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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Your Bike Geek Photo of the Day

I love old bicycle books, especially from the 1970's and earlier. The Bike Boom '70's were a heady time for bike books, and there were lots of them. And the Bike Boom was also the Ten-Speed era. Many pages of the books of this era were spent talking about gearing: how to shift, and especially what gears to have. While there were many a ten-speed back then, most of them were geared "high", just like the gearing that was on my '70's Centurion Le Mans. High gearing is appropriate to racing, but not so much for casual riding, commuting, or especially for touring. I only rode the Centurion a few times in its ten-speeded glory before I converted it to a single speed, and remember that I mostly had it in the next-to-lowest gear all the time. I wonder how many beginning cyclists were turned off from bikes because of this? How many folks were lured to ten-speeds either by eager salespeople or because it was "the thing to have?" Wouldn't they have been better served by a three-speed?

Anyway, I digress.

So these books talked a lot about gears. Anyone who wanted to seriously tour back then had to build up a better, more appropriate gear ratio than what was given on their bike, so they had to know exactly what they wanted. And you only had 10 gears to choose from, so they better be just right. (Triple chainrings were almost unheard of, and considered by some to be unnecessary. One book flatly said if the hill was too much, just walk. Wonder what they think about 11 speed cassettes?)

But it didn't stop there. Once one figured out what gears they had and what gear-inches they translated into, some books went as far as saying they should write down their gear-inches for each gear, and then tape to handlebars so they could be memorized. I found this a bit amusing since I subscribe to the school of thought that if the gear you're in feels too hard, downshift. Memorizing gear-inches sounds way too complicated! And unnecessary. Some things about the 1970's I just don't understand, like bellbottoms and pet rocks.

But something about the taping the gear-inch chart to the handlebars stuck with me.

I found a gear-inch chart for Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hubs in an old bike book. So for fun, I figured out what the gear-inches for the three speeds of the Rudge were, wrote it down, and taped it to the stem.

Don't know if I'll memorize it, though.

And if you are curious, the Rudge has a 48 tooth chainring with 20 tooth cog, on a 26" x 1 3/8" (650A or 590mm) wheel. This translates into 46.8 inches for low (1st) gear, 62.4 inches for middle (2nd), and 83.2 inches for high (3rd).

Yes, I am a bike geek.


  1. Ahhhh.....gear inches! I'm like you,if it's too hard a stroke,downshift-though I typically ride SS ;)

    Good post,brought back childhood memories (being born in '73) :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

  2. Oh, man, when I discovered Sheldon's online gear calculator (, I grew synanpses in the nether regions of my brain that did not let me stop. I began creating spreadsheets that compared the gearing of my current bikes with various theoretical ideal combinations to try to get back to a compact double. And you're right, all the standard cranksets have 50-34, and even the 48-34s are a bit steep for my heavy old self, whereas something like the Velo Orange 46-30 is closer to reality. Then the idea of paring it down to a S-A 3- or 5-sp IGH got me looking at other combinations. And then you go mess with the bike. A racer might find my noodling to be hopeless ambition for as relatively few miles as I ride, but for the pleasure it gives, who cares?

  3. Back when I raced in the late seventies you had to know the gear inches for all 10 of your gears. People would re-tell what happened to them like this:

    "I was in a 100 inch gear when I hit the bottom of that hill. I shifted down into my 52 inch gear and jammed it. I left everyone in my dust over the top."

    You just learned to talk like that. You had to know your gear inches to make conversation.

    I still find myself refering to gear inches when I'm talking bikes.

  4. Disabled Cyclist--I remember when I had a single speed I would always joke when April needed to downshift. I'd say "I'm already in my lowest gear!"

    Doug--Back when you were rocking 100 gear-inches in the 70's, were you also racing with bellbottoms and a pet rock taped to the bars? ;-)

    Don--I know! Gear inches is yet another thing to obsess over!

    To anyone interested--Rode the Rudge to the top of Mt. Tabor on Friday, and the 46" low gear did fine. Also figured out what the gearing is on the Raleigh since I threw a 22 tooth cog on the rear (with a 46 tooth chainring) and it came out: 40.9"/54.4"/72.7" The 41 inch low gear will definitely help on hills, though it's nowhere near the lowest that my LHT can do. I think it can get in the low 20s.


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