more difficult to pedal depending on the terrain.
When you are climbing, you are mostly restricted to the ‘easy’ gears – larger cogs at the back and the smaller at the front. But what happens when you run out of gears and you simply can’t push any harder?
Option 1: Swap out your cranks for semi-compact or compact cranks.
Have you ever heard of people saying “I have a 50-34” or other similar seemingly random pairing of numbers? They are referring to the number of teeth on their chainring. (These configurations can also be used to describe the number of teeth on the rear cassette. For example, a 12-25 would be referring to a cassette on which the smallest cog has 12 teeth and the largest has 25.)
Bikes, like anything else, come with a ‘standard’ configuration of components. With the exception of some new women’s road bikes), a standard crankset is, well, standard. What the hell does this mean? Let’s investigate.
- A Standard Crankset is traditionally 53-39. 53 teeth in the larger cog and 39 teeth in the smallest.
- A Semi-Compact Crankset is: 52-36. 52 teeth in the larger and 36 in the smaller.
- A Fully Compact Crankset is: 50-34. 50 teeth in the larger and 34 in the smaller.
Remember that the size of the SMALLER chainring at the front gives you ‘easier’ hill gears. You can see that the smallest gear is much smaller in the compact and semi-compact as compared with the standard.
In this example, take a look at the size difference of the smaller cog. Having 5 fewer ‘teeth’ is where it’s at!
NB: Mountain bikers consider gear ratio differently to roadies because they change gear more often with the changing terrain.
Option 2: Swap out your rear cassette for one with a larger range
This is a great option if you prefer to keep a standard crankset on the front OR you could use it as an additional measure if you have switched to a compact crankset but still don’t have the oomph to climb (or perhaps you’re recovering from injury, getting back into riding after pregnancy or a long absence etc).
Your rear cassette is traditionally a 12-25 (12 teeth in the smallest and 25 in the biggest). Remember at the back, your larger gears represent the ‘easier’ ones for climbing. If you want more ‘spinny’ gears, you can actually go up to a 12-32 which gives you an extra 7 ‘teeth’ which you will definitely feel make a difference.