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I'm a fairly inexperienced (and out of shape) rider who has recently moved to Seattle, a very hilly area. I used to ride a Fuji Traverse (hybrid) in my original hometown, Tallahassee (which also has some hills). The Traverse had a triple chainring, and I found myself using the granny gear a lot on hills. In fact, I'd even sometimes switch down to the big climbing ring in the rear on steeper hills. (Edit: Checking my Strava, it looks like these grades were 7-8% on average.)

I'm buying a new bike now that I'm here in Seattle, as I didn't bring the original with me. I'm looking at entry-level road bikes, but these bikes tend to have double-chainrings. I am aware that triple chainrings usually have gear ratios allowing for an easier time with hills.

Should an inexperienced rider facing hilly terrain buy a bike with a double chainring, or should they always stick with a triple?

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    Triples are considered uncool by the modern cyclist. A double with a compact chainset, a wide ranging cassette, and an appropriate long or medium cage mech can equal the ratios of a triple. A 34 tooth front small chainring paired with a 12-32 tooth cassette will approach the 1:1 ratio offered by a triple with a 26 tooth small and a 11-26 cassette. – Criggie Mar 21 '17 at 4:34
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    @mattnz Yeah, I read that before I posted this. I felt like the answers there were based more on "how it looked" than the functionality for a rider. – jedd.ahyoung Mar 21 '17 at 14:56
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    @Criggie in all fairness its not all about perceived coolness factor, triple front derailleurs are more fiddly to set up and to use, plus you tend to need to shift the front derailleur more due to the chain line constraint. The only problem with double compact is that many need a sub-compact gearing, but the recent trend of large rear cassettes and additional speeds (reduced jumps between gears) has largely solved this. – Rider_X Mar 21 '17 at 15:58
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    @Rider_X yeah - I love the low gears possible on a triple. The similar ranges are only more recently available due to the trifecta of modern compact doubles, and large cassettes paired with the right derailleur. These haven't really appeared in the bargain second hand market yet! – Criggie Mar 21 '17 at 20:09
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    Just FYI - I picked an old Raleigh MTB out of the junk pile at the local bike coop, and its got a quad chainring with 26/32/40/48 teeth. So pair that with a large "megarange" cassette and a 34 tooth gear will return a pedal to wheel ratio of 76%. Then again I'm building a hill climbing bike for road gradients of over 30% – Criggie Apr 30 '17 at 5:48
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I went to college in Seattle and love the town. Very bicycle friendly town. It does have ups and downs but the bike paths are pretty flat. If you you live on one of the hills then yes you may have a short steep section.

As cassettes have gotten bigger (9+) you can get a pretty big range so triple is less common. Get a compact up front so you can use a 34T for the smaller. The 8 speed cassette bike you are looking at is 32T so you are pretty close to 1:1 which is a strong climber. With a 9 speed you can get a 34 with the same spacing for a 1:1. But a 9 speed will be a jump in price.

As an inexperienced rider with stop and go type traffic of a big city a hybrid or city type bike might be a better choice over a pure road bike.

  • For the record, this is what I'm considering: jamisbikes.com/usa/renegadeexile.html. I believe this is a road-style hybrid. – jedd.ahyoung Mar 21 '17 at 14:57
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    It is a cyclocoss style bike. I think they make good city bikes. – paparazzo Mar 21 '17 at 15:15
  • The 34 front - 32 back is a very easy , powerful gearing, don't think you need to be very strong to tackle short 10% sections with this, even steeper, but it will be slow of course. With hills there was that saying of I prefer to suffer a bit more but less time... – gaurwraith Mar 21 '17 at 15:32
  • why the downvotes?? – Aron Apr 12 '17 at 19:13
  • @Aron I don' know. I do know if you complain about down votes you just tend to get more down votes. All the answers have down votes and yet the question has up votes. Strange. – paparazzo Apr 12 '17 at 19:29
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I've got 2 bikes with triples. My old cannondale st500 has a 48,44,30 front and 13,15,18,21,26,32 rear. (My other triple bike has 52,45,34 with 13,15,18,21,26,30)

Note the low is front 30, rear 32 which gives less than 1:1. I find that I use all the gears depending on the situation. I often will drop down to the 30 front when approaching or on hills. Contrary to popular opinion I do often use the extreme chain angle combo of 30:13 along with all the others. Often this is best for convenient shifting. IMO, if you have the gear ratio which works with your fitness level and terrain it doesn't matter if your front is single, double, triple or even the weird quad! I also opine that many of us are better off with compact style cranks which give a "lower" highest couple of gears but slightly tighter ratios overall. The advantage to that is that it's easier to keep a high cadence going over wider range of fitness and terrain. Current best practices are leaning toward higher cadences (vs mashing bigger gears) and tighter ratios, witch smaller gears encourage.

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As I do not know what your exact original set-up was, I suggest you play around with the following tool. There you can compare your old set-up to the potential new one.

But if the set-up is the same as that one this one, i.e. 48/38/28T chainrings and 14-34T cassette, then you should definitely get the granny set-up (if you face similar terrain as before).

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    This is not a great answer, it relies too much on the link. Please explain what the tool does and how it helps the op make a decision. – mattnz Apr 5 '17 at 1:46
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I would concur, triple chain rings are really not useful. My rule is that riding is effort. The watts you can sustain to "go along" are about the same, no matter what conditions. The difference is the ease in which you turn the pedals. However, this nonetheless creates a trade off. To keep the rpms up also takes effort. The easier you make it to spin, then the higher the rpms you need to keep moving. So there is a trade, but the bottom line is effort. The difference is in the variety of hills you can go up. You can go up a bigger variety of hills with a bigger variety of gears. But, as I said above, you still need effort. So a steep hill may be beyond your effort, so even with a more favorable chain ring, you may still not be able to take it. If you are avoiding those huge hills in favor of routes with more reasonable and realistic hills, then you have reduced the variety and likewise the need for a bigger range of gears.

To really enjoy riding longer distances go DI2, because it will make shifting more enjoyable and you will use more of the gears you have rather than avoiding shifting as is a common mistake for occasional riders.

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    -1 because DI2 is not found on an "entry level road bike" and asking the inexperienced to spend big money on an expensive road bike is a huge barrier to entry. – Criggie Apr 4 '17 at 2:24
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    Welcome to SE - please don't take the downvote personally, that's how we show disagreement with the answer and not the answerer. Have a browse through the tour to learn how SE is different to most sites; here its all about the question and its answers. So answers have to answer the question as well as possible. – Criggie Apr 4 '17 at 2:25
  • Any well-maintained derailleur will shift gears well enough that you can shift as often as you want to. Honestly, I find the idea of shifting being "enjoyable" to be kind of bizarre: can't say I've ever been out riding my bike and thought, "Oooh, I'll just change gears a few times because it's so much fun!" – David Richerby Apr 6 '17 at 23:21

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