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My mountain bike is too difficult to pedal when the going gets steep. I need an easier gear ratio. Am I better off switching the chainring or the cassette?

I currently have:

  • A 30 tooth FSA chainring. A 28 tooth ring is available that would fit my crankset. See other question.

  • A Shimano 10 Speed 11-36 Tooth Cassette. I haven't figured out the compatibility yet, but Sunrace makes several 11-42 cassettes. They are around ~$80 (CAD) but may require special derailer hangers.

What would be the effect of choosing either of these options?

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    That's a phenomenally low gearing, 30/36 is 27 gear inches which should be enough to ride up 20% grades continuously, or to burst up steeper banks. Are you trying to ride long steep offroad climbs and finding the undulations kills your forward speed? I think you would derive greater benefit from developing your technique, getting your weight off the saddle and further forward, and working on moving the bike around more. Very hard to make suggestions if we've not ridden together. – Criggie Jul 6 '17 at 11:40
  • How did you get on over the past couple years? What did you do with the bike, and how did it work for you? Feel free to add your own answer and accept it. – Criggie Nov 1 '19 at 23:42
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10 speed with a 42 really needs a Rad-Cage or Wolftooth Goatlink. It's a dogs breakfast, starts out smelling dodgy, and ends up smelling even worse. Some have succeeded, but many have found the conversions finicky and less than ideal. It had its day when the only 1x was XTR or equivalent, and people accepted Acera performance from 'upgraded' XT. Not sure if those third party bits fit the Deore deraileur you have though. You could try an 42 with the Deore, but you can run into problems with lack of chain wrap and getting onto the 42 tooth cog - if it works, expect pretty crappy shifting onto the top cog.

This leaves the 28 chain ring - a good option if you don't mind loosing a bit of top end speed. Its cheap and easy to install, but only gives a little advantage over 30.

IMHO The best option by far, is upgrade to an 1x11. You need is a cassette, derailleur and shiftier and chain, so not cheap. It gives you option of a 46 cassette, and will work properly. If you cannot afford this, go for the 28 chain ring, keep the 30 tooth and save for a 1x11.

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Option #1 - Getting a smaller chainring

It looks like switching from a 30T to a 28 wouldn't make a huge difference. I gain basically 1/2 a smaller gear.

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Option 2: Get a bigger cassette

This gives a more significant effect. You pretty much get an entire extra gear.

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Option 3 - Both

This isn't really a realistic option given how expensive it would be but...

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