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Explaining the Cassette



A standard road cassette would be 11-25 made up of 8,9,10 or 11 rings ranging from the smallest with 11 teeth to the highest with 25 teeth. A cassette, being at the back, works with the smaller rings being for speed & the largest being for hills.

To cope with our terrain, and to improve performance on the hills, it makes sense to change the cassette to one with bigger rings such as an 11-28 or even an 11-30


Now you are able to be in easier gears on the hills.

These are made by the major manufacturers, Campagnolo, Shimano & Sram, who make theirs compatible with Campag & Shimano.

The cassette on a road bike is made up of individual rings and the whole thing sits on a freehub which provides the free wheel when you’re coasting downhill etc.

Freehub freehub.jpg

Cassette cassette.jpg



The manufacturers are now making bigger & bigger cassette rings. Hope have just released a 40 tooth ring which sits behind your existing cassette & replaces one of your middle rings. This is potentially a great idea because it would mean that you do not have to change your existing crank set for a triple or compact. Gives you climbing ability without costing a fortune.



If you have the tool to unlock your cassette lock ring then it makes changing & cleaning really easy as you can remove it in only a few minutes.

This video shows you how: http://youtu.be/bYejbxf2epM

Explaining the Chain



We are going to look in more detail at your drivetrain, starting with your chain.

This can be one of the most ignored & taken for granted parts of your bike – until it snaps on you & you’re faced with a long walk home!

Then you’ll spend some time researching why this happened & trying to prevent it from happening again – particularly if you’re stood up on the pedals in the “fat man in lycra dying” position when it happens. Oh, yes that really does hurt.

Why did it snap?

Over time the lubricant on your chain picks up dust & dirt & forms a substance like gunk. This is very abrasive, almost like a grinding paste, and wears away at the links until eventually one snaps.

What’s the solution?

Cleaning & lubrication.

The instructions that come with your chain say that before every ride your chain should be cleaned & then lubricated. How?


I’ve tried a number of ways to achieve this. I started by trying to clean the chain on the bike with a cloth, brush & detergent. Didn’t work & made a real mess.

Next, a hand held steam cleaner. Took forever, made a real mess, didn’t clean the chain & took all the skin off the back of my hand. Back to Argos with it.

Next, chain cleaning tool. This fits on the chain & has brushes inside as well as a bath to put degreaser in. You slowly rotate the pedals & the chain moves through the bath & brushes, beautifully cleaning the chain.




Well, not exactly…….the chain moves through the bath & brushes & gets cleaned but the whole area looks like a scene of devastation. The chain moves the degreaser all over the cassette, chain rings, frame, floor and if you do it too fast you’ll get it dripping off the ceiling as well. Rather like my 13 year old Son visiting the toilet, everything will get splashed & covered.

Next I saw the Sram Powerlink Connector. This goes back to how chains used to be. You remove a link with a normal chain tool & put in the connector that just clips together. But, and here’s the good bit, it also unclips for cleaning.




You remove the chain, shake it with degreaser, give it a wash & it’s clean! Hooray!

These links also come as standard with all KMC chains or you can buy them separately, £5.99 for 3. Different ones for different chains as 8, 9, 10 & 11 speed chains are all a different thickness.

You fit the chain as normal & just remove an extra full link to fit the connector.

You should fit a new chain when you are changing a cassette or chain rings as they all wear together & if you have an old chain on a new cassette or rings you will get sloppy changes & the chain will slip.

The formula for sizing your chain is to put the chain around the largest cassette ring & largest chain ring but not through the derailleur, then add one full link.


The advice is not to use oil, 3 in 1 etc., as it does soak up the dirt & aids chain wear, instead use a specialist chain lubricant. The trouble with this is they can be very expensive, so the answer is to find the one that works for you. There are two main types.

Wet Lube: This goes on wet & stays wet. Good for extreme conditions such as wind, rain and mud. Just like one of Kev’s normal rides really. Has a water resistant property so best for winter riding.

Dry Lube: Goes on wet then dries. Great for Summer as no dirt sticks to it, but the chain has to be clean before you apply it & you have to let it dry before you ride. Once applied & dry you can just wipe the chain clean. Will wash off on a rainy ride, so great for dry Summer rides.

Lubrication can be the key to a good ride as you will have crisp shifts & a correctly lubricated chain will lower friction, enabling you to ride further, faster.

The video shows how I clean my chain.




Next month is about how to remove, clean & refit a cassette.

Gears Explained



Kevin asked me recently if I would do this months article on gear. I said fine and I understand why he couldn’t do it.

“Why’s that matey?” he said

I relied “well no one’s going to listen to you writing about gear – after all you are the man who turned up for the Christmas party dressed as Batman!”

