Running the right gear ratio is of vital importance in fixed gear crit racing as obviously, you don’t have the luxury of shifting gears as you have in road cycling. You have to accelerate, slowdown/brake, attack, maintain pace, and sprint all with that one gear you mounted before the crit. There are several factors that determine the right gear ratio for you. Factors like, the level and type of athlete, and the type of circuit all are at core in the process of choosing the right gear ratio for a crit. Experienced riders know their strengths and weaknesses, and they often have knowledge on the circuits. On top of that, they probably have experimented with different gears, so they know what works and won’t work for them. Thus, the process of selecting the best gear ratio for them is quite easy. However, this is a whole different story for someone that wants to start racing fixed gear crits. To help those, we created the FGC Gear Guide which helps you get started in the world of fixed gear crit racing by quickly in finding the right gear ratio for your crit or training!
Text and Photography: Brian Megens
To make a very technical story short, the bigger the front chainwheel is the ‘heavier’ the gearing gets, or the less pedal strokes you need to maintain, for example, a speed of 30k per hour average. For the cog, or little chainwheel attached to your rear-wheel, the opposite is true. Thus, the bigger the cog is the ‘lighter’ the gearing gets, or the more pedal stroked you need to maintain that 30k average per hour. Of course, you can play with the front chainwheel and cog. For instance, 48-16 is exactly the same gear ratio as 51-17. Which one is the better one to pick then? Well, the 48-16 is lighter, but research also shows that running bigger chainwheels and a bigger cog (big on big as they would say in track cycling) is more efficient. We will leave this debate for another article and will focus on which gear ratios are advised and commonly used for certain riders and different types of crit circuits.
How do I pick the right gear ratio for a crit? First, you have to assess your level. In the FGC Gear Guide, we distinguished between ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘pro’. Beginner level are cyclists that just started competitive cycling. Intermediate are those that have quite some experience in fixed gear crits or competitive cycling, and the ‘pro’ category is for all those that can make it to the start-line of a Red Hook Criterium final.
The next thing to take into account is the type of crit. We distinguished between ‘fast’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘technical’. A fast course would be Red Hook Criterium Milano wherein corners can be taken almost with full speed. An intermediate course is probably used in 90% of the crits. These are courses that have a mixed technical and fast parts. We define a technical crit as one wherein one is almost always occupied with slowing down or accelerating without a long fast part. Go-kart tracks and ‘La Petite Course’ are perfect examples of technical crits.
Besides these categories, there is another thing to take into account before picking a gear-ratio. That is the type of rider you are. For example, I am a rouleur (all-rounder) with a preference for break-aways. Therefore, I like to ride relatively ‘light’ to accelerate quickly and be able to ride with a gear which allows me to maintain a high pace while riding on my own or in a small break-away. My gear ratio is on most courses 51×15. However, more explosive types might want to ride a bit heavier so they can use all their power in the sprint to create a very high top speed.
The last distinction we make is gender. It is a fact that men’s races are faster than women’s races thus different gear ratios are recommended. Final remark, the FGC Gear Guide is a recommendation, a starting point. You can only find what gear-ratio works for you by trial and error! To download the Men’s FGC Gear Guide click here, to download the Women’s FGC Gear Guide click here.
To calculate different gear ratios click here.