You know what we don’t talk about enough? Cassettes. Not the ones that used to litter the floor of my car in high school, but the ones that look like dangerous blender attachments and go on bikes. And are cassettes even interesting? Yes. I think yes. They are.
I was talking to a guy earlier today (Hi, Bruce!), and he asked me what cassette I would run on a disc road bike that spends a fair amount of time riding up steep hills. I said, “Well, most of what I see now is 11-32 for that bike,” and he nodded and stroked his chin, and said, “But they’re making 11-34s now with long cage derailleurs, right?” And I said, “Yes. Yes they are.”
What’s interesting is what he said next. He said, “Well, do you think it looks like I’m cheating if I run 11-34?” I laughed, because the idea of being judged based on cassette size is funny, but also because I would run 11-34 in a heartbeat. In my mind, what gear you use is immaterial. You either climbed the hill or you didn’t, right?
That got me thinking though.
With the proliferation of larger cassettes wed to compact chainrings, what is ideal is up in the air again. I have an 11-28 to compact on my road bike, but my mixed-terrain bike gets 11-32. I feel no compunction or shame about that. I’ve ridden D2R2 on 11-28. I know what that’s like.
There is a moment each weekend, as I dutifully churn out my hill repeats, when I go for another gear and my bike tells me, “No, sorry man. That’s all she wrote.” I laugh pretty much every time it happens, and I wonder how many teeth that big cog would need to have for me not to want one more.
This week’s Group Ride asks what is the right cassette for the road? For serious climbing? For gravel or mixed-terrain riding? Is more teeth usually just better? How many of you are more concerned, sincerely, with the lower end of the range?