I have a road bike with a 52/36 crankset. I make it a point to never use the easy gear because I think that it gives me a better workout when climbing hills. Another reason I don't use it is because the chain rubs on the front derailleur when going from the 36 on the front to the 12 on the back.

Is my theory of getting a better workout correct? Is there any good reason for me to not do this other than putting more wear on the gear?

There is only about 3 hills in my daily commute where I sometimes want to downshift into the easy gear.

  • 4
    What are your goals? That makes a difference in what constitutes a "good" workout. Are you looking for massive thighs, better aerobic fitness, or just plain being faster? All of these can be accomplished in somewhat different ways.
    – jimchristie
    May 14, 2013 at 18:50
  • 4
    I can think of two "better workouts" your approach will give (some what delayed - in 10 to 30 years). 1) Your Orthopedic Surgeon "fine motor control" emptying your wallet. and 2) Your Orthopedic Surgeon "Gross Motor Control" installing the prosthetic knee (Watch how they do it). Unfortunately, you don't benefit from either. Use your small chain ring.
    – mattnz
    May 15, 2013 at 1:06

4 Answers 4


It is not necessarily "good" for your workout. If you drop into the 'easy' gear, you obviously have to pedal faster to maintain your speed. Going at a slower cadence in a higher gear will just trash your knees after awhile.

Select the gear that yields a similar cadence as when you are riding on the flats, while maintaining a similar energy expenditure.

Your chain rubbing problems should be solved by adjusting your derailuer and properly maintaining your bike.

  • the bike shop people told me that my bottom bracket is too wide/long which causes the rubbing, so i was trying to avoid the rubbing without rubbing a hole in my wallet ;)
    – mkoryak
    May 14, 2013 at 19:34

It sounds like you're going for cross chaining when doing the 36/12 combo (Small in front and small in back) which is generally a really bad idea and should be avoided. Also big in front and big in back.

As for the getting a better workout, you are definitely having to put more force into the pedals with keeping it in the big ring, but depending on how big the hills are, shifting down into an easier gear wouldn't hurt. Generally for me if the hills are above 5% or 6% I will shift down into the small ring and shift down in the back to keep me spinning ~90 rpm up the hills.


It depends what kind of 'workout' you want. If you want to work your cardiovascular then being in a gear that allows you to maintain a cadence of 90rpm (or comfortable spinning if you don' have a cadence sensor) will be great.

If you want to build some climbing muscles then the big ring is where it's at. I have a hill that is about 5-6% on my way home and I used to ride it in the small ring, I've lately started pushing a little harder to stay in the big ring, and while it's harder work, at a slower cadence it is also great training to concentrate on pedalling in circles and working some other muscles out of the saddle.

Also don't forget the rules, in particular number 90


thanks for inadvertently clearing up my own problem on my bike with what i now know to be cross chaining. I just had my freewheel and chain swapped out and am finding that small/small is causing the chain to rub on the inside face of the big ring. Funnily it isn't a combo i ever use but i just thought it a tad annoying when i noticed it and put it down to replacing a Shimano freewheel with a supposedly compatible Sunrace. Back to the point, at times i like to put more torque into the bike by selecting a slightly stiffer gear whilst on the big ring. It does give me something extra in terms of strength and stamina development on short to intermediate rides but i imagine it ain't a good idea on longer rides where efficiency and endurance are desired. i also imagine that the extra torque will stretch the chain quicker than if you ride more often in a more efficient gear.

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