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If your gear ratios are too high, you’ll struggle getting up that hill – too low, and you’ll lose time on the flat. So how do you choose what type of gearing you need? Here’s what you need to consider.

Do you spin or grind?

Depending on your fitness and how your body’s built, you either like pushing high gears slowly, or spinning through low gears at a high cadence – or maybe you fit somewhere in between. A pedalling cadence of 90 rpm or less would be considered grinding, but above 110 would definitely be spinning.

Understanding your preference is the first thing you should do. If you don’t already know if you prefer to spin or grind, take a look at other roadies out on a ride and see what they’re doing. Do you pedal faster of slower than them?

Your favourite bikes

Which bikes do you prefer riding? Gear ratio makes a big difference to your preference. Are you happiest on a triple or do you prefer a compact? Triples offer lower gearing, but preferring triples doesn’t make you weak – it just indicates that you prefer spinning.

Equally, if you like slow leisurely strokes of your cranks, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy. You probably prefer compact bikes with higher ratios – and annoying your cycle club with impromptu sprint challenges to the next lamp-post.


If conquering steep hills is your thing, you’re going to need low gear ratios for when you point your bike up the mountain – you don’t want your quads seizing up in anger at how badly you’ve treated them. Regardless of your cadence, a day of climbing in the Alps requires lower gearing, and this is something you need to seriously consider, regardless of your physical condition.

If relatively flat time trials float your boat, you’ll want higher gear ratios – but even then you have to be realistic. High gears may sound attractive, but if you’re fighting to stay on top of your largest cog, you’ll probably have to get out the saddle every 15 to 20 turns of your cranks to keep the momentum up. Of course, this only serves to sap your energy and lower your efficiency – and your speed.

Are you new to road cycling?

If you’re new to road bikes, try out some bikes with triple gears and lower ratios – even if you’re in great physical shape. In comparison to mountain bikes, even the lowest gear ratios available on road bikes will strike you as high and a challenge to spin.

Road bike gears offer something very different to off-road bikes – speed. But you’ll only really understand the difference after you’ve done a few miles on tarmac.

Choosing lower gear ratios will help you learn the ways of the roadie, and it won’t be too long before you’re regularly using the highest gears on the flat. Remember, you can always upgrade your groupset and increase your gear ratios. The most important thing is making sure your chosen gear ratio is within your capability.