How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

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How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Fri May 22, 2009 12:32 pm

I'm about to start commuting on 3-speed bicycles and yes there are some fair hills in my area! However on my current commuter bicycle I tend to find that even with the 18 speed set up I tend to use only 4 gears. (By the way I use gear-inches which is calculated by gear ratio x wheel diameter in inches.) I use a gear about 50" a lot! It is just low enough that I can get over hills in cool weather but still maintain a good speed on the flats. I also use a fairly high gear of almost 90" once I have gotten up some speed and want to maintain it (drivers get really cross if you don't make an attempt at the speed limit). I must also point out that I try to avoid riding faster than 15.3kph, so I tend to use back-streets where possible, but there are some places where this is just not possible. I occasionally use my granny gear of about 30" only on certain climbs, which I really should dismount for (riding on a pedestrian footbridge where there is one vandalised sign on the opposite side which says no bicycles if you stand there for 10 minutes to examine it and determine what it used to say). For some of my shorter rides, I can leave it in gear at about 50" and just ride on quiet streets and not worry about changing gears at all.

This is all making me think about how many gears I really need. I have only one derailer geared bicycle, which I intend to get rid of soon. I am wondering if I can get away with just 3 gears on my commutes. I suppose the only way to find out will be on Monday morning when I start my next commute!

My Dahon Classic III has a 3-speed hub and is geared at 48", 64" and 85.3". I am not sure what my other bikes are geared at - will have to find out and report back!

Do YOU think you could manage on just 3 gears?
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by BNA » Fri May 22, 2009 2:02 pm

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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby gdt » Fri May 22, 2009 2:02 pm

More to the point, I couldn't cope with a maximum speed of "15.3kph". Even averaging 15Km/h would lead to a three hour ride to work :-(

I'd humbly suggest that maintaining a pleasant cadence requires more than three gears, especially with hills.

But a nice thing about cycling is that almost anything works if you are strong enough either physically or mentally. I write this as someone who was blitzed by a Penny Farthing whilst ascending Willunga Hill.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby mikedufty » Fri May 22, 2009 2:33 pm

I found a 9x1 speed setup perfect for my 12km commute, using all the gears. But only one of the gears was useful at less than 20kph.
Riding with my kids (5 and 3) I average nearer 15kph, again I use just one gear - bottom, about 1:1, to stop myself accidentally going too fast for the 5yo to keep up.
I think from this I can conclude that I have no helpful advice to offer.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby mylesau » Fri May 22, 2009 2:46 pm

I only use between 50" and 100" on my commute - a couple of reasonably small but steep bumps, otherwise fairly flat. I'll occasionally use 120" on the downhill, but tend just to take a breather and coast it.

Can ride the same commute on my single speed at 78", without too much drama - if I'm weary I'll stand for the bumps if I haven't got a good run-up.

3 gears should be no problems, unless you've got a mountain to climb (up or down)...
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby m@ » Fri May 22, 2009 3:03 pm

How many gears you need really depends on your particular commute route, how fast you take it and how kind you want to be on your knees. Personally, on any given commute I would spend most of the time in a handful of gears, say eight or ten, but over the average week I would spend a reasonable amount of time in all gears, as each day will have different wind conditions while some days I will might take a different, steeper route to avoid traffic etc. I guess I could probably get away with three gears at a pinch and still hold a reasonable average speed; a single-speed wouldn't work for me at all though; I'd either have to dismount and walk at several points, or take three hours to ride the 10Km home :lol:
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby gdt » Fri May 22, 2009 3:51 pm

mikedufty wrote:Riding with my kids (5 and 3) I average nearer 15kph, again I use just one gear - bottom, about 1:1, to stop myself accidentally going too fast for the 5yo to keep up.
I think from this I can conclude that I have no helpful advice to offer.


I wouldn't say that, as riding with the kids has been my undoing twice.

First time I though I could run. Their "stop and chat, then ride like the blazes" style lead to me doing sprint intervals for 5Km. I'm still sore when I think about that.

