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Right now, I've got a SRAM 11/26 cassette. I just moved to San Francisco, and some of the climbs out here (e.g., Mt. Tamalpais) are pretty brutal with over an hour of climbing. My cadence over some of the steeper sections towards the top tends to hover around 70, when I'd much rather be up at 80 or 90. I've been considering switching to an 11/28.

The thing stopping me from doing so is wondering if it would be better, training-wise, to grind it out for now until my power and endurance improve, bringing my ability up into the range where a 26t climbing gear is appropriate. I'm afraid if I switch to a 28t, I'll use it as a crutch. Should I stick it out with the 26t until I get stronger?

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Upvoted for thinking about the long term, not many people seem to want to get stronger, just "faster now", almost as if the weekends with their friends is their end point. –  BillyNair Aug 29 '12 at 6:17
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I was in the same situation as you when I bought my racer a year ago. I struggled a lot in the hills, and my cadence would drop below 80 pretty fast. I had the same thought as you, that a bigger gear would only slow me down. I rode it out, and have improved my climb-times alot the last year.

I still ride the lowest gear, but I can manage to keep a high cadence longer, usually 85+ the whole climb. It gets better with time. ;)

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A cadence of 70 RPM while climbing is not unusually low, so switching to a lower gear may just encourage you to slow down instead of making you more efficient. But the only way to know for sure is to try it and measure the difference.

There isn't necessarily a right cadence. The article Technique - Pedal like a pro reports that seven pro cyclists (a small sample, I know) dropped their cadence from 80-100 RPM on the flats to 60-80 RPM on a 5% grade. Although Lance Armstrong is famous for climbing at 100+ RPM, this does not seem to be common.

I personally do better when I climb at around 70 RPM than I do at a higher cadence. The higher cadence just causes me to get out of breath faster. But this is different from person to person.

In the end, there's no harm in trying a different gear and seeing what works best for you.

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I'm typically a high-cadence guy. I spin while in the saddle, typically higher than 80 even while climbing. That said, I'm concerned that while I might be faster now in a lower gear, I'll be sacrificing speed and fitness later. Maybe this is a time to experiment with increasing the force I'm able to exert. Train your weaknesses and race your strengths, right? –  Stephen Touset Aug 27 '12 at 15:03
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Like I said, there's no harm in trying a lower gear if you think there will be an improvement. –  amcnabb Aug 27 '12 at 17:13
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