I have been cycling for almost about 9 years now. I believe, I have worked myself up to become quite a efficient cyclist. Still, I never felt the need to upgrade my gears to 10 speed, except in races.

Now, here is my recent small story

A fresher, who just bought a expensive bike with everything the modern technology offers, is suddenly bullying a 7 speed bike of mine in the race.

Here I am cycling my butt off, with maintaining as much high cadence as I can. And there he comes, cycling with a very average cadence without even the breaking a sweat and pulling up way ahead of me.

There has to be something like skills or techniques an fairly experienced rider can pull-off to at least become competitive with 10-speeders?

  • I feel fairly sure you are overestimating your cadence as well, as even the best of professional cyclists can't maintain even a 2.5 beats per second cadence. That is, the 4-5 beats per second that you claim is 240 - 300 beats per minute. 120-130 beats per minute is high, and is considered difficult to maintain for professionals for any length of time. – zenbike Mar 23 '12 at 8:25
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    How old is your bike? wheels? bearings? what tyres do you have? what psi are they inflated to? are they all in good order? is your gearing the same as his? less rolling resistance = faster; the fresher may just have had much less resistance than you. – Mauro Mar 23 '12 at 8:56
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    Stupid question: When you're racing this guy are in your biggest gear? If so, and you're cadence is over 85/90 then you likely need a larger gear, either with a new bike or by exchanging cogs. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 23 '12 at 11:05
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    You can't beat physics. You're at your most efficient somewhere between 80 and 90 cadence, and even the best cyclists top out around 110. The human body simply can't pedal any faster (and still put out much energy). A slightly larger front ring or slightly smaller rear cog will give you more "top end". (Too much on the rear and the existing derailer won't handle it, but you can likely go 1-2 teeth.) – Daniel R Hicks Mar 23 '12 at 11:11
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    I am assuming you were both in the highest gear available which in your case was the 42 tooth front cog and and the 11 tooth small gear on the cassette.If he passed you with a slower cadence it has to be final gearing not the number of speeds available.He may have a 44 tooth tooth front cog which some mtb are coming with.This helps his top speed as the rear tire will spin faster at a given cadence. – mikes Mar 23 '12 at 12:01

I'm not necessarily sure that the number of gears here is the key issue - it's going to be the upper and lower range: what are the extremes of your gear ratios (or gear inches, if you'd prefer)?

Maybe your largest gear just isn't large enough. Maybe you need a bigger front cog (or a smaller rear one) to allow you to get up to the same ratio that he can use.

cadence * gearing = speed

The extra gears on his bike just means the transition between gears is smoother - less of a leap between neighbouring cogs.

  • This is true, but there are limits on what gear ratios are available to 7 speed drive trains. – zenbike Mar 23 '12 at 15:26

From what you describe, these would be my hypotheses:

  1. Your are not using gears right (unlikely, since you said you are an experienced and efficient biker). It would be wrong to try to get speed hammering a very high-speed/low-cadence gear, but it is ALSO wrong trying to get your extra speed JUST by increasing your cadence. You should shift accordingly, perhaps until you reach the highest gear on your bike;
  2. You're using a different category of bicycle. Althoug you have not mentioned, I suppose both of you are using road bikes. If you are using a Mountain Bike, well, then I think you're going to have a hard time catching up with him;
  3. Your bike is not in good shape/setup to go high-speed. Most important things besides gears have already been mentioned: good hub bearings, good chain lubing (it's weird, but it counts a lot!), "efficient" rims, and SPECIALLY good fast tires. That would be skinny, smooth, high-pressure tires. These can make a bike go from turtle to rabbit without any additional change;
  4. Your friend's bike is MUCH LIGHTER than yours. Sometimes there might be a difference of 10 pounds (around 5kg) or even more between a not-so-modern-not-so-expensive bike and these new carbon-feather bikes. And that IS a huge difference in terms of speed and specially acceleration. It also allows the rider not to be so tired most the time, so when the sprint comes his legs are fresh to pedal hard;
  5. At last, this is always a possibility: your friend's got genes, he might be those guys who's strong as a horse and/or never gets tired. Check out if that's not the case...

Well, hope it helped!

  • I appreciate your answer, but there are few things you got wrong. I am on high cadence on my final gear, shifting correctly from low. We are both on MTB. Yes his bikes does looks lighter, but design in roughly the same. He hasn't got genes, he was cycling very casually, about 1-1.5 cadence in a sec – Starx Mar 23 '12 at 16:29
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    By genes I don't mean experience or mileage or even fitness. Some people are just stronger than average. Now the BIKE itself... His seems to be much lighter, and that would be enough to make a definitive difference. Also, if you are overspinning your topmost gear, it is a FACT: you NEED higher gears... On a properly geared bike, you could never outspin your largest gear on flat terrain, even with tailwind. (46x11 looks like a good final ratio that would fit you) – heltonbiker Mar 23 '12 at 17:28
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    I read more comments, and it looks like you have a 42 tooth big chainring. This is not enough (I had it, it's not enough). With 46 or 48 front you will be ok. – heltonbiker Mar 23 '12 at 17:31

Cycling speed is a function of cadence and gear ratio. If someone is able to overtake you with a lower cadence then the only explanation is that are using a higher gear ratio. Skills and techniques will not make you faster if you don't change your cadence or gear ratio.

The OPs estimation of his cadence and that of the person who overtook him look highly suspect to me. I suspect that the faster rider had a very smooth peddling technique, which made it appear that were pedalling casually, but difference in cadence was probably much less then it appeared.

A typical set of gear ratios for a 7 speed mountain bike was 42/32/22 chainset with 11-28 cassette; for a 10 speed (with triple chainset) it is 42/32/24 and 11-36, which is exactly the same top gear ratio. Bigger wheels increase gear ratio too, but the difference between 26" and 29" wheels is only about 12%.

Increasing the front chainring size from 42t to 48t would increase the top gear by 15%. Assuming you have a 11t sprocket on the back, that'll give you a top gear higher than most 26" wheeled bikes and similar to the highest gearing found on most 29" wheeled bikes.

  • Mab be its output rather than a function. – Starx Apr 22 '12 at 12:15

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