3,2 or 1 Chain rings?

Saturday 24 December 2022 Filed in: General

Do bicycle components manufacturers, such as Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo change bicycle gearing systems just to persuade us to upgrade to the latest kit, or are these changes all in pursuit of an improvement in performance?

I am not sure we know the answer to this question, maybe it's a bit of both. But change them they do and the last couple of decades have seen a lot of change to the gearing systems on bicycles.

Twenty years ago, every tandem equipped with derailleur gears we built had a triple chainset on it. Nowadays nearly all our tandems are fitted with two front chain rings and some with only one. Triples had a big advantage back in the early 2000's as they allowed a lower bottom gear whilst still retaining a high top gear, something that is desirable on a tandem. They had their shortcomings though, particularly on tandems fitted with road ratios, such as 30/39/53, in order to stop the chain rubbing in certain gear combinations STI levers had half clicks to allow the pilot to trim the front derailleur and this meant a lot of input from the pilot to keep the gears running smoothly and without chain rub.

Around the mid 2000's companies like Shimano stopped production of their top end groupsets in a triple format and the compact chainset, usually a 34/50, became the norm. This created us two problems. Firstly, a whole batch of new to cycling customers who had never shifted using a triple setup and many of these customers could not get to grips with the subtleties of a triple. Secondly it meant a reduction in the range of gears, we overcame this by using a mix and match of road and mountain bike components, but we were pushing the boundaries of what the manufacturers considered the optimal performance range for their components.

With the recent development in single ring systems, used by mountain bikers, came broad ranging cassettes, Sram even produce one as wide a 10/52. Our electric assist tandems are now all equipped with single ring systems, usually using a 38 or 42 tooth front drive ring with 11/46 or 11/51 cassettes.

On some of our flat handlebar tandems we are still using triple gearing systems, but on our road tandems they are usually equipped with a 2-ring system at the front with a wide-ranging cassette on the rear. This 2-ring system means you do not have to shift over the front rings on a climb, unlike the triple set up. Do these 1 and 2 ring gearing systems offer an improvement in performance? We are not sure, but they are certainly easier to use.


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