Of all the different types of bikes, road bikes are some of the fastest. Whether it’s a rider racing a hard climb, or someone getting their speed up on the street, road bikes are built to be quick. But are riders using gears to get the most out of their bikes?
The terminology around gears can be confusing, to say the least – and a look at bike specifications can leave you scratching your head. So, we decided to cut through the jargon and break down how gears apply to road bikes.
Road Bikes and Gears
If you’re looking at a road bike, most of the time it will have gears. Road bikes are designed so the rider can travel easily on both flat and hilly terrain. For riding up a hill, using an easy gear allows you to pedal easily and take advantage of your momentum. If the gear was too hard, you wouldn’t be able to keep your speed up. And if the hill was steep enough, you might even need to hop off and walk.
For downhills, using a hard gear gives you the resistance to push more and increase your speed even faster. If the gear was too easy, you could end up with your legs rotating quickly, but not actually moving the bike.
Having gears technically doesn’t make the bike go faster, but rather helps you to pedal easier. This is something one single gear can’t offer. Gears that are great for going uphill won’t be good for going downhill. This is what makes gears so great. You can change them as needed.
How Many Gears Do Road Bikes Need?
Know that gears can help, the next question is, how many gears do road bikes need? This varies from model to model, and brands usually have a selection of road bikes with different gears.
In some cases, the bikes that are aimed towards beginners will have lower gears. Trek bikes, for example, have 16 gears on their starter model, the Domane AL2. On higher-end models, they can be as high as 24 gears. You will hear gears also called ‘speeds’. Trek’s most common gear set is 22, sitting in the middle of entry and the higher-end models.
How to Tell the Number of Gears
Geared bikes use to be called ten speeds, as that was the standard. Today, however, there are a lot more options. When you’re looking at bike specs, you will notice that they’re usually written with two numbers.
These refer to the two sets of cogs that form the basis of the bike’s gears. The gears in the front are called chainrings and the gears on the back are called cogs that make up a cassette. The bike chain then connects both of these sets together.
Most road bikes have two chainrings on the front, although one or three can also be found. Then the number of sprockets at the back, usually between 9 and 12 is multiplied to give you the number of gears available. So a bike with 2 chainrings up front and 9 sprockets in the back will be called an 18-speed bike A rider can use any combination of gears.
Treks’ most common set up is 22 speed but it’s written as 2 x 11 (2 chainrings at the front x 11 sprockets at the back). If a bike has three chainrings and 10 sprockets at the back it would be 30 speed (3 x 10). A wide range of gears allows for more easy gears going uphill and harder gears going downhill.
Most riders don’t always need such a wide range of gears. Two chainrings are far more popular than three for both professionals and recreational riders. In fact, there are now a growing number of cyclists who prefer no gears at all.
Fixies – The Road Bike Without Gears
Even with the benefits of gears on bikes, there are still some road bikes that don’t have gears.
One type of gearless bike, nicknamed fixies, are fixed gear bikes. Fixed gear bikes, as the name suggests, also have one gear. Fixies have devoted following but they also had very practical uses in the past.
One advantage of fixed gear bikes is winter riding. Winter riding involves a lot of salt and water, which often damage bike parts over time. Fixie bikes are a partial solution to this. Because fixie bikes naturally have fewer parts, there are fewer parts to be damaged. This is what made fixed gear bikes in winter a great choice. While bikes parts are constantly improving, fixies still remain a popular choice.
There are many reasons they have such a strong following. They are lighter, less expensive, and require less maintenance. A lot of riders enjoy the simplicity of fixies and the feeling of having a bike stripped back to its basics.
Fixies are also great city bikes. If you live somewhere without many hills, they perform well when tested for speed against road bikes. However, if you live somewhere with a lot of hills or travel out for day rides, the convenience of a geared bike would be hard to look past.
Track Bikes – Another Gearless Bike
Another type of road bike without gears are track bikes. Track bikes aren’t made for the roads, but they do share a lot of similarities with road bikes. They are both built for speed and they share many of the same design aspects. Track bikes are used only for racing and can reach speeds of 50 mph (80km) per hour!
The reason track bikes don’t use multiple gears is the riders don’t encounter hills or ride on different terrains. The indoor track means a rider only needs to know his one optimal gear to use for the race. It’s natural that one gear won’t work for every occasion, but while road cyclists change gears in a second by clicking the shifters, track bikes require the chainring replacing any time a gear needs changing. While inconvenient for commuting, it works great on the track.
How Many Gears Does a Standard Road Bike have?
If you’re looking at a road bike, you might be wondering how many gears should it have. While bike companies spend a lot of money on research, the amount of geas on road bikes can vary a lot.
While there is no standard, a double chainring and between 9-11 speed cassette is common. That covers a wide enough range to cover most hills that riders will typically experience.
Three chainring bike systems exist, but they are becoming less common. The benefits of having a three chainring bike are becoming less as cassetts become more sophisticated. Still, if you encounter a lot of hills or carrying extra gear, a three chainring system could be a good fit.
For city riders who want to keep things simple and enjoy riding in its purest form, the fixed gear bike is the obvious choice. But if you’re likely to want to take your bike further, join friends on group rides or likely to be encountering any hills, you may want to look elsewhere. There are lots of great entry-level road bikes offering between 18-22 gears off a double chainring. One of these bikes would be ideal for most of what the road can throw at you.