Cycling - Knowledge

Cycling Gear: Everything to Know About Compact Crankset

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Cycling is an interesting sport and if you are truly into it, you must be quite eager to try out the new trendy products. Now, if you are really into cycling, you must have heard of the compact crankset and the standard crankset. However, not many people know what these are actually. Even if they do, they aren’t quite sure which one would be best for them. In this article, we would take you take you through each and every aspect of cranksets and how they can affect your performance. The crankset, also referred to as chainset is the name that is used to describe the crank arms and chainrings which turn them. There are different kinds of chainsets and they can make a huge difference to the way you feel when riding the bike.

We would be discussing the most common cranksets- the standard crankset, and the compact crankset. Other than those, the semi-compact crankset is also quite popular but not as much as the standard and compact. To understand the major difference between them, we first have to understand what they are and how they function. After judging the major advantages and disadvantages of both, you would be able to decide which one is better.

Difference: Compact Cranksets Vs Standard Cranksets

Standard Chainsets vs Compact Chainsets

A chainset is a component of the drivetrain on a bike. It connects by means of the chain (or belt in some cases) to the drive the wheels of the bike. The chainset spins using the bottom bracket as a support and housing. When the chainset works in a clockwise direction, it provides the power to move the bike forwards.

Let's find out in detail about the two of the most popular chainsets used by cyclists. 

The Compact Cranksets

The compact crankset has a 50 tooth outer chainring along with a 34 tooth inner chainring. The other less common options are 52/36, 50/36 and 48/34. This signifies that the gears would be easier to turn but you would only be able to cover a shorter distance per revolution of the pedal. This is comparatively lesser than what you normally would get with a standard crankset with a similar cassette.

These chainsets enjoy massive popularity as they allow the rider to keep moving uphill (even the steep climbs). The speed might be a bit slow but a lot of people like to turn smaller gears at a higher cadence. But, why is it so? This is because a lesser amount of stress would be put on the knee. However, on fast descents, you might run out of gears. This means that you would not be able to move the pedals as fast so as to make any difference to the total speed after a certain point.

The Standard Cranksets

The standard chainset has 53 or at times 52 tooth outer chainring along with a 39 tooth inner chainring. This is the first and foremost choice of most racers and in fact used to be the default option for the road bikes. Most pros would opt for the Shimano crankset because of its reliability.

Is Compact the Right Choice For You?

Compact Chainsets
Is Compact Chainset the Right Choice? (source)

Some people would suggest standard while some would recommend compact crankset depending on the power output. If you ask the pros, they would tell you about the Shimano 105 compact crankset. But, as a rider, you must be able to see the benefits yourself. To decide if the compact is the right bicycle crank; you would need to see both its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Compact Cranks

Listed below are a few benefits that the compact cranks offer. For better understanding, we have compared it with the standard chainsets.

  • Can Offer a Wider Gear Range
    The compacts have the capability to offer a wider range of gear, particularly at the lower end. This means that there is a lesser chance of you running out of gears.
  • Tighter Gear Spacing
    The compact bike crank allows for tighter gear spacing. Most cyclists need a big cassette with a standard. But, with the compact, smaller cassette like 11-23 or the 50/34 with 11-28 cassettes would work fine. The advantage of a smaller cassette is that they have smaller jumps between the gears which make it effortless to find the ideal gear. Another advantage of tighter gearing is that there would be barely any interference in the power output and cadence while shifting.
  • Less Front Shifting
    A compact allows you to deal with more terrain on your large chainring which means that there would be lesser front shifting. Due to this, there would be less wear on the chain, chainrings and the front derailleur. As such, the frictional losses are reduced in the big ring as the chain creates a wider radius bend as compared to the smaller ring. Hence, there is a lesser chance of your chain dropping.
  • They are Lightweight
    Due to the smaller chainrings, smaller spider, shorter chain and the comparatively smaller cassette, the compact crankset are lighter. If you look closely, all of these could potentially add to an impressive weight saving.
  • They are more Versatile
    The compacts tend to be more versatile because of more options of chainrings. If you compare it with the standard chainset, the smallest chainring compatible with the standard ones is 38 while for compacts; it can go as low as 33. The commonly used outer chainrings are of 53 but can go as high as up to 56 teeth.
  • Get to Maintain a Higher Cadence
    When you are going uphill, you would need higher cadence and with a compact, you can easily maintain that. You wouldn’t need to push the gears. This feature can prove to be beneficial especially for long rides where you would want to avoid your muscles being overtired.

Disadvantages of Compact Cranks

As seen above, the compact crankset definitely has a lot of advantages. But, there are a few situations where it might not be as advantageous.

  • The outer ring with 50 teeth would limit your speed when you are going downhill or are riding on flat land. But, you can correct this by putting on an 11 sprocket. By doing so, the speed would increase considerably.
  • If you look at the standard crank, you would see that it uses a larger rear cog and a larger chainring as compared to a compact at a similar speed for cadence. This signifies that the chain is less tight that can lead to lower frictional losses. This chain is engaged over more teeth for the purpose of cadence as compared to the standard cranks. Therefore, there would be a more reliable connection between the sprockets and the chain.
  • With the compact cranks, there might be some kind of loss of efficiency.

Compact Chainsets Vs Standard Chainsets: Which One Is a Better Option?

Cycling on rough terrain
Choose According to the Terrain (source)

Which of the cranksets is better would depend on what your strengths are and what you wish to achieve with your bike. At some point, the standard might be better than the compact because of the larger rear cog and larger chainring. But, other than that the compact crankset seems to work better than the other. You need to consider your requirements first and then make your decisions wisely.

The choice of standard vs. Compact as discussed above is completely personal and would be dependent on the terrain that you usually ride in. The level you ride at is also a factor to consider. For a lot of riders, the compact cranksets are an ideal choice as they give you the chance to ride well uphill. Other than that, it can easily be changed into mid-compact. So, make your decisions wisely before making a purchase.

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