I am back to cycling after 7 years absence due to injury and time commitments. When I started 3 months ago I weighed 20kg more (105 kg in total) than when I stopped. My target is to build fitness (100+ miles per week) and lose the weight gradually (1kg per month) both of which I currently reach.

My bike has a standard Shimano 105/5800 groupset with 53/39 chain rings and 11-32 cassette.

In the flats with a little wind from the back I tend to be in the largest gears whilst running at a decent cadence, but as soon as I start climbing more than 3% (and I live in a hilly area) I tend to be on the smallest of gears.

So my real question. Would it make sense for me to switch to the smaller 50/34 chain rings? Or is it more sensible to tough it out for now and expect that both the weight reduction and fitness improvement will get me into a more comfortable position relatively quickly.

  • 1
    If you are using the biggest and smallest now then how is a more narrow range going in the right direction? 50 is going to give you less high and 34 is going to give you less low.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:28
  • 2
    A 50/34 chainset would make your smallest gears bigger (making climbing harder)and your biggest gears smaller (meaning you'd run out of gears on the flat). Realistically, I think 53->12 would be a high enough gear for almost any situation and 32->32 is low enough to climb most hills. As long as you can climb at the moment, I'd stay with what you have. Fitness will give you the best improvement. I use 50/34 with either 11-25 (or 12-27 for longer trips) and it copes with anything I throw at it.
    – Holloway
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:29
  • 1
    There's a good chance your cadence is too low.
    – Batman
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:33
  • 2
    Do you mean you now have a 53/42 ? But in any case if you are in the easiest gear and riding it, that is, you don't have to unmount, it can only improve with time... Only thing would be if you are having some knee problem... If you actually have 53/32 changing to a bigger small front ring doesn't make much sense does it
    – gaurwraith
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:35
  • 5
    I would be surprised if 53/32 exists. It's probably 53/39.
    – Nik
    Jun 12, 2015 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


Using a standard crank with a 700/23 wheel development: 53x11 is 10.1 meters, at 90 rpm is 54.55 kph 53x12 is 9.3 meters, at 90 rpm is 50.05 kph

In comparison, a compact crank with the same wheel: 50x11 is 9.5 meters, at 90 rpm is 51.50kph 50x12 is 8.7 meters, at 90 rpm is 47.15 kph

until you become a pro cyclist and can hold 40+kph average speeds, you don't need a standard crank, pick up a compact and enjoy cycling more. I would pick up a cycle computer that measures cadence and try to teach yourself to ride 80+ and ideally around 90+ rpm for flats, and 80ish for the climbs.

here is a decent article on cadence choices: active.com


If I were in your situation, I would definitely get a compact (50/34) crank. Gaining lower gears for climbing makes some uphills possible and other uphills easier. All you have to give up is maybe some top speed on downhills. You're still able to ride those downhills, only you'll be going 55kph instead of 60kph. Or increase your cadence. In general I come across a lot of people who think they need huge gears because they somehow want to have a really low cadence.

Since you said you're riding for fitness and weight loss, I don't think that top speed is a priority for you -- you're not competing against others in a race. It's much more important that you can handle hills and don't hurt your knees.

My top gear is 46/11 and I never find that to be a limitation. A cadence of 120rpm is quite reasonable for a few minutes (few descents are really long) and 120rpm with a gear of 46/11 is approximately 65kph. With a top gear of 50/11, it's 71kph.

  • Yes, I agree. Somehow the comments under the question got the problem confused. The 34 front ring will give a lower climbing gear and save your knees.
    – andy256
    Jun 13, 2015 at 10:11

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