27 August, 2020

Triples are Great, Change My Mind

By Scott

Recently, I've seen an upward trend in sales of Triple Cranksets here at VO. I've talked to more than a few folks on the phone and online about getting their bike set up with a triple system. It's an interesting trend considering that the wider bike world seems to be moving folks onto 1x systems for road and touring bikes.

Three rings, no waiting

I've been a touring cyclist for all my life (OK, I had one summer when I was a teenager when I tried racing, but we all have that one-time deviation from our true love) and for all of it, I've used a triple. Part of it is related to the fact that I started touring by modifying a mountain bike. I took off the heavy mtb knobby tires and put on slicks or semi slick tires. Threw on a rack or used our early 90's versions of frame bags and seat bags to carry stuff along the Oregon coast, around Tasmania or through the wilds of Sweden. I rode primarily in the middle ring (usually a 34-36 tooth ring) and then when the hills went up, you dropped it down into the inner ring (a tried and true 24 tooth, sometimes made of exotic stainless steel) and when the hill went down, you moved the chain up to the 48 tooth outer ring. You pedaled as long as you could and then you coasted/tucked into an aero position. Simple right?

1x systems came into being in the MTB world - Simplicity they said! No more dropped chains or busted chains from shifting under huge strains! Lighter overall weight! I just don't see it being useful in a touring/city world, in spite of the efforts of the big component companies to promote 1x systems for road/touring use. When it comes to 1x systems, I just see a system that replaces weight on one end - the crank, with more weight in the rear - a huge cassette.

For reference, those huge 12-46 T cassettes weigh 498 gr on my scale. A 12-36 cassette I would run - 408 gr. My triple set up here is 90 grams lighter.

For crank weight, I've grabbed a SRAM 1x drive side arm (with axle attached) which weighs 544 gr. Add on external BB cups at 110 gr for a total of 654 gr.  A VO triple crank (drive side) is 544 gr. Add on a BB to ours and that is an extra 226 gr for a total of 770 gr. The 1x system gets the win here being 116 gr lighter.

If you add on the weight of a left shifter and some cables and housing, yes, my triple set up comes out heavier, but by probably less than 200 gr overall. In a touring or commuting set up, I don't see this as something that would push me one way or the other.

I see 1x systems lacking in the gear range they offer. If we use my VO triple with a 24T inner and a 36T rear cassette cog as my example, it gets me a low gear of 18.2 inches. On the 1x system, the front 42T ring combined with a 46T rear cassette results in a low gear of 24.9 inches. So the old school triple gets you a lower gear, which for most of us, is the number we are truly concerned about while riding. Plus on a more traditional cassette, the gaps between cogs are smaller which makes adjusting for my cadence more natural, rather than the huge gaps in 1x systems.

As to simplicity, I think the product designers/marketing types are over emphasizing how much people shift. I always left the chain in the middle ring, unless I hit a steep uphill or downhill. I was essentially in a 1x system 90% of the time, but with the option to get a bail out at any time. A properly set up front derailleur should be fine in 99% of the situations most of us see ourselves in.

So, chime in. Tell me if I'm a stick in the mud or if you agree that triples (along with 26" wheels, but that is a different blog post) aren't dead yet!

44 comments:

Unknown said...

I live in North Jersey, so lots of hills. My dedicated rando bike has a 2x, but I have a triple on my commuter/dad bike. Like Scott, I mostly ride in the middle ring, but that bottom ring is invaluable when climbing big hills. I can do them on the middle ring with 50 pounds of kid and gear, but dropping to the 26 tooth ring gives me peace of mind that I'm not going to run into trouble and tip my kid over on the pavement.

Anthony Holden said...

I ride a triple in exactly the way you describe--mostly in the middle ring, and then shifting to the small or big ring as dictated by hills. It is TREMENDOUSLY effective, and makes my riding much more enjoyable.

yungmuppet said...

Triples definitely ain’t dead. They make a great poor man’s wide/low double crank by removing the big ring and swapping chainring sizes (often you don’t even need to replace the FD) and/or a city/commuter crank by adding a bash guard in place of the big ring, provide adequate low gear range in a way that few double or one by systems can, and there are so many used ones floating around that nearly anyone can afford to buy one. Love em!

Anonymous said...

