More than a double, better than a triple?

Create your own theeverydaycyclist approved ‘Double/Triple Everyday Chainset’

Here’s my dilemma. I don’t need the duplication and complication of a triple chainset. However, the range of an MTB or touring triple makes for super-versatility. However, I also want the plug and play, wear-your-normal-trouserage compatibility of a chainguard, without suffering the aesthetic indignity of an afterthought plastic chainguard disc. They look ugly when brand new and get even uglier once they get beaten up with daily use.

After years of using compromised chainsets I decided to make my own killer chainset for everyday all round riding. And here’s how to do it:

  • Take one used road triple chainset (with 130mm bolt circle diameter – BCD) – it doesn’t matter what state the rings are in, because you’re going to lose them.
  • Remove the existing rings and dispose of ethically
  • Buy a 42t and a 24t ring (yes, believe it – a 24t ring will fit on the 74BCD small spider of a road triple!)
  • Also buy a 130BCD aluminium chainring guard, available, amongst other places, here (link to SJS cycles)
  • The chainring guard replaces the outer (52t ring) and the other rings slot into place.
  • Operate the front rings with an MTB front derailleur

The result? When teamed with an appropriate cassette, you get practically the same gear range as an MTB, with all the high and all the low that you need.

What you don’t get is the overlap and duplication of gears that comes as standard with most triple setups. Old school soldiers with scorn the lack of ‘crossover gearing’ found on closely spaced front chainring setups. But, we’re not racing here and today’s 8 and 9 speed cassettes have ratios spaced closely enough to render crossover setups (eg 38/44) obsolete.

Worried about the big jump between the 24 and 42 tooth rings? Don’t be, it works just fine (with a ‘trimmable’ front shifter – like a downtube or bar end lever. (Sorry folks I can’t vouch for STIs triggers/Gripshift etc).

Think of it as an extension of the compact chainset idea, but with more appropriate gears for everyday riding, and the unbridled luxury of a trouser guard.

What kind of riding is this for? Commuting, loaded touring, recreational cyclo cross, trail riding, real world road riding (I’ve ridden sportives on this setup and never missed the dinner plate ring once). Anyone who isn’t racing who thinks that a 52/11 top gear combination is necessary is living in dreamland. I use an 11-32t nine speed cassette – the 11 is rarely used but useful for fast, tailwind-enhanced flat roads. Another fringe benefit of this setup is that your big ring is effectively in the ‘middle ring position’, which means you can use the full range of rear gears in the 42t without chain crossover problems, saving your 24t crawler for the really steep or heavily laden stuff.

FOOTNOTE: You can also achieve a similar setup with a 110 BCD triple chainset (e.g. the Sugino XD/Stronglight Impact/Spa Cycles own brand)

Friction Shifting – is 9 speed a cog too far?

Dura Ace bar end shifters have the luxury of an indexed or friction option - but is friction shifting a viable option with 9 speed?

A while back I posted an article on the benefits of friction shifting as opposed to indexed (SIS in Shimano’s parlance) – however, a recent ‘upgrade’ has forced me to reconsider a full time, no-looking back commitment to ‘no-clicks’ shifting.

There’s a generation out there who probably don’t know what friction shifting is – indeed, I’m on the very cusp of that generation. However, I’m old enough to have ridden friction shifting 10 speed racers as a kid, before indexed shifters efficiently clicked their way onto the field of play.

Basically on modern bikes, to shift, you click a lever, press a button, twist a twistgrip, etc and the gear notches into place. Friction shifting removes those notches, meaning that you, the rider, have to use judgement and finesse to move the chain smoothly from one sprocket to the next. It’s called friction shifting because it’s just the friction in the mechanism that holds the gear mechanism in alignment.

The benefits of this seemingly archaic arrangement are manifold. Master friction shifting and you’ll never have to worry about gear cable adjustment again. You’ll also be freed from having to worry about shifter/transmission compatibility. You’ll develop a real understanding of how derailleur gears work (and the logic of adjusting cable slack on indexed systems). Perhaps to most satisfying aspect of friction shifting is mastering the skill, rather than relying upon the mechanism to judge the shift. It’s akin to judging a perfect putt in golf, catching a peanut in your mouth, or taking a perfectly lit shot on a manual camera. You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it’s magic.

For the past couple of years I’ve been enjoying the experience of judging my shifts ‘by hand’, using an 8 speed drivetrain with Ultegra bar end shifters. These Shimano shifters have the option of switching from indexed to friction on the fly, meaning that users can give friction a try without component swapping.

However, a few weeks ago, I wore through another chain and cassette and decided to upgrade to 9 speed. I already had a shiny set of 9 speed Dura Ace bar end shifters (which also have the indexed/friction option) so a new 9 speed block and chain was ordered, delivered and fitted. Problem is, since going from 8 to 9 speed, I’ve found that friction shifting and I are no longer the happy bedfellows that we used to be.

Theoretically, it should be easier to hit a gear with more cogs on the cluster, but in practice it isn’t the case. Because the sprockets on a 9 speed cassette are so close together, you don’t get that positive ‘clunk’ that you get on a 5, 6, 7 or indeed an 8 speed cassette when the chain finds its niche. Sometimes the chain will kid you that it’s snug on a sprocket, only to jump up or down when you get out of the saddle and put the power down.

The upshot of this is I’ve gone back to the future; clicking between gears. Don’t get me wrong; it’s no hardship; the changes are beautifully crisp (I’m running Dura Ace bar ends, Deore LX mechs and a Deore 11-32 cassette). Sadly though, I feel I’m missing out on the satisfaction of catching that metaphorical peanut or watching my perfect putt drop into the hole.

So the question is; is 9 speed a cog too far for friction, or should I just persevere and accept that the game just got a little harder?

I’d be interested to hear from other friction shifters out there who are running a nine speed set-up, particularly those who are using Dura Ace, like me, and from those using the Rivendell Silver/Dia-Compe friction-only  ratcheting shifter.