I just turned 42 yesterday, which means I’ve been racing my bike for 30 years. When I started riding, at age 12, I had Detto Peirtro wooden-soled shoes, wool shorts, and a 28-pound 12-speed Centurion racing bicycle. Racing as a USCF Intermediate (back then they had Midgets, Intermediates and Juniors), due to our gear restrictions, I think my largest chainring was a 48t, and my smallest chainring was a 42t. In the back it was something like a 14-21. (14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21) To have a “corncob cassette”, something like a 13-18 straight block, was the ultimate in cool. To have a 25t or 28t cog on your freewheel marked you as a Fred, and was reserved for 40-something year old scientists who had little mirrors affixed to the sides of their Bell Biker helmets. My “granny gear” at the time was a 42/21.
Now skip forward 30 years. I’m about to race up Mt. Washington with a pie plate on my 10-pound Cervelo R3-SL. Last year I watched Ned Overend ride away from me, with his ultra-low mountain bike gearing, something like a 24/32, as I slogged away in my 34/27. Don’t get me wrong, he would have climbed away from me even if we had the same gearing, but he sure looked more efficient spinning than I felt grinding. This year I decided to figure out a way to get a sub 1:1 low gear and at the same time be able to use my Quarq power meter. The solution I came up with was to use a SRAM XX 10-speed cassette and SRAM XX long cage rear derailleur, in conjunction with my RED double-tap shifters. It shifts really well, and all I need to complete the package is a rearview mirror affixed to the side of my helmet.