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I guess you have to have at least a couple of cassettes in your arsenal for different occasions. Can anyone please advise on how to choose a proper cassette depending on a trip. What can influence the decision process of choosing the right cassette for a trip? Road/weather conditions? Forecasted elevation gain (taken from the Strava for example)? Anything else?

By "proper cassette" I mean the appropriate sprockets combination. There are a lot of different combinations from 11t to 32t. So you have cassettes like 11-23 or 13-28 or any other.

Also I have to note that I'm new to road cycling so I don't have my own "style" of riding and this part of equation is totaly irrelevant for me.

Thank you for sharing the experience!

  • Back in the 7 speed days and I lived in foothills of the Cascades I had a second set of wheels with slightly larger tires and wider space gears for mountain work. But with 10 and 11 speed cassette I would not have needed it. – paparazzo Sep 8 '14 at 17:24
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I doubt many people would change cassette based on occasion, but I suppose it is possible - it isn't too onerous a task to swap a cassette out. But certainly I (and I suspect others too) will fit a cassette once and it will stay on the wheel for its lifetime.

I think the key thing with a cassette choice is basically how close (in terms of number of teeth) adjoining sprockets are to each other.

In one of the extreme cases, where each sprocket has one more tooth than the last, this gives a really smooth riding experience. But the flip-side, of course, is that you have only a small range of gears. If you are riding in varied terrain, this can be a problem.

Cassettes with sprockets as large as e.g. 28 are actually quite a recent thing (for road bikes), as technology has improved. These improve the range of the cassette significantly, making climbing easier, for example. The downside is that sometimes there is a 2 or 3 tooth difference between adjacent sockets, and the "changing" experience is not so smooth.

Again in terms of the range of gears, having larger sprockets at the back can also have advantages at the front - for example you may be able to get away with a double chainset whereas a few years ago, you'd have bought a triple.

So essentially, having a large sprocket (28, say) will give you flexibility when climbing. Having a small sprocket (11, say) will give you an advantage when travelling on the flat at speed (sprinting, if you like). Whereas a cassette with a small range will give you a smoother experience when actually changing. How much smoother is open to question, however.

In terms of what cassette a beginner should use, I would say it is dependent on how strong a cyclist you are. If you are less strong, and will be climbing, then it is almost a no-brainer to go for a large-range cassette. Similarly if you're a strong rider, going to ride flat time trials, then it probably makes sense to get a small-range cassette. And unless you are a good, seasoned cyclist, it is unlikely that you will see any advantage of an 11T ring over a 12T ring - frankly you do a very small amount of riding in top gear.

One last point to explicitly address your mention of weather. As far as cassettes go, weather is irrelevant. You'd do other things related to weather (for example drop your tyre pressure in the rain) but you wouldn't change cassette.

  • I probably should also have said that if you're going with an electronic system rather than a manual system, smoothness issues become less important - electronic systems shift so smoothly that I doubt you'd notice. – PeteH Sep 8 '14 at 11:11
  • electronic WHAT?? can you provide me with some examples of that witchcraft? links to read or some such – LoomyBear Sep 8 '14 at 11:12
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    And if you're a hardware hacker there are plans around to build your own for a few hundred. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 8 '14 at 12:21
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    @DanielRHicks I'm waiting for it all to go wireless, then for Team X to hack Team Y's shifters. I have heard that SRAM are experimenting with wireless – PeteH Sep 8 '14 at 12:30
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    I've been thinking lately that with 11 speed cassettes, that it would make sense to have a cassette that's 11-21 (or 11-23), and then have a triple crankset with something like 52-39-30. You would have very fine selection of gears, while having a very wide range of gears. I kind of think that doubles and compacts are optimized for the pros, where they will be changing cassettes and chainrings based on the conditions, but aren't great for the recreational rider who is always going to be using the same equipment. I think the added weight can easily be offset by the increase in efficiency. – Kibbee Sep 8 '14 at 13:32

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