Should you run larger chainrings?
CYCLING WEEKLY|May 06, 2021
Just how much more efficient are bigger rings and can they benefit non-professionals? Stefan Abram investigates
Stefan Abram

For a few years now, SRAM has offered 12-speed road groupsets which include a diminutive 10-tooth smallest sprocket. This allowed smaller chainrings to be used while still providing similarly high gears compared to standard set-ups. However, some pro teams like Trek Segafredo were reticent to move onto the smaller rings and stuck to their traditional 53/39 cranksets. In order to ensure the pros are riding publicly available components, SR AM recently released three new cranksets, with big rings that span from 52 teeth right up to 56.

For that au fait with gear ratios, all this might seem a little odd. SR AM’s previous largest gear of 50x10 was identical to 55x11 – which some pros do use, but the majority seem perfectly happy to stick with the smaller 53x11.

With this most recent update, SR AM’s largest gearing combination is now equivalent to a whopping 62x11.

Why this sudden drive for bigger gears, and are there any benefits mere mortals might reap from these larger chainrings?

Drivetrain efficiency, not top speed

Strong though the pros are, it seems unlikely that their fitness would have taken such a leap in recent years that these new, massive gears are now a necessity.

Paul Sollenberger from CeramicSpeed confirmed that the pros’ predilection for bigger chainrings is centred on increasing drivetrain efficiency by reducing chain articulation – rather than a desire for a higher top-end.

There are two forms of chain articulation relevant here. The first regards how the chain wraps around the sprockets – a smaller sprocket means the chain has to bend more tightly and this greater movement means more friction has to be overcome.

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