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« More on Practical Gearing | Main | What’s going on? »

46 Big Ring

The gearing on modern bikes is probably one of the greatest improvements seen in the last twenty years. The only issue I have is that for the non-racing leisure rider, like me, the gear ratios available are well outside the range I am likely to use.

Even with a “Compact” crankset with 50 – 34 chainrings, the 11 speed rear cassette comes with a 11 or 12 tooth top sprocket. And the 12 x 50 gives me a top gear of 112 inches, which I can guarantee I am never going to use.

Even more frustrating, the gears I use most, the ones between 65 inches and the upper 70s, fall all the way over on the large inside sprockets of the cassette, when using the 50 tooth chainring, and the other extreme when using the inside 34 chainring and outside small sprockets on the rear.

Riding most of the time with my chain out of line just causes unnecessary wear on chains and sprockets.

It would be nice if 11 speed cassettes were available with a top sprocket of 13 or 14 teeth, but they are not. At least I haven’t been able to find one.

I did however, recently discover that Campagnolo make a Cyclo-Cross crankset, with 46 – 36 chainrings. I wasn’t sure if they would fit my Athena crankset.

Campagnolo has this strange set up where the compact chainrings have a 110mm. Bolt Circle Diameter (BCD) but the one bolt that is threaded into the inside of the crank arm is on a slightly bigger diameter circle, for some reason. Other makes of chainrings with 110 BCD will not fit.

A search on eBay for “Campagnolo 46 tooth CX chainring,” brought up an abundance of them. I ordered a silver one for my wife’s bike. It fitted with no problem. It was an easy swap, I didn’t even need to remove the crank or the pedal.

I went ahead and ordered a black one for my bike. Now I can ride using my new 46 big ring, and the sprockets I use most are the 16, 17, 18, and 19, right in the middle of my cassette. I still have a top gear of 103 inches, which I am also unlikely to use, but who knows, one day I might be on a steep downhill with the wind behind me.


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Reader Comments (25)

And that Dave is why I'm glad to still be using my old setup of 50 - 39 at the front and 16,17,18,19,20,21 at the back. Keep on twiddling as we used to say.Anthony C.

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

Very thought provoking post.

For years (roughly, the late 90s to 2010 or so) the only gearing improvements we saw were just packing more gears into the cassette, but in the past couple of years there have been some actual innovations in gearing.

I’ve been riding a bike with a SRAM Apex group for two years now as my main commuter/gravel grinder/kid hauler. It has a 50/34 crankset and 11/32 cassette. I think you can get a cassette as low as 12/36 on it! I have almost 8000 miles on it now and it excels at those purposes. (I also raced CX a season and half on it but it was too heavy and shifted too slowly, also too much chainslap.) I also haul my kids on this bike — that's 100# of deadweight sometimes — and we live in a hilly neighborhood.

SRAM advertised that you can't cross-chain this group; IME I can ride 50x32 without trouble but wouldn't dare get into 34x12, too much slack there.

I have some issues with SRAM's shifting behavior — sounds like a box full of bolts, and I've had two front shifters fail. But their customer service has been awesome, they replaced those busted shifters even out of warranty. And 8K miles and counting is a good life for the hard miles this thing gets.

Pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/axoplasm/sets/72157629291313791/with/6865187113/

Conversely I raced cross last year on a 1x10 setup, 40x11/27 I think. I’m seldom on the small cog even when I'm cruising on pavement to a race! I wonder if we won't see some 1x road setups soon enough. The MTB world is already moving to 1x setups. (I also added a Retroshift to this setup which is ideal for CCX)

Pics here:

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

Thanks for this information. While I can turn the 52t Campy chain ring in larger sprockets, I can see a day when a more sensible large chain ring would be in order. Minor question if you can answer it: will a Campy Compact 110 bcd fit all Campy 110 bcds? You are using recent Athena, I am using 2008 Veloce. Off to search eBay!

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTimJ

Hi Dave,

BBB do a 14 - 27 11 speed campag compatable cassette, which is a bit more usable.

Looking at the price from an online shop in England it's a bit steep for a "try and see if it's any good" I've tried 10 speed campag compatable cassettes in the past and they weren 't that good

Although it's nice to have a multitude of gearing options in one package, I often find that many riders at a decent level are clueless about gear selection, when and how to change and chainlines etc.

