A slow growing trend these past few years has been compact cranks…..now they seem to be everywhere.
I’m shocked to see that new Time Trial bikes are being sold with compact cranks. I mean these TT bikes are made to put the rider in the most Aero position possible, and the rider is about 75% of the non-aerodynamics on the bike. This is all done so that said rider can now pedal the bike as Fast as possible…. yet, the cranks they are putting on them are for climbing? Why are they cranking on your chain like this?
It is all done in the name of Marketing and Sales! When you look over the specs of a fancy new bike, you check many things, frame/fork, manufacturer, components, wheel-set, WEIGHT. And this is where the compact cranks come in – the total weight of the bike. By putting on compact cranks, they are able to save about a half pound (220 grams) from a bike with a 39/53 chain rings….marketing at it’s least finest – tricky. Only later will you find out that the ‘lightest’ TT bike you got may have compact cranks on it – and the makers have done this b/c they know this will be a selling point for many Tri-athletes that are very meticulous about their bike purchase. Yet, in the long run, it’s not ideal for the rider.
Are compact cranks Good? Yes! Are compact cranks Bad? Yes!
The problem that I have with Compact cranks is that it gives you a bail out gear….and most riders use it – way too much! So, what happens? in your training you are allowing your body to ‘bail out’ on many climbs and sections that instead you should be pushing 1 larger (harder) gear and challenging your legs more. It is part of the ‘on the bike strength training’. Don’t believe me? Ever ride single speed? Remember how tough the climbs are? Now guess why they will make you stronger. You will have gained strength through using a single gear to climb.
Guess what happens with compact cranks in the long run. You bail out more and more, therefore, your legs begin to loose strength, and you are only be able to spin up climbs. You can look at gear ratios all day, but if you can’t spin that gear, you are off the back of the pack, and always spinning does not strengthen you legs. Only by stressing the muscles AND allowing adequate time for recovery do you strengthen.
This became overly clear to me when I was able to out ride a guy doing 3 gap, yet I also outweighed him by about 40 .lbs (HEY, it was height and Muscle :). He should have walked away from me! As I chatted with him I was able to find out that he was indeed on compact cranks and attempted to spin up each climb b/c ‘he didn’t feel he had the leg strength to push a larger gear…..well, I guess by now, because of the compact, he didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I think compact cranks can be good when used properly. In the off season and base season, there would be nothing wrong with compact cranks and being able to maintain a lower Heart Rate while going over hills. I myself have stopped on hills to lower my Heart Rate before during base building.
Another excellent reason for compact cranks is if you are going to be doing more climbing than you are used to in a short period of time…. if you are from a much flatter area and are suddenly going to the mountains with a training camp, a compact will give you a bail out gear, just in case.
say you are going to Europe to watch a big stage race – compact cranks will make your rides much more enjoyable and less painful. Plus, if you are doing multi-day ride in the Mountains, recovery and less fatigue in your legs can be achieved with more spinning up the climbs using compact cranks.
Now if you already have compact cranks on your bike; no need to rush out and replace them. Actually during the winter, they maybe good to be able to spin the legs. But especially in the spring and summer months, don’t ‘bail out’ every time the road points upward, and you will see your ability to go up that killer climb in a larger gear after a few weeks!
Want to know how to get stronger on the climbs?! Download my ebook ‘Drop Pounds Gain Watts’
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~Pro Cyclist Tim Henry (former West Viginia, Jittery Joe’s, & rider/director for Team Type 1)
~ Pro-Cyclist Daniel Holt Track National Elite Points Champion & Team Type 1 member
~ADIDAS sponsored Pro Runner Jennifer Feenstra – 2nd place at Canadian national Marathon 2010
~Georgia Chain Gang Jerome Rossetti and Tony Myers used to get into the best shape possible before the 2010 RAAM – Race Across America. They finished in 7days!