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If you look at a 10-12 speed bicycle from the days before indexed gears you have a 27"/700c wheel with a 42/52 chainset and a 14-28 freewheel. At the time such a setup was standard for High Street bicycles.

Nowadays your affordable bicycle has 24-30 speeds. Typically you get a 26" or 700c wheel with a 44/32/22 triple chainset and 8-10 gears on the back with a range going from 13 to 32. Put it into the smallest gear and pedal at a reasonable cadence and you get to travel at slower than walking speed. Push it into the big gear and you are a long way short of the 52/14 gear of granddad's bike.

Clearly technology has advanced and you can have lots more gears across a bigger range. However, has there been a trend with affordable 'High Street' bikes towards lower and lower gears?

Have we collectively learned to pedal quicker?

Have market forces resulted in 'easier' gearing?

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I think you're comparing different things. The commuter bike of todays has the gears you describe, then in grandad's day it might have had as many as three gears (probably in the hub). –  Мסž Jun 9 '11 at 23:12
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The current Road (racing) bicycle uses as standard a 53/39 front, and between 11/21 and 11/28 as a rear cassette. The climbing gears have definitely gained more range, but the top gear's speed has increased rather than decreased. –  zenbike Jun 20 '11 at 12:58
    
Bicycle gearing has become easier to customize endlessly since the 1970's with the introduction of cassette systems, and standardization of dimensions among vendors, etc. –  Kaz Sep 26 '13 at 1:04
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I will say this as one who's been riding since the mid-70s (riding seriously, that is...)...

Roadsters of that vintage tended to have gearsets that we would generally think of now as meant for racing. Maybe a 24-tooth low cog.
I've often said that riders back then must have on average been manlier men or a lot smaller.... Now, low cogs running from 28 to 32 teeth are common, and on a lot of lower-end bikes you see the "extended range" gearset which features a low cog much larger than the rest.

I think this is largely because the cycling public is now on average both older and heavier, and us older, bigger guys need low gears....

You can still get 11-24 cassettes, of course, just depends on how sturdy your "motor" is and where you're riding. Few will be able to flog such a gearset up an Alp.

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Again, this a misleading answer. Yes, on a hybrid or a mountain bike gearing has become "easier" when compared to a racing bike, even from the seventies. However, that is like comparing a rock crawler's Jeep from today to an Italian racing machine from the seventies. Yes the gearing is different. But so is the purpose of the machine. Compare today's F1 Ferrari to the 's F1 Ferrari, and who's going to win the day? –  zenbike Jun 20 '11 at 13:01
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I think gearing has become more "complex" over the last few decades, but I wouldn't say its become "easier." Material weight of the frame and parts have gone down on affordable bikes, which translates directly into a lighter bike under the average rider. Also, There are a number of people who believe that a higher cadence isn't a bad thing:

http://coachlevi.com/cycling/high-vs-low-cadence-pedaling-speed/

Also, most mid-level road bikes have a large cog of 52/53 and the rear cassette will go down to 12. so thats pretty close to your granddad's ratio!

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Thanks for this. –  zenbike Jun 20 '11 at 13:02
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