I will say that I recently bought a new bike specifically for urban riding and it's my first 1x system. For bashing around the city, I absolutely love it. I think it would be wholly inappropriate for serious distance highway/road riding or touring! The gear ratios are just too far apart. But for my much more limited needs here in the concrete jungle, 1x is just really awesome. It truly feels "set it and forget it" in a way that my other bikes don't.

KevinH said...

I like triples as well. I am becoming a fan of low wide doubles, though. A 38-24 with an 11-36 cog works pretty well. When I am on my triple, it's 44-34-24 with 11-34, 9-sp. Given the amount of time it takes me to climb mountains here in western NC, I like to enjoy the downhill for as long as possible. Oh, and 26" wheels rule because, among other things, rim brakes.

54 said...

I heard that 1x requires a longer chain than a 3x system, anyone have experiences with that? If so, there is some grams there that needed to be accounted for as well... Not that it matters much when you are packing the kitchen sinks for multi days. :D

Mike said...

I don't use a triple but have a wide double that is about the same as what you describe. I run a 24/44 crankset with a 8-speed 12-34 cassette on friction mode. The big 20 tooth jump in the front haven't been a problem at all but I'm using friction shifting and love the ease of use. This is on my gravel bike so low enough gear for the fire roads and singletracks that I like but also the high gear for the paved roads connecting it all. Also being on a gravel bike, having a field repairable bike is awesome. The 12-34 cassette has even jumps between shifts that I much prefer on the road. My mountain bike is a 1x and I don't notice the big shifting jumps on dirt but it is too big for the road.

Bob Torres said...

My road bikes and Rando (2010 - Velo Orange) bike are set up with doubles but my commuter, touring and converted 650B bike are set up with triples. You can't go wrong with a triple...I never had the problems people complain about. 30 years plus....period!

Ed Felker said...

Triples continue to work for me as others have said: they offer a middle ring where I spend most of the time, and with relatively tight spacing on the cogset, it’s easy to maintain a steady cadence. The Campagnolo 30-40-50 is great for my road bike, a Sugino 48-38-28 for the gravel and touring/commuter bikes, and for our tandem we use a 26-40-50. I agree with the notion that triple front derailleurs can be a pain, but bar end shifters with a friction left are my solution. A road double for me would likely be a 48-36, with at least a 36-tooth rear big cog, and I’d still expect to be front shifting a lot.

Peter said...

I used to use a triple but found I spent 90% of the time in the middle ring & when I needed the granny it only provided 1 or 2 lower gears. The big ring got used even less than the granny when I happened to have a tail wind or a long downhill. These days I use a wide range double 24/44 crankset with 11-36 10sp cassette operated with 105 brifters. On paved roads I can ride almost anything in the big ring so is effectively a 1x. For the steepest hills or when loaded I shift to the small ring & get another 3 or 4 lower gears. Saves some weight, simplifies the system, tuning the front shifting is easier & no big jumps between gears.

jefe said...

One thing to consider, smaller chainrings wear the chain and chainrings faster. I have to replace my 36T middle ring on my tandem with each new chain (even at .75-1% stretch). With a sub compact double 46/30, I can go way longer between chainring replacements.

Anonymous said...

Had a TA triple on my Roberts touring frame in 1978, but didn’t use the large ring much, and went to wide double in the early eighties. Still using that same 46-32.

Eric said...

Subcompacts work like your triple usage, but you don't have to pedal downhill once you spin out! Also, 1x is great for city bikes for normies because people are shitty at shifting.

tediKresna said...

at this moment i use a triple cog at the rear. 15-21-28
and triple crank 42-32-20.
i am planning to replace the 42 32 with a 38.
the wheels are 29ers

Andy said...

I've been enjoying my 46/30 double. Quick and easy front shifts (always just throwing it to one end or the other) and with an 11-34 cassette I've got 23.6 gear inches at the low end. I'm in the big ring more than 99% of the time, so the small ring is just a bailout for when steep hill and heavy load come together.

Mike and Sherry said...

My touring bike has a triple crank with the large ring replaced by a bash guard. I just don't see the need for the large ring on a touring bike. If I am going over 20mph, why would I pedal? Stand up and enjoy the downhill. The bashguard prevents greasy pants and generally contributes to a cleaner ride and it protects the teeth.

Robby said...