Second time I took the road bike (because I thought my old bike far too old and clunky for the beach cycleway). The 8yo suddenly stopped for a chat about 5cm in front of me. Felt good when I pulled up in time and didn't run them down, then realised I wasn't unclipped, and had a massive clip-stack. The cheeky little bugger asked if I knew how to ride a bike.

Now I take my old bike -- a 15yo MTB -- and ride in the lowest gear on pedals. And you knew to do this from the start -- if only I'd had your helpful advice :-)
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby trailgumby » Fri May 22, 2009 6:36 pm

27-speed. Use most of them except the two lowest and the ones excluded by cross-chaining limitations.

Average 23-25km/hr depending on headwinds and Friday legs.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby waynohh » Fri May 22, 2009 7:41 pm

I use exactly the same as trailgumby.
44T - all except 32, 28.
32T - all except 32.
22T - all except 11, 12, 32 and maybe 28.

Min speed about 11Km/hr, max speed 55km/hr or 60km/hr if drafting a bus :)
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby Thoglette » Sat May 23, 2009 1:39 am

hartleymartin wrote:Do YOU think you could manage on just 3 gears?


On a good day, 60", 75", 100"

But some days 45" seems like just a bit too much to deal with. It's the days when I'm feeling crap that matter - on a good day I could freewheel around with 75" single speed.

I've got an SA AW hub in the shed and will set it up as 45/67/90 (about 42/17 on 700C)
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby Burt 'Pigeon Racer' Jones » Sat May 23, 2009 5:46 am

1 gear

69 Gear Inches

40km round trip commute

5 days a week.

To answer your question.

Yes you can.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby Kalgrm » Sat May 23, 2009 9:15 am

Yeah, as Burt said. It's possible on a single speed, so a three speed bike would also be possible.

I'd go with an 8 or 9 speed internal hub rather than a 3 speed though. I mean, if you're going to use any gears at all, you should have small steps between them to maintain a good cadence (as gdt noted). If the 3 speed doesn't work out, consider this option.

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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby philip » Sat May 23, 2009 1:58 pm

My wet weather bike has the shimano nexus 8 speed hub. It's awesome, especially as a wet weather bike (although it was my only bike for a couple of years). The 8 gears is plenty for it's application - I hardly ever use 1st gear, but wouldn't mind some higher gears as I run out at about 45-50km/h and am moving my legs as fast as possible at about 60km/h. A different sized rear sprocket or front chainring would solve this, but since it's just for commuting I'm not too concerned. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't know why hub geared bikes aren't more popular for commuters!
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby Aushiker » Sat May 23, 2009 2:18 pm

m@ wrote:How many gears you need really depends on your particular commute route, how fast you take it and how kind you want to be on your knees. Personally, on any given commute I would spend most of the time in a handful of gears, say eight or ten, but over the average week I would spend a reasonable amount of time in all gears, as each day will have different wind conditions while some days I will might take a different, steeper route to avoid traffic etc. I guess I could probably get away with three gears at a pinch and still hold a reasonable average speed; a single-speed wouldn't work for me at all though; I'd either have to dismount and walk at several points, or take three hours to ride the 10Km home :lol:


All of what m@ said. Wind in my case plays a huge part. Some days I can take two + hours to do one commute on which my best time has been 1 hour 27 minutes.

Doing it on a three speed? I am stupid but not that stupid.

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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Sat May 23, 2009 5:19 pm

philip wrote:My wet weather bike has the shimano nexus 8 speed hub. It's awesome, especially as a wet weather bike (although it was my only bike for a couple of years). The 8 gears is plenty for it's application - I hardly ever use 1st gear, but wouldn't mind some higher gears as I run out at about 45-50km/h and am moving my legs as fast as possible at about 60km/h. A different sized rear sprocket or front chainring would solve this, but since it's just for commuting I'm not too concerned. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't know why hub geared bikes aren't more popular for commuters!


