Bicycles can be equipped with very different gear ranges quite easily. Manufacturers try to guess what sort of gear range their target customers will prefer, but the same bikes are sold in flat Florida and the mountains of Colorado. It is entirely reasonable to customize the gearing on your bike to match your particular strength, endurance, terrain and load, among other variables.
I can't tell you what gears you need. Gearing is a very personal matter, and it is difficult to give good specific recommendations for someone I haven't actually ridden with.
The best gearing for you depends on a large number of variables, including:
There is no magic formula for this, only experimentation will let you determine what gearing suits your needs.
You may find my online gear calculator useful for comparing with your present gearing:
You can have wide-range, medium-range or narrow-range gearing. There is no free lunch here: these options involve a tradeoff. Note that the number of gears the bike has is much less important than the relative sizes of the front and rear sprockets. The various ranges are available in all different numbers of gears.
Wide-range rear clusters will generally have a largest sprocket with 30 to 24 teeth.
Wide-range cranksets will generally have small chainrings with 28 or fewer teeth, and will most often have triple chainrings.
Marketing hype: Wide range gearing was formerly called "touring" gearing, but in the late 1980s, the marketing "experts" decided that "touring" was no longer a useful marketing term, so they re-named these parts as "mountain" equipment. This causes a lot of confusion, because it gives some folks the incorrect impression that wide-range gearing is not appropriate for road use.
Medium-range rear clusters will generally have a largest sprocket in the 26-29 tooth range.
Medium-range cranksets will generally have small chainrings with 30 to 36 teeth teeth, either double or triple.
Narrow-range cranksets will generally have small chainrings with 39 or more teeth teeth, with 52 or 53 for the larger ring.
The marketeers call narrow-range gearing "road" gearing, rather an oversimiplification. Narrow-range gearing is a good choice for riders who live and ride in flat terrain, and for folks who want to race.
Last Updated: by Harriet Fell