I think in a general a triple makes the most sense for most touring riders. I figured out that a 1x with a 38t ring and an 11-50(!) cassette gave me all 8 of my normal middle gears on my triple and gears 9,10 and 11 were all within .5 gear inches of my normal triple lowest gears on my fully loaded touring bike. I don't really like to bomb mountains pedaling hard in 48 x 11 these days anyway. During the entire ACA Pacific Coast route I think I popped into my 48 twice.

Once I figured that out I made the switch and am quite enjoying only worrying about one derailleur, as silly as that sounds. This is something that needs to be worked out over time and tours though. For anyone just jumping into the world of it I'd still recommend a triple.

Anonymous said...

Yup. Thanks for this viewpoint and the comparison between triples and a single setup. I haven't tried 1x yet other than single speeding, but I find my old triple setups friendlier than my wide doubles with wide range cassettes. I don't know that a low q factor helps me, so I plan to use this setup as long as it's still available.

Matt hayden said...

I’m a fan of triples. I mostly I use old 94/58s with 42/32/22 or similar; the low gears are amazing.

110/74 Is ok but the lowest middle ring is about 34t, and 46/34/24 doesn’t go as low as I like.

R. Freeman said...

Triples are great. I like 10 tooth jumps at the front. Too large a gap, as in wide range doubles, require double or triple shifts at the rear every time you shift the front. Awkward.

Wide doubles seem to be very terrain-specific, and the exact gears chosen even more so. Triples are more adaptable for more types of terrain, which is why you might appreciate them for touring - you see more variations in terrain during a long tour.

George M. said...

Yes for triples.

Two derailleur touring bikes, both identical gearing but one is 700c and one is 26 inch (slightly smaller wheel diameter), both have triples that are 46/42/24, which is half step plus granny.

My rando bike has a Campy road triple, 52/42/30 (from the square taper era). Mathematically, this bike has one and a half step plus granny.

The rando and touring bikes are running the same eight speed 11/32 Sram cassettes that are 11/12/14/16/18/21/26/32.

I am pretty much sold on triples. I built up the above bikes with that gearing because that is the gearing that I wanted. All of the above are friction for front derailleur. The touring bikes are bar end shifters, indexed in rear. The rando bike uses a Campy brifter for the rear, a down tube friction shifter for front.

I also have a Rohloff bike, you could say that a Rohloff bike has a 1X14 system. From that I can understand why some people like a 1X system with a single sequential shifter. On a long day in hilly terrain, I find that the single sequential shifter requires less thinking compared to touring on a 3X8 system where I have to think about which shifter to shift next. That said, I like the gearing range of my 3X8 bikes and for some things the 3X8 is better than the Rohloff.

If I was a bike manufacturer, I would be pushing the 1X systems, less labor cost to build up the bike and easier for the user to figure out how to shift with only one sequential shifter. And if I was the component manufacturer, I would really like the idea of a 1X system with a really expensive chain and expensive cassette that will need frequent replacement.

Eamon Nordquist said...

A 48/36/24 triple is my all time favorite crankset. I’m happiest with that and a 13-32 in the rear (6 or 7 speeds feels most comfy to me). I’ve used a 46/30 and more gears in the back. It’s great too, but I feel like it’s mostly rearranging weight to the back. It’s all good - I just LIKE triples.

Anonymous said...

A Triple offers the most flexibility.
- Incremental gears for every occasion
- Give you options on riding styles

Whether carrying heavy cargo or not -- going down hill, up hill, or conditions that require sudden speed changes you can shift into the right gear that help to anticipate the upcoming needs of your pedaling dynamics. There are times you need to be barely moving forward, but still have momentum to keep the bike upright without stopping, then suddenly get to higher gears without incrementally shifting through a range.

With a Triple in the front you can shift the bike simply like a 3 x speed and jump big gaps between -- High, Medium, Low. If you have a single in the front, its a linear movement that doesn't necessarily correspond to the pedaling or terrain demands, whereas a triple gets you to the precise gear you need at any moment.

Riding a touring bike in NYC with a 48/36/26 triple. Wouldn't trade it in for a single.

DH said...

So, I've usually ridden triples but just recently acquired two bikes that have 1x. I liked my triples, but really like the simplicity of 1x also (less shifting, one less derailleur, never worrying about cross-chaining). I also can't imagine how you would use some of the larger or plus-tires with a triple (no room for tires).

Matt DeBlass said...

