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At the cafe stop on my local Saturday ride a few of the guys we chatting and one guy asked an other if he was riding a compact drivetrain. The other guy objected loudly and they then joked with other members of the group suggesting they were riding compacts.

Why would the notion of riding a compact drivetrain attract such a response?

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up vote 28 down vote accepted

While Machismo answers the question asked, the reason why there is that reaction is mainly a lack of understanding about how and why compact cranks exist.

Obviously, you can look at it and say to give us better climbing (easy) gears. But what many people miss is the rear ratio changes.

The race standard for many years was 53/12. That is, the hardest gear, made up of the largest tooth count in the front, and the smallest in the back, was a 53 tooth front chain ring paired with a 12 tooth rear cog.

A few years back, Shimano started making an 11 tooth rear cog. It was originally intended for pro racers and time trialists.

Somebody got out the calculator, and realized that with that 11 tooth rear cog now available, you could decrease the size of the front rings, and get the same gear ratio, or slightly faster. That decreased front ring size allowed better climbing ratios when paired with the large cogs on the cassette, but also maintained the high gear speed racers are used to.

Someone riding a properly setup compact crank, actually is pushing a harder, faster gear than the 53/12 "standard". That said, if you pair a 53 with the 11 tooth, it will be faster yet, but not often do you find the legs to push that combo.

I've included gear inch charts for both, so that you can see for yourself how it works out. If you are not aware, gear inches are the number of inches of forward motion which a single revolution of a particular gear combination causes the bike to travel.

53/12 Gear chart 50/34 Gear Chart

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Nice. Very thorough. – joelmdev Oct 29 '11 at 16:29

Pedalling with compact cranks is supposed to be easier. So people who take great pride in how strong they are and how fast they can go don't like when you're able to do the same with (apparently) less effort. You can compare to being passed by electric bike while climbing, some people just feel the person on the e-bike doesn't "deserve" to be that fast and it hurts their ego.

It's pretty much a "I'm manlier than you" thing, like "I use brute force to be fast, while you needed to have a mechanical advantage". Add to that the fact humans don't like change and it's in our nature to frown upon new things trying to go against old "standards".

The blog Why not tri? has a nice little article about Compact vs Standard.

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especially funny when any runner could look at the manliest cyclist and call them a wuss for needing wheels instead of sneakers. And then the barefoot runner comes and laughs at them all... – Peter Recore Oct 28 '11 at 23:10
Then comes along the guy on the fixie, and wonders what all the gears are about. I would think that using a compact would be more difficult because there just aren't as many gears. I actually saw a bike that only had 1 front chainring, and a bunch of gears on the back. Made a lot of sense to me. I only ever use 3 or so gears most of the time, and I think I could leave the chain on the biggest ring all the time. – Kibbee Oct 29 '11 at 1:33


Compacts came about to alleviate the high gearing of a standard crankset's gearing without inheriting the troubles that come with a triple. Compacts are naturally geared lower than standards. Some people (incorrectly) see lower gearing as a sign of weakness. Some of those same people will serpentine their way up high grade mountain roads because they thought they could push standard gearing but can't. Which gearing you go with is purely a matter of overall strength and riding style. Neither one is the wrong decision in the right situation. I've done races before where in the description it has read "compact gearing highly recommended." That's a fair warning to heed.

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Heh, thanks for the added font weight @freiheit – joelmdev Oct 29 '11 at 16:30

I think that compact (lower gears) supposedly would imply the person isn't strong enough to spin higher gears, or actually needs that low gears to be able to climb properly.

In any case, I think most people doesn't even know there is a difference on crank chainring sizes, not to mention they could very well prefer one over another.

I for one ride internal gear hub, and I have one 46t and one 39t chainring. When I feel fit and wanting to speed up, I install the 46t. When I am more lazy, or more feel more tired for a longer period, I install back the 39t.

This scorn stuff, or "weakness" stuff, is all inside people's head, I would say.

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Yep, a combination of maschisimo and most importantly a sad case of "It's not what the pros do". Yes, you'll never see a pro racer on a compact, and rarely one on aluminum wheels at that, but somehow a lot of guys love to hate it. Despite the fact that as the gearing post about mentions, you're rarely even in gears that make a difference in all but an out and out sprint. Funny thing though, show up to a group ride and someone may laugh at a compact, yet show up with cyclocross gearing (like a 46/38) and suddenly you're he-man?

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Insecurity and attitude. As witnessed in answers to this question, the very presence of a compact crank leads to lectures about how pro racers can ever use regular crank and ranting about how regular crank users "serpentine their way up high grade mountain roads because they thought they could push standard gearing but can't." This gets old pretty fast.

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Is there a standard gearing actually? – gaurwraith May 7 '15 at 20:20
In road bikes, "standard" refers to 130mm or 135mm bolt circle and usually 52/39 tooth chainrings. "Compact" refers to 110mm bolt circle and smaller chainrings, usually 50/34 or 50/36. The difference isn't as big as people would think. – ojs May 7 '15 at 20:35
53/39, actually, but otherwise, correct. :-) – zenbike Apr 15 at 18:13
True. I confused with the other "standard", 52/42. By the way, any idea why 53? – ojs Apr 15 at 18:17

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