January 22, 2018

Compact Cranks

Compact CrankIn May of 2008 I went to a Multisports camp prior to Ironman Coeur d’Alene. It was a great experience and I got to meet Paul Huddle, Paula Newbie-Fraser and Michael Lovado.

I also got to meet Jimmy Riccatello. You may know that name because he used to ride with Lance Armstrong and is the head referee for Ironman North America.

Anyway, part of our camp included riding one loop of the Ironman course and as luck would have it, I rode with Jimmy. We had the opportunity to talk about a lot of stuff over the course of the ride including compact cranks.

I’d never heard the term before that camp but Jimmy was a very strong advocate of them so I paid attention. When I returned from my camp the idea was validated by Larry (Lar Dog) Davidson who already had them installed on his bike.

Essentially, compact cranks are a set of chainrings designed to help you maintain a higher cadence, much like a third chainring would do. Since the common thinking in today’s cycling is that higher cadence is better (around 90) than lower, compact cranks help you with that goal.
A typical crankset would have a 53-tooth outer chainring and 39-tooth inner chainring. A typical compact crankset has 50-tooth outer and 34 inner allowing you to maintain a higher cadence, particularly when climbing.

There are some other up- and down-sides to compact cranks but for the majority of triathletes the main issue is preserving your energy while climbing by maintaining a higher cadence.
We’ve addressed the topic of cadence before in Triathica Weekly so hopefully you’re on-board with the idea that higher cadence relates to faster speed while minimizing work. If you can save your legs on the bike you’ll have a better run.

Another consideration when going to compact cranks is whether your rear gear cassette needs to be changed. Because your cranks are smaller your cassette may need to be changed in order to allow you to maintain speed in the flats and not “spin out” of your gears going downhill. For example, if your cassette has 12-25 gears you may want to change it to an 11-23 so you’ll still have the ability to pedal, rather than coast, downhill.

Should you rush right out and get a set of compact cranks? In my opinion, yes. But don’t take my word for it. Go visit your favorite bike shop and ask them about it. Undoubtedly they’ll have an opinion on the subject and help decide on the brand, configuration and whether or not you need ceramic bearings as well.

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