1x systems work really well off road, especially when you're working around chain clearances for fat and plus-size tires, or trying to get a front derailleur to play nice with rear suspension, but I don't think they're ideal for everything, especially loaded touring.

I don't think triples will ever stop being useful for touring bikes, though I do have a mountain bike double on my Disc Trucker which works pretty well, as long as I don't mind coasting down the hills (I don't).

26" wheels... I'll leave those for riders under six feet tall, I like my big hoops.

Markus F said...

If you ask me, a Deore triple is all i could ever need. I wan to have a low gearing for bail-out when tired or when the road is steep, and i have been stubborn about this for 20 years. But this summer i purchased a bike with SRAM Apex 11-42 in the back and 40 teeth in front and i really love this setup. Works well with lighter loads (6-10 kg) and i don´t miss the front derailer at all. I´m not fast or strong, but i have no problem with hills or singletrack with this gearing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan. I have a VO Rando (non-custom) and I've had a variety of cranks on it. I should also note that I'm running DT shifters. Given this setup, I find triples to be excessively finicky, and I can do nearly as well with a wide-range double (TA rings). I suppose that if I had well-adjusted brifters, it might be a different story, but I prefer to live a relaxed life and not worry about adjusting my shifters. So it's a friction DT double for me!

Anonymous said...

I prefer a triple, even in the world of 1X. I've not done much MTB, but am a touring cyclist, many times self-contained. I'm a senior citizen (70+) so my legs aren't have strong as they once were. My touring bike is set-up for climbing self-contained. I could never get as long gear-inch ratio as low as I like on a 1X (I don't think). I have a "cheapie" road bike I bought 2nd hand which I really like to ride! Why? It has a triple ring. I just like the security of going "low enough" as to not walk my bike....

Anonymous said...

I converted to triple in early 2000s with Ultegra 9-speed (6503). I loved the range of gear inches with close ratios when in the 30-tooth ring. As humans with finite strength and energy, I find it odd that the triple is deemed inferior when it is the superior transmission for efficiency, especially when conserving energy is paramount. When I started racing, I made sure I had a triple. Everyone looked at me oddly, even with scorn for such an atrocity to be installed on a race bike. But I fared well and never had an issue. In fact, the triple was the reason I stayed competitive on races with significant or steep climbs. When Shimano dropped the triple out their upper range, I searched the web for the last top-line triple groupset (Shimano Ultegra Triple 10-speed, 6703). It's all brand new and going on my new custom steel racing frame. I will do my best to keep it (and all my other bikes with triples) on the road. Oh, after my Shimano brifters wore out, I replaced with MicroShift. It's good stuff and beets reaching down for downtube shifters or bar ends.

Anonymous said...

I’m a fan of triples. My first compact double using the common 46x30 found me constantly at the top of the granny or bottom of the big ring with the 11x28 ten speed rear forcing me to constantly shift the front. Not low enough either with the steep hills in our area and my age. A 26x38x46 triple gives me 39” to 93” gears and is good for staying in one gear most of the time. The granny gives me many choices while climbing and the big ring feeds my fervor for descending. Close gears are better for finding the right gear so I prefer having those close gears in a low, medium and high. I also have three older tourers with half step and granny, two wide range and one with closer gears.

Anonymous said...

I've been riding 9 speed triple on road bikes and mountain bikes since the 90s. I just don't buy the 1X hype. I keep thinking about going back to a 3x7 setup. Gear Inches: 30x42 = 20.7, 24x34 = 20.4. Looks the same to me... Plus I like my square tapers.

Paul Webb said...

1X made sense in full-sus mountain bikes - removing the need for a place to hang the front derailleur removes a design constraint from that difficult part of the frame where cranks, wheel clearance and suspension pivots fight for space. It's been subsequently pitched at gravel bikes on the basis of allowing a few mm tyre width. A triple works well for my on my all-rounder running 44/32/22 and 11-25 9sp. Big ring for commuting and other sealed road work, medium ring for gravel, small ring off-road. much closer steps on that 11-25 than you'll get on a 1x system. I don't do any loaded riding, so 22-25 bottom gets me up most things.

Anonymous said...

Rode the ACA Northern Tier with a 46/42/24 triple, 14/17/20/24/27 5-speed freewheel. Half-step plus granny, 13 usable gears. Classic touring.

Steve Heywood said...