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith. British Columbia

Miche cassettes are available with a top sprocket up to 16t, in 11spd. Up to 18t in 10spd.

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick

I remember the days when freewheels can be customized according to one's preferences.

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterResty

Like the above poster, I also ride the SRAM Apex group, and like Dave I rarely (very close to never) use the 11 tooth sprocket. I agree; gearing on most modern bikes is simply too high for recreational/sportive riders. My Apex crankset came as a 50/34 compact, but I purchased a SRAM 48 tooth chainring and swapped out the 50. I like the gearing much better this way; if there was a 46 available, I may even consider it.

I considered going for the 12-32 cassette SRAM offers, but I can't really justify the expense until I wear out the current 11-32. If I remember right, all it does is swap the 11 tooth for a 14 tooth. A cassette that would actually start around the 13 or 14 tooth range would be wonderful!

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdam in Indiana

It is good to know when the cassette needs replacing there are Campagnolo compatible available with larger top sprockets. Back in the day I had race wheels with 13 through 18 six speed freewheel, and training wheels with 16 - 21 freewheel. It worked out great.

Anyone buying a new bike might consider asking the dealer to swap out the road crankset for a cyclo-cross one. They are available in alloy or carbon.

March 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Velo Orange is making a "Rando" crankset with a 46 big ring and a 30 small ring. The idea being that the 30 is really just a bailout gear, and you'll spend the majority of your time in the 46. I think that's a great combo.

I'm using an IRD Campy-compatible cassette which is 11-32, along with a Campy Triple derailleur. It's not cheap, but it does the job.

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

The older I got the less I used the upper gear range. I finally ended up with a 42 x 30 forward crankset combined with a 11 x 36 ten speed cassette. The range is wonderful but, more important, the lower range is perfect for our local hills.

March 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

This is the biggest problem with all modern road bicycles - they are designed for racers, not average people. A 50T chainring with 11T sprocket is completely useless for 99% of us. So why can't we buy road bike with a more usable gearing range?

For the last few months I have been using Sugino OX601D crankset on my bike and I absolutely love it. The 44/30T or even 44/28T crankset and a 12-30T, 10-speed cassette gives me finally the range I have been looking for.


March 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbostonbybike

I've been using that combination for a long time. I even used a similar 36-46 in the Berkeley Hills Road Race, which features a high speed descent. 46-11 is a very high gear by historical standards, and the improvement in shifting with the tighter front ratio is significant. It's especially good for hill climbs, where you can flick it up into the big ring to get some acceleration when the road levels out, while the jump to the 50 would be a bit much.

March 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Connelly

bostonbybike sums it all up in the first paragraph. How come the industry has ignored so many of us for so long ?

March 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

My late-80's "sport touring" bike came with a 39-100 gear inch range (52/40 chainrings, 14-28 six-speed freewheel). When I decided to switch to an 8-speed cassette, I knew that (despite what new bikes come with) I had no need to go higher, so my "big" ring is a 40 now, as 40x11 gives me 98 inches.

I don't know about 10 and 11 speed cassettes, but Resty might be happy to know that customizing an 8-speed is pretty easy--I'm using a mix of SRAM and Shimano cogs.

Um, obviously I'm not racing.

March 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I'm still riding 8-speed campagnolo drivetrain (shifters have been overhauled twice and still work great), using shimano cassettes and wheels mfg. conversion spacers so it shifts properly. One nice part of that is Shimano has made "junior" cassettes with 13-14-15-16-17-19-21-25. I would never use an 11 or 12 anyway, so my usable gearing is basically the same as if I ran a 10-cog cassette.

March 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Hi Dave,

I was noting the bike in your pictures. Is it a Fuso built by your apprentice Russ Denny? How's the ride compared to the Recherche? It looks like a sweet ride.


March 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Bernique

Hi Dave,

following on from March 14, 2014 Eric's comments regarding mixing and matching different cogs. I've done it a few times. 7 & 8 speed shimano use the same spacer for road and mtn bike casettes. File off the pin that holds the cogs together and voila. On my winter bike I use 8 speed shimano 600 tri colour groupo and once tried a mega low mtn. bike cassette with a 34 low gear. STI levers and standard 600 road rear changer didn't miss a beat. 39/52 rings

Should probably work for 9 or any speed as long as the spacers are the same and the rear changer has the tooth capacity. Generally 7,8, 9 rear changers mix and match.

May be worth a look for some folks before changing chainsets and everything that goes with it.