Anyway, a bit of swearing later he explained that it was gears & not gear that he wanted an article on, so after offering him my profuse apologies I set about my task.

Your drivetrain comprises three main parts:

The Crank with chain rings
Chain connects them together


There are three types of crank, double, triple & compact. Basically the smaller the rings, the easier they are to pedal, so for hilly rides you need smaller rings & you refer to the size of the rings by the number of teeth on the ring, so a 34 would be smaller than a 39 and would be easier to pedal on hills.

Double- This would be on most road bikes as standard. Two chain rings with the big one with 53 teeth & the small one with 39. Good for speed but will compromise your ability to climb hills.
Triple – This would be on most mountain bikesand hybrids as standard, but an option on a road bike – and it’s an option I am going to have on my next road bike. There is a weight penalty, but you have a gear for all terrain
Compact – Normally with a 50 teeth ring & a 34 teeth ring this is a compromise set up that gives you increased climbing ability without having to change a lot of parts. You would just take off the double & fit the compact in its place. You’re not going to have the gears to keep up with Bradley on the flat, unless it’s Bradley Walsh, but it will keep you going up the hills.


A standard road cassette would be 11-25 made up of 8,9,10 or 11 rings ranging from the smallest with 11 teeth to the highest with 25 teeth. A cassette, being at the back, works the other way round with the smaller rings being for speed & the largest being for hills.

To cope with our terrain, and to improve performance on the hills, it makes sense to change the cassette to one with bigger rings such as an 11-28 or even an 11-30.

Now you are able to be in easier gears on the hills.


Your chain connects it all together & it is advised that when you change your cassette you also change your chain as the two become paired together as they wear & if you put a used chain onto a new cassette it can easily jump.

Cleanliness is really important, as is correct lubrication, because when your chain is clean & well lubricated your shifts are faster & there is much less friction to reduce your pedalling efforts.

You also need to be aware of the role friction can play if you have your chain on the wrong combination of gears. If you had your chain on the small ring at the front crank & the small ring on the back cassette your chain would be coming off the cassette at such an angle that a large proportion of your pedalling effort would be used up in friction. Likewise your front derailleur needs to be kept trimmed so that your chain is never rubbing against the side of the jockey that it passes through.

Your chain is best kept in a straight line running parallel to your bike frame to minimise excess friction loss to help you up the hills.

And this is the point to bear in mind. If you’re going slowly up the hills with your legs burning, having to work really hard to maintain a very slow pace, it’s not you or your fitness – It’s your gears. 20% of the population cannot increase their aerobic fitness no matter how much they exercise. You can improve your muscle fitness, but for a lot of people your lungs & heart will use the oxygen a certain way & you’re stuck with that genetically.

Yes, you can get some weight off & that will help you climb hills & there are techniques that will help too, breathing, having a mantra etc., but the main thing that you can do today is look at your gears.

It makes a massive difference. If you look at how professionals cycle you will see that they pedal many more strokes per minute than we do. This is called the cadence & they will pedal at their most efficient cadence, around 80 to 100 strokes per minute. This is aerobically more efficient & produces much less lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid causes the stiffness you feel in your muscles the day after a ride and needs to be avoided if you are riding the day after, as we all will be on the Way of The Roses.

If you were to change your gears to make hill climbing easier you will find that you can pedal uphill with a higher cadence – and go faster than you did before.

I was cycling alongside Warren a few weeks ago on the first ride after Xmas and as I came alongside him I said a cheery “Hello” in the Kevin 3 lungs way.

I thought that he had a mantra going for climbing the hills and it seemed to revolve around the Free Range Chicken he was planning on preparing for tea because all I could hear was:

“Plucking Faster - then on every pedal stroke he said….d, so it went like this:

Plucking Faster…..d

Plucking Faster…..d

Plucking Faster…..d

Plucking Faster…..d

At least that’s what I thought he was saying.

A few weeks later, Warren’s changed his crank, cassette & chain and cycling with him again he was happy & chatty cycling along, chatting on the hills….all down to his new gearing….until he decided that it would be much more fun if he just rode into me & knocked me off and have done with it! Anyway, the wounds have nearly healed & I hope to be out cycling again soon.

I know that the thought of changing these parts is daunting at first but, like most things, it’s only tricky until you know how to do it. Over the years with 8 bikes in the house I’ve built up a few tools and now find the easiest way to clean my bike is to remove the chain & soak it. Whip off the cassette & crank rings and give them a quick wash & then put them back together. I used to put them in the dishwasher till guess who spotted them & banned them from there for evermore – don’t tell her about the tyres in the washer! 

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