My "touring bike" (a Surly Pugsley) has a 36-22 double combined with an 11-34 9-speed.
Triples have their place but I'm happy with my setup.

Anonymous said...

Something that no one has covered or I missed it.A race triple is the only way to get low gears with some older race bikes with a braze on that is set for 52/53 outer ring. I know IRD makes a dropper but they have been out of stock. With a clamp you can dip to a compact double but you are stuck if like me you own a ti frame with odd seat post shape and a braze on. Even if you grind it off what do you do short of spending big bucks.So at 64 I am glad I didn't chuck my old stock of Shimano race triples and can still use my older racing bikes without a pie pan cassette.

Unknown said...

Yes. Stronglight Impact triple on a bike built for carrying loads - "dancing" up a steep hill with panniers on is not funny! Otherwise, on light bikes with only a saddle bag, I use doubles with a 44-30 set-up. I can go fast enough on 44-13! I am also experimenting with half-step plus granny gearing on my interpretation of a gravel bike. Essentially, I was gifted a Gitane Interclub; the tyre clearances are huge. So, I built some more robust wheels and put on a Stronglight 99 triple with two rings close together in size and a 30T for the steep bits. Let's see.

Dana said...

Same here.

Dana said...

I have your 46/30 on one bike. I like it, and plan to put one on my old Raleigh (currently a triple) as well. But for my every day & touring bike (50/34, too tall), a triple would be the better choice. It would easily allow a range of 20 to 100 gear inches with a minimum of shifting.
I want a mountain/trail bike, steel with a triple. It looks like I'll need to build my own.

Scott said...

I had almost the same process in switching from a triple to a 1x12, and have been very happy. We don’t have huge hills where I live and I seldom ride with a heavy load. There is only 1 spot in my gearing where I feel like the jump is a little big, and I am geared pretty low as I would prefer to coast down a hill than walk up. I just like the simplicity of it because the bike feels agile. I don’t think I am bad at shifting, and one reason I think that is because I can tell my spouse definitely is;)

Fullandbye said...

Seattleite here. I used to ride a compact double and changed to a Sugino touring triple for my daily ride/light touring workhorse. Never going back. Use of the smallest chainring is maybe 2% of saddle time, but it is a lifesaver when you need it. The remaining 98% of saddle time is split maybe 70:28 between middle and outer, respectively.

Bicycle Safari said...

I think the 1x fad is another great example of the industry trying to make people feel like the bikes they already have are obsolete. It's a real shame.
For my daily commute to work I use all three chainrings at some point in the trip.

Bicycle Safari said...

Another thing I don't quite get is why people seem to frequently fuss about the extra shifter and derailleur being somehow complicated or clumsy. I assemble my own bikes from the ground up, so I know a little bit about what I'm doing, but in all honesty it is incredibly simple stuff that most anyone with a screwdriver can do. Even if you can't tune your own bike, the idea that your LBS is going to leave you hangin seems strange to me. If your chain isn't staying on the bike, something is really wrong. From my own experience, it feels like the complications of the triple crank are more mythical, and the ease of the 1x is more of a placebo than anything.

Korina said...

I'm another fan of the triple; like you, I spend most of my time in the middle ring. I ride a '92 RockHopper converted to my daily ride, complete with Brooks B17, fenders, and Porteur bar. I love the mtb. gearing, as I'm not a particularly fast rider, but Humboldt Bay does have some crazy steep hills. I love the Maxxis DTH 26" x 2.15" tires I recently installed; between the steel and the plush tires, my ride is smoooooth, even on the currently torn up highway shoulder that is half my commute.

I'm 5'4", average for a woman, but evidently short for a bike rider. I grew up riding 10 speeds, so the first time I stood over a 26" wheeled bike, it felt like coming home; I can't begin to imagine how short women deal with finding a bike. My dream bike is a steel all-road built around 26" wheels.

I'm trying talk myself into sucking it up and laying out nearly $170 for a 160mm crankset because, while Sheldon Brown compares too-long cranks to too-tall stairs and how short people adapt, no one climbs too-tall stairs for 30 miles at a time. The 175mm cranks that came with the bike are killing my knees, but the bike industry doesn't care. It's a Sugino XD600T triple; easy to find, but no one carries the short cranks, so to their store I have to go. /rant

Anonymous said...

go scott!! youre right ...