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I've got a 2011 Specialized Secteur Elite with basic sram apex groupset.

It has the following specs: 10 speed 11-34t cassette SRAM APEX 50/34t chainwheel SRAM APEX Currently running 700c with 25m tires

I am looking to upgrade the groupset to either the ultegra or the 105. A majority of my rides are longer (>30miles) that are relatively flat with a few hills.

I'm 6ft and weigh in about 215lbs right now.

What I am stuck on is the gear combination for my new groupset. I want to be able to go faster for longer. Obvisouly my weight plays a role so I am focusing on slimming down:) but i am currently averaging about 17mph on my rides and I want to aim for >20mph.

Based on all of this, what gear combination should I go for on my new groupset to be able to ride faster for longer? 53/39, 52/36, 50/34, 11-28, 11-30, 11-32, 11-34???

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    For flat ground (presuming not too windy), 50/34 on 11-28 will get you to to over 30mph at 90 RPM cadence, yet let you drop to 7mph at 70rpm if needed. Most "I need higher gear" questions are because the cadence, not the gears, is too low. – mattnz Mar 24 at 4:19
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    Changing to a different gear ratio won’t magically make your legs stronger. – MaplePanda Mar 24 at 5:28
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    Do your knees ache after a long hard ride? If so, you're mashing, and need to increase cadence which will ease pressure on knees. This will help. – Criggie Mar 24 at 9:29
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It's a question about physiology first and hardware second. The people that really are better off with a high gear higher than you have now are some combination of pros and/or low-cadence pedal mashers. Figuring out what cadence is really right for you given adequate conditioning is one of the key questions in cycling, and one that you can read endlessly about.

A closer cassette will give you the benefit of closer intervals between gears. If you don't need the 34 with the terrain you ride, that is all upside. The 50/34 compact, 11-34 cassette setups are good for a certain kind of cyclist and terrain, i.e. casual or beginner road cyclists with major hills or mountains to deal with, but can be serious overkill for other use cases, like rolling terrain and/or a stronger cyclist.

If the Apex group you have is still in good shape and you're finding you don't need gearing as low as you have, there's a lot to recommend just getting an 11-28 or 11-25 cassette rather than completely reinventing the bike, plus a new chain. I'm fairly certain that the WiFli type Apex RDs can handle whatever large cog you want to go down to and not have overly large gap.

A good way to begin to learn how to answer this question for yourself is when you're on your rides, keep track of what gear combination you use to climb the hills you work with, and, on the opposite end, if you find your high gear isn't high enough, what gear combination is that (50/11 for you). Then go home and plug those numbers into a gearing calculator and you will know what your ideal range is. If you need or really want to switch groups, you can let that be your metrics.

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    the opposite end, if you find your high gear isn't high enough, what gear combination is that (50/11 for you) If you're spinning out a 50-11 on a descent, the solution is to stop pedaling and get into an aerodynamic tuck, not to tell yourself you need bigger gears. 50-11 at a mere 100 RPM is already 37 mph/57 kph. At those speeds you'll go faster by getting into the most aerodynamic position possible - without pedaling. – Andrew Henle Mar 24 at 12:01
  • @AndrewHenle How can you know that? If it is a sprint, it does not have to be a descent at all. – Vladimir F Mar 24 at 21:14
  • @VladimirF I just might know a bit about 45-second, 1000W sprints to end a race. And if I can find it, I'll post the link to the ride where I hit 2200W. When you consistently hit 1800W or so, you know when you hit higher so that 2200W was pretty accurate. Oh, those were all done on a compact crankset. Sprinting is about cadence and being able to reach and sustain high RPMs with power, not mashing big gears. 120 RPM on a 50-11 gets you to 43 mph/69 kph. That's more than enough gears for anyone. – Andrew Henle Mar 25 at 9:53
  • @AndrewHenle But you certainly did not win those sprints just in an aero position without pedaling. – Vladimir F Mar 25 at 10:17
  • @VladimirF Go figure out how much power it takes to go 50 mph/80 kph in a descent. Go here bikecalculator.com/veloMetric.html Put in -10% for the grade. On the left side put "drops", on the right side put "aerobars". Drops gives you 75 kph, aerobars 85 kph. Now go to bikecalculator.com/wattsMetric.html and put the speeds and correct bar position in. Note that 75 kph in drops is 1800W and 85 kph on aerobars is 2000W. NFW you will be able to pedal in that situation to go faster - the more aero, the faster, and going faster means you're getting more power from gravity. – Andrew Henle Mar 25 at 20:14
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Great to hear you seeking to go faster!

What you can consider first, is your cadence.
Cadence is critical as is determines what kind of pedalling you do, basically aerobic or anaerobic efforts.