My other rides are campag 10 and the spacers are not all the same with a couple of different sizes. I would guess it's feasible to chop and change 10 or 11 cassettes around as long as the sequence of any different size spacers remain the same.

Or wait a year, take out a second mortgage and go 12 speed.

March 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith. British Columbia

This is a nice solution for unused gearing on my road bike. I might look at this for a future bike or future gearing of my present road bike. I went to a 30 tooth big ring already but that causes issues when on the big ring back, big ring front. Having a small compact, less than 34 front, combined with the big ring you installed seems like a great combination for hilly terrain.

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

I recently put a cyclocross crankset on my commuting bike, which also has an 11-32 8 speed cassette. The crank is 36/46, and is perfect for my commute. I stay in the big ring for about 95% of the ride, using the small ring for a couple of shortish steep hills. When my current cassette dies I've got a 12-25 to go on and will swap the 36t ring for a 34.
I totally agree about most bikes being overgeared. Even with the lower crank gearing I never use the 11t and rarely use the 12. A 13-27 cassette would probably be about perfect.

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

This is where I am *very* disappointed in component manufacturers.
What is it going to take to get some reason in their gear thinking?!?!?

The have the worst herd mentality I've ever seen. First they all drive towards the bottom of only offering tiny smallest cogs; but they had a chance to really offer reasonable gearing when Shimano, Campy, FSA all came out with new 4-arm cranks -- none of them challenged the 34t smallest chain ring.

Why didn't they design down to a 32t or 30t smallest when they had the chance?

Also, the 110 BCD will accept a 33t chain ring -- why don't any of these manufacturers produce one??? If I've moved from 50t to 48t or 46t; I'd like to also move to smaller than 34t.

Otherwise we're all stuck with 50t/48t/46t-34t and crappy large jumps between cogs with a wasted cog or two -- so our 10/11 speeds are really 8 or 9 speeds.

Sugino makes the only 110 BCD external bearing triple, but it is impossible to find in the USA and even in Japan it is very expensive.

I've tried turning a MTB triple into a 48t/32t double; but the Q-factor is terrible for a 68mm BB road bike (and I like the wider Q-factor of my old Ultegra FC-6700 triple vs. a double).

July 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid O'Brien

One other thing, don't think one can use 46 big chainrings on carbon fiber frames. That's why I prefer steel or aluminum frames with round seat tubes all the way to the bottom bracket, without braze ons for the front derailleur. I can use a big 46 or big 44 triple crank on these frames.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterResty

Why can't one use a 46 big chain ring on a carbon fiber frame?? I'm pretty sure the buyers of the 5 or 6-digit carbon fiber cyclocross frames sold yearly would be surprised to hear that.

I haven't found a carbon fiber frame that I could not use the Shimano CX-70 front derailleur on with a 46t large chanring. The CX-70 comes in both top-pull and typical bottom-pull forms. It is designed for a 48T or smaller large chainring. I have two and they shift better than any other front derailleur I own.

October 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid O'Brien

I can totally relate. I have a cyclocross bike set up for road commuting that for ages had a 50/34 up front. I have a rolling commute and often am carrying a pack, and found it really frustrating that the 34 was too small for spinning and the 50 was a grunt if the road turned up at all. I found myself creeping up to the inside of the cassette often, even as I'm a fairly strong rider.

I had been looking at SRAM's new one-by groups to simplify things and hopefully remain in the middle of the cassette most of the time, but it's a grand to get into that game.

A few weeks ago I picked up a deal on a 36/46 Shimano CX set and had it put on. What a difference. It's paired up with a 12-25 in the back,. It's so much nicer to have a useful 36 to spin in and yet the 46 is eminently manageable from a stop or up modest hills. It all feels much snappier and useable. I'll run the 12-25 until it's done and then go to an 11-28. I have use of the 50-12 occasionally and the 46-11 is a bigger gear. All good.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames Davison

my setup for my hilly morning ride...

Sugino ox601D Crankset with 44T-30T Chainrings

Rear Cassette 12-32T Sram PG-1070

FD Shimano CX70

Shifter Shimano Ultegra

Works like a charm

March 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterZiDD

To echo many of the comments here, even as a very fit non-competing rider who doesn't race, my top gearing on a single ring bike is 44/11 (30mm rear tyre) and it's very rare for me to need anything higher.

April 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbartthebikeman
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