I think that the market dominance of derailer gears is a marketing thing. They were found on racing bicycles, so were perceived as being hi-tech, whilst the old hub gears were seen as old-fashioned. Honestly, an 8-speed hub is probably the best gear set-up for a mountain bicycle, because with derailers you get sticks, mud, and all sorts of other crap stuck in your drive train. They are also simpler to use. When it comes to teaching people to ride, derailer gears are the single largest technical hurdle that most people have to make. Its hard trying to get people to understand how 3-chain-rings and 7 sprockets work together and to think about chain-line, etc. Most people just want to get on and ride and be able to make it easier for themselves when they get to hills. That said, a lot of good-quality city bicycles are being offered with 3, 5 or 8 speed hubs now, and I think that its only a matter of time before they become common-place again.

At the moment there is are two bicycles in my garage with derailers. One is a 5-speed re-derailer only set-up by Raleigh, which I intend to do up for a friend who has trouble with his 18 speed MTB, and the other is an 18 speed commuter/tourer which I am either going to rid myself of, or fit an 8-speed hub to. My garage is currently home to three 3-speeds and 2 single speeds.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby waynohh » Sat May 23, 2009 8:33 pm

I'm putting 3x10 on my new bike and I promise I'll use the whole range - at least 24 ring/ring combinations or about 18 discreet speeds. My knees definitely agree it's not just marketing. :)
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby gdt » Sat May 23, 2009 11:34 pm

philip wrote:I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't know why hub geared bikes aren't more popular for commuters


I'm trying to get a 5 to 9 gear internal gear rather than a derailier for my daughter's new bike (for the school run) but I'm having major availability issues and I don't particularly want to custom-build a kids bike. Can anyone suggest a supplier for ready-to-ride bikes in kids sizes with internal gearing? I've seen the Isabikes website, and if anyone knows of a similar Australian kids-centric bike assembler/shop then I'd be greatful.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Sat May 23, 2009 11:39 pm

gdt wrote:
philip wrote:I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't know why hub geared bikes aren't more popular for commuters


I'm trying to get a 5 to 9 gear internal gear rather than a derailier for my daughter's new bike (for the school run) but I'm having major availability issues and I don't particularly want to custom-build a kids bike. Can anyone suggest a supplier for ready-to-ride bikes in kids sizes with internal gearing? I've seen the Isabikes website, and if anyone knows of a similar Australian kids-centric bike assembler/shop then I'd be greatful.


Thought about getting a folding bicycle? 20" wheels, and they have a huge height range adjustment.

Of course, I do have to ask how old is the daughter? Are you after a real small kiddies bicycle, or for a smaller adult-type bicycle?
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby eucryphia » Sun May 24, 2009 8:24 pm

I used to ride my old Raleigh 3 speed 12km to work 3-4 days per week on a relatively flat trip with one hill. It was OK if you didn't want to go fast. middle gear is 1:1 so I tried a few different sized sprockets, the 22 tooth suited my ride. I needed a lowish 1st gear more than a tall top gear. Note; there was a design fault with the SA 3 speed, do not stand up in top gear, it will slip and send you over the handlebars. Even when pedaling hard seated, mine would slip. Even with the right hand cone done right up.

I now have a Nexus 8 speed, the 'red band' hub with roller bearings, on my CRX. I find with the stock 20T rear and 40T front is fine but 1st might not be low enough for beginners, it isn't a 'granny gear'. It doesn't slip in any gear unless you don't get the twist grip gear change right, which can be difficult with thick gloves.

I mainly use 5th gear which is 1:1, with a tailwind 6th, the gap is pretty wide between these two, unfortunate because I spend 90% of my time in either of these two gears. I've never exceeded my maximum cadence in 8th, I'm thinking of trying a 22T. In a headwind or if I'm tired I use 2nd to 4th, the gear changes are easy and precise but you do have to ease off slightly when changing up, especially when standing on the pedals.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Sun May 24, 2009 11:36 pm

I did a couple of trips on my Dahon Classic III today. Trying to go uphill in Waverton (don't ask what I was doing around the North Shore), I found that a gear of 48" wasn't quite low enough. Quite funny is that I think the whole range of gears needs to come down - time to get a bigger sprocket! The combination of 48"/64"/83" is just a bit too high. Oh, and I discovered that on this particular small-wheeler you really need to lean forward when hill climbing, otherwise you can tip over backwards.

