I'm 59, 5'11", 210,and have had a triple bypass. I moved from the flats to the hills, and I want to ride again, but I can't with the gearing I have now. 50/34 chain ring and an 11 speed 10-25 cassette. These hills are really steep, I'm talking "Climb to Kaiser" steep, and I do not like having to get off my bike and finish walking to the top of the hill. Keeping it a double, what groupset would give me the best range and lowest gears for climbing?

  • 1
    A 10-34 cassette. What can your derailleur handle?
    – paparazzo
    Mar 5, 2015 at 1:38
  • From what I see the Kaiser Pass climb is around 6% to 7%, with sections of 9%, 10%, and 12%. The Big Creek segment has parts that are 15% and 16% Please tell us that you are under medical supervision!
    – andy256
    Mar 5, 2015 at 5:19

6 Answers 6


What parts are you willing to replace?

You can't get smaller than 34 in the front w/o replacing the crankset with some kind of MTB crank. You'll likely need to replace your front derailleur as well, and there are issues with indexed shifting that you'll need to figure out.

You can't get larger than at most 32t in the back w/o replacing the rear derailleur with an MTB version. There are also indexing issues between road/MTB derailleurs. If you get a road extended cage or triple rear derailluer, you can probably make an MTB 11-32 cluster work with your current shifters.

However, in the long run it's probably cheaper just to get a triple chainring on the front. You'll have a much easier time getting the gears that work for you.

  • Why do you say 50/34 is the smallest. On my CX I have 46/34.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 5, 2015 at 17:52
  • In the context of the question, only the size of the inner ring matters. And in theory you can get a 33t TA ring, but finding one is very difficult. Mar 5, 2015 at 18:22
  • 1
    I disagree it is out of context. If they don't have derailleur capacity then a 46/36 10/32 might work and a 50/36 10/32 does not.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 5, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1
    +1: Was not aware of indexing issues between road and MTB.
    – mattnz
    Mar 5, 2015 at 20:05
  • I think 9spd stuff will just work for shimano, but 10spd and up have different pull ratios for MTB/Road. I can't remember what the story is for SRAM. One advantage of electric shifting is that all these indexing issues MIGHT go away. Mar 5, 2015 at 21:35

At some point it becomes quicker to push a bike up the hill than ride. Don't let ego override common sense. However, in your specific case where its a hilly circuit, a lower gear makes a lot of sense and will help you build fitness and climbing strength (and save your knees). If at some stage the lower gear is no longer needed, you can always go back to you original gear set, or a set between them.

What you can fit is limited by you dérailleur which has a maximum capacity (Difference in number of teeth from Big Big to Small-Small gears). Typically road bikes will have a short or medium cage - anything from 30 to 37 tooth capacity. We know you have at capacity of at least 31. (50-34) + (25-10)

A new cassette with a larger big cog is readily available - up to the insane range of 10-42. In your case good size to look at would be 11-32 - as its a very common size available at all price points and a big enough range to make a difference. This would need a dérailleur with a capacity of 37. A 11-29 might work as well, won't give quite as lower gear but needs a capacity of only 34, so may fit you existing dérailleur.

You could, go to a single on the front (50) and 10-42 on the back using your existing dérailleur (Roughly same as 34F/29R), or drop to a smaller chain ring for lower gearing. Going single will sacrifice top speed if you drop the chain ring size and have the change in gearing increased between cogs.

Have a look at Sheldon Browns gear calculator to help decide what you need.

  • Just because the same tooth count is possible doesn't mean that his rear derailleur can take a 42T cassette. Pretty sure the max for current generation is 32T so he'd need a new rear mech (mtb) to run a big cassette.
    – atlaz
    Oct 22, 2016 at 6:53

I had the same issue. I think you can try with ultegra 11spd with 11-32t. After changing mine to that, I can climb hills without too much trouble.

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I've thought of a different way to approach this problem.

Use an online bike power calculator to get some idea of the wattage you can sustain.


It would be best to do this for a climb that you can do with your current gears and that you know the stats for.

Now put in the stats for the kind of grades you want to climb, and in my experience the maximum sustained grade is the limiting factor. It only takes a hundred meters or so of 18% grade to completely blow up.

You'll get an average speed out of the available power. Now that you know the speed you'll be going, you need to find a gear that is as efficient as possible at that speed.

Go to a handy gear calculator and put in your current gears and see what rpm you would need to ride to match the speed calcutated above.


If the calculator says that you need to ride at 30 rpm or less for the gear you have, thats near the point where the bicycle will be unrideable. IMHO, 60 rpm would be a good place for the average cyclist.

Play around with these two calculators to get some idea of what gears would actually work for you. This kind of approach will save a lot of fiddling around and if you need to make a big change in components, you'll know that at the start.

  • This does not address the stated question of "Keeping it a double, what groupset would give me the best range and lowest gears for climbing?" OP is walking on 10-25.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 9, 2015 at 21:24
  • But it might convince him that he just needs to bite the bullet and get a triple. Mar 9, 2015 at 22:11
  • OK but you kind of beating a dead horse here. OP has not been back since posting the question.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 9, 2015 at 23:54
  • @Blam It's Fred's answer, he can take whatever approach he thinks appropriate. Answers are for all future readers, not just the OP. It's sensible to work from known power output to what-gearing-do-I-need. An important input is missing though: the actual gradient.
    – andy256
    Mar 10, 2015 at 4:52

If your frame and bottom bracket allow it, you could install a mountain bike crank with 42/28 chainrings (maybe Shimano XT). Combined with an 11/32 cassette, that would make climbing really easy.

For the last 3 years, my only bike has been a 29er MTB with a 2x10 drive train and a top gear of 36-11. That's enough for me even on road rides, even when riding in a group where everyone else is on road bikes. (I use slick tires for those rides). I can pedal up to 25 mph and rarely even use the top gear. I love it on 15% grades where everyone else struggles and I'm calmly spinning the 22t chainring.

  • Essentially, what you are saying is swap your cranks and chainrings to MTB ones. (essentially, go cyclocoross on it). Something else to look at is the hybrid bike setups. Putting in a low-cost square-taper BB and a square-taper MTB or hybrid crankset is probably a good route forward. MTB trips can be had around 22/30/40... but the OP may want to swap to a MTB/CX groupset. Shimano's LX set is what tourers' use, and that's where we'll find the tandem and low-gear components they need too--Don't forget to check out all the 29'r stuff!
    – david1024
    Oct 19, 2016 at 13:42

I faced a similar problem last year. I live near the Alps and frequently (although not as frequently as I'd like) go up climbs like La Barillette (1000m @ 8%).

I ended up getting a 34-50 compact crank and an 11-32 cassette. 34-32 makes it possible to climb most hills without standing up, but I must admit that I spend more time in the lowest gear than I would like.

Do you have any good reason not to get a triple? (I can't honestly say that I did...)

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