It all starts with this hill.
It all starts with a hill. Quinnipiac University, not far from where I live, recently built a hill-top campus (“York Hill”). I don’t know exactly how steep the hill is up to that campus, but it is (for me at least) steep. The kind of hill where you don’t want to stop, because clipping back into your pedals will be difficult. Since the accident that lead to my hip replacement, I’d tried that hill only once, and bailed pretty quickly. So I figured what I needed was another gear.
Cyclists have been dealing with hills for a long time, and the answer has always been the same: lower gears. By the middle of the 20th century, the major mechanism for switching gears had become the Derailleur. Shimano, one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, manufacturers of bicycle components Then they improved things still further, by making it easy to switch out your gears—they are all assembled into a cassette.
Cassettes are pre-assembled, and sold as standard sets (e.g, 12-25 9s means you have a selection of gears that starts with a 12t, ends with a 25t, and has a total of 9 gears (9 speeds).
The widest-range Shimano cassette for 9s road use (mountain bike and road cassettes are pretty much interchangeable, but MTB cassettes typically start with an 11t gear, which is kind of silly high for most road bikes, which have larger chain rings) was around 12-27, and tres expensive. The cassette I typically use is pretty wide-range: 12-26, nine cogs, made by SRAM (and a good deal cheaper).
But I wanted a lower gear than the 26, and I never used the 12, really, so I had an idea. If I removed the bolt that held the cassette together, I could take off the 12 and 13 gears, and replace them with a single “first-position” 13-tooth gear. Then, I could find a 30t…
I ended up getting a 13-30 7s cassette, a fairly low-end Shimano model (black finish instead of silver, and very cheap). I ground off the three rivets that held it together, then undid the single screw that held together my SRAM cassette. Onto the wheel went the 30…then the spacer that used to sit between the 13 and the 14, and then the 26…and so on. That spacer that had gone between the 13 and the 14? No longer needed, since the “first-position” 13 has its own built-in spacer.
Note: I could have done this even cheaper by using the first-position 13 from the 13-30 cassette, but when I ordered stuff, I didn’t think about that, so I got an inexpensive Miche first-position 13. You don’t need to do this.
So I put the whole mess together, tightened down the lock ring, and everything looked good. I put the assembly on the bike, and things seemed to work well on the test stand. I did adjust the B-screw to make sure there was no rubbing where there shouldn’t be. But I was lucky, and didn’t even need to lengthen the chain for the extra 4 teeth.
The next morning, I took it out for a ride. At first, it took a little restrain not to just slam the lever all the way down when climbing smaller hills—that used to get the 26, but now it would drop to the 30, and I wanted to save that for real hilly situations. So I rode along the trail, getting used to the new gear positions…and then I arrived at the base of the hill.
I get winded more easily than I used to, but I really had no leg problems making it up. I never felt like I was going to abandon the climb. And at the top, rewards. These are wind generators at the very top of the hill:
It was a breezy day, and these were spinning to beat the band. Ironically, they provide the power to light a parking garage .
But the view from the top is pretty good:
So, success on the gearing front. My “mix tape” cassette got me up there, and cheap! I had thought about making my own cassette for years, and I’d encourage anyone who isn’t completely satisfied with their current gearing to give it a try.
And it all started with a hill…