All the gears with no idea

If you are a sprinter, you will change gears.  If you have a coach, it’s usually changing gears according to what they say. Race gear, race gear +/- 2 inches.  Heavy starts, whatever.  Eventually you get to know what you race on what you race on.  Keirin gear, F200, heaven forbid, outdoor on a windy day scratch gear.  But most of the time you are on auto pilot, running what you ran in training, not exactly knowing why. I’m not an expert, but here are a few tips, hints, and superstitions around my ‘gear theory’

all the gear

Buying gears.
It is necessary for all sprinters to have a wide variety of gears.  In most cases, this needs to be done on a budget.  I would suggest buying stuff in rounds to spread the costs.

Round 1
Tool bag, 15mm, allen key set, chain whip
48, 49, 50T chain rings
13/14/15/16T cogs
I would suggest njs export if you want cheap good used stuff. But if you have a repertoire with your LBS it might be worth checking out, to save on time and shipping.

Round 2! Getting serious
51,52,53T chainrings
12T, 17T  cogs

Round 3 (the big dogs!)
54,55,56+T chainrings
A second chain

GR8 designs chainrings

best big ring I’ve used.  Aussie made, great price

That is about the contents of my kit bag. If you are just starting out, or happy to save money, round 1 is all you need.  It will give you a good range between 84” and 104” more than enough to warm up, spin out, and do heavy efforts.  I stayed with this set for years.  It wasn’t ‘till I started training with Carl and training cadence that I needed a bigger range.

Using the gears
One of the most asked questions I get when people ask me about sprinting is “what gear do you do a flying 200 on”  That is such a big question.  For me, the answer is mostly I have no idea.  All of last year I was so confused.  I’m getting better, I now have a range.  But that also depends on variables… For the person asking the question, the answer is even bigger.


65T chainring

custom 65T – why not?

There are a couple camps on the speed theory. Spinning is winning and the Big Dawg!  I like big gears, because I’m getting results right now.  It would seem to be working for me.  My best advice would be to play with the gears.  Do flying efforts, do standing starts, do all the long races at local club events (track is fun.  ya, be a sprinter, but unless you are world level, play with the enduros and race all the local events) and collect data.  Max speed, max cadence, how you felt going into the race/during/after.  Note the gears,  and how the different ratios change the effort.  It takes years, but eventually you will be able to wake up and go Bam! That’s the gear I will ride today (it feels good)

Choose your own adventure

big gears

wise owl checking gears on the big chart of big gears

Over the last year I have had to do a lot of thinking, and choosing my own gears.  My structured training started very traditionally.  Moto accels 88, 92, 94, 88 aiming for max speed.  Just going for max speed, MOAR fasterer, all the time.  I liked it, it was easy simple.   Then after about a month training changed.  Carl had decided to test a new thoery out on his squad.  He decided to let us choose the gears and work off cadence.  All of a sudden, I had targets, goals, things to hit.  My moto accels became MAC 250 SC 90 TC 145 (moto accel, 250m, start cadence 90RPM, target cadence 145) Then the fun began, gear choice!  I would pull out the big chart of big gears, I would open my google doc of past data, I would have a chat with my legs.  And only after all the variables were taken into account, I would pick a top speed.  From there I would work out the gear.  Up on the track, I would tell whoever was on the bike, start speed 38km/h target 65+ and away I would go.  Hit the speed, go up a few inches (few more if the first one felt super good) miss the speed, try again.

The bonus of choosing your own gears is it keeps you accountable. When training without anyone around, you know how you feel, and you can get instant feedback on how the effort went.

If you have a coach or a program that tells you what gears to ride, ask questions. Ask why am I running 88” behind the motor bike.  Are we going for max speed and spinning out, are we looking for a fast acceleration.  Why that gear.  That way you know going into the effort what needs to be done. If the objective was met, suggest gears.  Coaches are not mind readers.  They love data and feedback as much as athletes do.  If you don’t tell them you were spinning out/mashing too much they will never know.  Maybe that’s what they were looking for, but maybe not.

If you are a junior, sucks to be you. Take your restricted gear and spinnnnnnnnnn!

The possibilities are endless!

photo 2
My kit bag is full of any gear you will ever want to ride (on  the track) I go as low as 70” (47/18) all the way up to 128” (57/12).  And yes I’ve used them all.  The 18T is the easy one to chuck on after racing to ride home.  It lives on my outdoor wheels with a lockring.  And 57/12 is usually doing stupid stuff when my program says max speed.  Yes I will hit a max speed, yes I will blow myself up, yes I will feel like a bad ass and totally have a ball.  yMaybe not the best idea, but I only know this because I tried.  The only way to know if you are a spinner or masher is to get out there and play with the gears.

Still confused?
Good, so am I.  Some days I wake up and know, 102 is the way to go.  Other days I just can’t decide between the 53 and the 54T chainring.  What’s 2 inches when it comes to an effort, nothing really.  It’s a mental thing if anything.  Here is my top tip- Rock. Paper. Scissors! Oh ya, keep it fun.  Find a frined (yes sprinters have frineds, or grab an enduro if you have to) assign one gear to them the other to you.  Then play rock paper scissors.  The winner is the gear choice.  Easy! *note, there is a regret factor.  If after rock paper scissors is played, you have a sinking feeling in your gut, you don’t like the outcome, you really wanted the other gear to win.  The regret factor has right of veto.  Deep down inside you knew you wanted that gear, you just didn’t know that before the game.  So go with your gut.  In training it’s ok, but in racing, if you don’t trust a gear selection, it will become another doubt in the back of your mind.

photo 1


Keep your chain clean– no one likes black fingers. And when changing gears often a clean chain is good.  Strip the chain of factory grease (I use a bit of kerosene) the re-oil with a light clear oil,  wipe most of it off.

Lazyness is not an excuse to pick a gear– I normally like changing either my chainring or cog.  Having to do both sucks.  That being said, if you are picking a race gear just because it is an easy gear change, that is not the best idea.  Pick the gear according to past data, how you feel on the day, and the conditions.  If it happens to be an easy change-bonus!

Don’t listen to others– I had someone tell me 56/12 was a bad idea. They said I looked slow and not strong enough.  A week later I PB’s my flying 200 on that gear…

The big chart of big gears is your bible!- and if you don’t like/have big gears it is easily re-calculated for smaller sizes.

gr8 designs keirin gear

Big chainrings look the shizz– you will quite often find me riding 53-57 on my track bike. There is some voodoo science saying big/big has less friction and therefor faster (we’re talking like marginal, marginal gainz here) but I do it because I have a long chain on and those gears just fit better.  Also I like the attention I get when I put on the 57

Don’t be afraid of change– when you do find your ‘race gear’ still play around with it. These things aren’t and shouldn’t be set in stone.

Do stupid stuff sometimes- Chuck on something way outside of what you think is normal and see what happens.  You might fail, but you might also be surprised with the outcome and have your training world turned upside down.

Super Glue the backs of the chainring bolts- This will keep them from spinning/falling out making gear changes easier and faster.  Thanks to Track sprinting, I forgot this gem.

One thought on “All the gears with no idea

  1. Pingback: All the gears and no ideas- Part 2 | Lizanne Wilmot

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