Tomorrow I'm moving the Shimano 3-speed hub from the Apollo to the Malvern Star, and once that is complete I'll take it for a test ride on my regular commutes to see what it is like. In fact once I have posted this, I'll go down to the garage to count some teeth and calculate what gears-inches it will give me.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Tue May 26, 2009 10:57 pm

Wow, I checked out my Malvern Star today and it is geared at about 52"/ 69"/ 92" I counted 46 teeth on the chainring, but was unable to make out exactly how many were on the sprocket, but a fair estimation is that it has 18. I have found that I tend to use a different approach to gears on this bicycle. I do tend to use 1st when starting off, but quickly shift into second once I am going. I can make it up most hills in a gear of 52", although it does get to be a bit of a labour on longer climbs. I might persevere with it for a while, and if my fitness doesn't improve enough I might swap it for a slightly larger sprocket to bring the gearing down a little bit as I find that I don't use 3rd very much at all. If I account for the fact that my tyres on my MTB are about 25-5/8" in reality the top gear is about 89" or 90" and this Malvern Star is geared higher than my Elan MTB! A 19-tooth sprocket would make the gearing 49"/65"/87" (what a difference an extra tooth makes!)
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby eucryphia » Wed May 27, 2009 10:27 pm

There is a gear calculator on Sheldon Browns site here.

I dialled in my CRX vital stats:
For 700 X 25 / 25-622 tire with 170 mm cranks 45 and 20 tooth sprocket
(I thought it was 40 teeth)

45 / 20
1.615 95.9 13.8 %
1.419 84.2 16.0 %
1.223 72.6 22.3 %
1.000 59.4 17.5 %
0.851 50.5 13.8 %
0.748 44.4 16.1 %
0.644 38.2 22.2 %
0.527 31.3

My old 3 speed:
For 26 X 1 3/8 / 35-590 tire with 170 mm cranks and 22 tooth sprocket

45 / 22 (I'd have to check the front sprocket teeth number)
1.333 70.6 33.3 %
1.000 53.0 33.3 %
0.750 39.7

So low gear on the Sturmey Archer is equivalent to 2nd gear on the Shimano
Middle gear is = 5th = 1.1
Top gear is = 6th

Not sure I got the crank length right either
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby gavinr » Thu May 28, 2009 8:57 am

I don't use more than 6 or 7 of the 20+ possible gears available on my commute, which varies from fairly steep climbs (Gladesville Bridge and the back streets of Gladesville itself) to absolute flat (Iron Cove Bridge). I'd be miserable (or walking a lot!) with a three speed hub but I think I'd be happy with an 8 speed one.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby hartleymartin » Thu May 28, 2009 9:20 am

gavinr wrote:I don't use more than 6 or 7 of the 20+ possible gears available on my commute, which varies from fairly steep climbs (Gladesville Bridge and the back streets of Gladesville itself) to absolute flat (Iron Cove Bridge). I'd be miserable (or walking a lot!) with a three speed hub but I think I'd be happy with an 8 speed one.


The wider range of the 8-speed hub is definitely an attraction, but I have been able to get away with the 3-speed on most of my regular commuting and riding routes so far - seriously considering a new sprocket on the back to lower the gearing slightly though.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby Dial » Fri May 29, 2009 12:09 am

I'm embarrassed to admit I'm commuting on Shimano Sora (8x3). But at 110kg, the Sora can handle it. The chain suffers a bit though :shock:

I use all gears but only because after hammering up the Pacific Highway, its nice to take a break riding up the footpath on Mona Vale Rd before the final run home.

Personally I’d swap the 3 small cogs on the back for some larger ones because top gear at the moment is only getting me to about 60. Anything over 60 and I'm spinning.
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Re: How many and what gears do you use when commuting?

Postby casual_cyclist » Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:56 pm

I have a 21 speed mountainbike but only use 7 gears because my ride is relatively flat.
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