If you are aerobically-inclined, you tend to spin at a higher cadence (probably 90RPM).
If you are anaerobically-inclined, you tend to spin at a lower cadence (probably 70RPM).
*anecdotal statistics

On a ride, your cadence definitely fluctuates, but there will be a range that you find most comfortable with. From that cadence range, it will be easier to extrapolate the gearing that appeals to you!

To find the exact gearing, there are online calculators that I found useful to me!
Bikecalc: Basic but great variety of calculators to easily find the statistics.
https://www.bikecalc.com/speed_at_cadence
Bicyclegearcalculator: Great for considering climbs. +estimated power.
https://www.bicyclegearcalculator.uk/derailleurgears.htm
The computational cyclist: Does not consider gearings, purely estimated power to speed.
https://www.gribble.org/cycling/power_v_speed.html

Personally, Bikecalc has been very useful. It highlights different groups of gearing ratios whether it's harder or slower as a reference point.

Be that as it may, trying to get faster by experimenting with different gearings might not be the most sophisticated method.
As you did not list your exact cassette sizes, I'm using 50/11 as an example.
From Bikecalc, 50/11 at 60RPM is already more than 20mph. (IRL factors omitted)
In track cycling terms, 50/11 gives 120inch. Which is very hard.

Good to see you trying, good luck!

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    "aerobically-inclined" vs not, is not an accurate description of whether someone prefers a given cadence. Plenty of sprinters spin at crazy cadence when they are unloading full-gas in a race, but that is a completely anaerobic effort. Likewise riding 50 miles is aerobic regardless the cadence used. – whatsisname Mar 24 at 7:12
  • Yes, you are absolutely right! Nothing is truly one-sided with aerobic or anaerobic movements. For example, you can do 50/11 for 10km as a major anaerobic effort. But, as you said, doing 50/11 for 50km will transform this activity into a major aerobic effort. That's why "inclined" becomes a keyword. But the special characteristic about cadence is that you get to choose what type of effort suits your physiology! Hope you learn something today! – Yuxuan Mar 24 at 12:04
  • I agree with @whatsisname. I would probably say that some riders may prefer a higher cadence and some may prefer a lower one. – Weiwen Ng Mar 24 at 19:44
  • Hi @WeiwenNg! Aren't you just agreeing with me? :) (inclined is a keyword). Hope you learned something today! – Yuxuan Mar 25 at 3:08
  • Actually, I disagree that the preference for specific cadences has anything to do with your aerobic vs anaerobic inclinations (aka fast twitch vs slow twitch). It may, but I'm not sure there's systematic evidence of that. – Weiwen Ng Mar 25 at 18:01
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In contrast to Nathan, I would argue for a 50/34 crankset, usually called a compact crankset. This helps ensure that you have an easy enough gear. I would argue that objectively, amateur riders should stay away from 53/39s (sometimes called standard gearing, basically used only by professional riders these days). I am a fairly strong rider, and I find that on my 52/36 (aka semi-compact crankset), I never use the 11t cog in the Midwestern US, and I would probably only rarely use it mountainous terrain (on the descent, obviously).

I would argue to choose a large cog based on the terrain you expect to encounter. If you feel like a 34t big cog with your 34t front chainring is too easy a gear for your usual terrain, you can get a smaller cassette. How much smaller is unfortunately something you'll have to figure out with experience and perhaps a gearing chart. You can look up the cog sequence on your cassette. If you only ever shift to the second biggest cog, that's most likely a 30t cog.

One thing to note about the above: I prefer a closely spaced cassette to maintain a cadence as close to my optimum as I can. However, many people are less fussy about this; my experience is that traditional roadies probably are fussier. If you are not so fussy, you could elect to stick with a wider-range cassette just in case you move to or take a vacation somewhere with steeper climbs.

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    I'm not sure you and Nathan are disagreeing here. – Adam Rice Mar 24 at 20:14
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    Yeah I was proposing keeping the 50-34 and going to a smaller cassette. – Nathan Knutson Mar 24 at 21:14
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It depends on you, the terrain, and what you want to do.

For me , Being an A- or B rider depending on the club, living in a very hilly to mountainous area, I put together my own gear ratios that I ordered from a magazine (back then no internet!).

I chose a range of 24-105. I was limited in the available gears and what would fit and still work. This was back in the 15 speed days. Now I would probably try for 18-101 if I were still able to ride.

105 was a tad high but on level to slightly downwards I could push it okay. 24 was just enough for the worst hills but I would have liked it to be a tad lower.

17 was my best speed in a time trial. my average depending on terrain would be closer to 12-14. But I rode for distance not for speed.

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  • Coud you explain what are your numbers supposed to mean? – Vladimir F Mar 25 at 7:30
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    I'm guessing gear-inches – Andy P Mar 25 at 9:40

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