Meeting USA Cycling Junior Gearing Restrictions
Do a search on the web for “Junior Gearing Restrictions” and you’ll find a bunch of sites that either explain the rules, or bash them. We’ve certainly heard the arguments by many eloquent authors that enumerate the virtues or expound the vices. This post, on the other hand, is intended to deal with the technical side of compliance with the rules, not to change them. Regardless of how you feel about it, junior gearing restrictions are here, so let’s talk about how to take best advantage given the limits.
What are Junior Gears? (Quick Summary)
Junior gearing restrictions are part of USA Cycling requirements for juniors (through age 18) in cycling competition. The rules do NOT cover actual ratios or gear teeth. Instead, they test something called roll-out. Simply defined, roll-out is the distance a bike travels in one full pedal revolution when in its highest gear. This is usually measured by pushing the bike backward (so the pedals turn with the wheel). In the US, the roll-out distance is 26′-0″ (7.93 m). Riders having a max ratio greater than that are disqualified.
In a nutshell, Junior gear restrictions were made:
1. to help juniors learn to ride tactically;
2. to keeping early bloomers (strong kids) in the pack;
3. to reduce tension in developing joints by having them learn to spin more instead of cranking so hard.
Whether junior gearing accomplishes those goals or not is definitely debated, but most US sanctioned road and TT races have Junior gear requirements, so let’s concentrate on HOW to get it done.
Meeting the Requirements:
On the bicycle there are several things that effect total gear ratio or roll-out distance. For purposes of our discussion we’ll mention wheel size and tire size, but because most riders choose a 700C wheel (industry road bike current standard) mounted with either 23c or 25c tires, we’ll focus this discussion on those norms. For those that use other combinations, the below discussion is worth consideration, but the specifics may need altering for your specific implementation.
First, the Mind Set:
It is easy to get sucked into the common thoughts that a big gear on the front gives you higher ratios. While that is true given a specific rear gear, the same result can be accomplished by changing both front and rear. The key to achieving the right junior gearing combination is a balance of front size with respect to the smallest (available) rear cog size.
Second, the Tools:
The tools, or the Ways to change the ratios to achieve junior gear restrictions are as follows:
1. Front Chainrings (on the crank). Various chainring sizes are available – noted by the number of teeth on the ring. Changing the size of the chainring changes the overall ratio. A larger chainring makes the roll-out longer. A smaller chainrings makes the roll-out shorter (assuming the same cassette).
2. Rear Wheel Cassette. The cassette has several gears on it. For roll-out purposes, we will consider only the smallest one. Changing the cassette so the smallest gear is bigger will decrease the roll-out distance. Making that smallest cog smaller will increase the roll-out distance.
3. Rear Derailleur Adjustment. As a trick, “blocking out” the smallest cassette cog(s) can accomplish the same result as 2 above. An adjustment to the rear derailleur can make the smallest “available” cog NOT the actual smallest cog. This involves adjusting the rear derailleur so the bike cannot shift into the smallest cog(s). This is usually “legal” for regional races, but not acceptable for national races.
As an example of “Blocking”, On an 11-27 cassette, the smallest cog is 11 teeth. The next smallest is 12 teeth. If the smallest one is “blocked” by adjusting the rear derailleur so it can’t actually shift into the smallest cog, then the 12 tooth cog becomes the “smallest available”.
Nuts and Bolts of Junior Gearing:
There are 3 main ways people typically meet the junior gearing restrictions. Here are the methods combined with advantages and disadvantages of each. Keep in mind, all of these approaches achieve very close to the exact same ratio.
First, the common approach is a 52/36t chainring combination up front, with a “junior gears” cassette on the rear having the smallest cog a 14.
– Very close to the max roll-out distance.
– Comparatively heavy solution. The “junior” specific cassettes are low-end and heavy. The 52t chainrings are bigger, so obviously heavier than the two solutions below.
– Are there any 11-speed cassettes (14-?) available?
Second, a 44/34 on the front with a cyclocross cassette on the rear having a 12 as the smallest cog.
– Lighter, because both rings and cassette are smaller — and high-end cassettes are available. (Remember, even though the rings are smaller, the total ratio is the same).
– Better total ratio blend because of the broader range available with a 12-(?) cassette. (About 20%).
– With a smaller front ring and a broader available cassette range, riders can stay in the sweet spot more.
– The other 2 sizes are slightly closer to the max roll-out. (2% difference).
Third, a less common combo such as a 45/36 on the front with the cyclocross cassette on the rear, 12t smallest cog.
– Same weight advantages as above with the 44.
– A 45t ring can be a little closer to the max roll-out distance.
– Does anyone makes a 45t ring that shifts worth a darn? If not, trouble shifting is a disadvantage.
-The 36 small ring won’t give quite as low a ratio as a 34. If races include significant climbing, that could make a difference.
The above description shows some common approaches to meeting the junior gearing restrictions. It is important to keep perspective with all the numbers and possibilities. The real difference with respect to roll-out between the highest and lowest ratios discussed above is a mere 2%. First of all, that’s tiny. Second of all, that is only the highest gear — most of the time, junior riders are in gears lower than that, so the top gear (the roll-out gear) doesn’t even matter. For strong kids, this can be important, but even at that, they usually don’t spend a large portion of the race in the highest gear. Other factors like chainline when riding, weight, cost, how the gears shift, etc. should also be considered and balanced as a whole. It’s easy to look at the charts and say “Yea, I want to be as close to 26′ as possible”, but if a couple % less gives you more advantages in other areas, it’s probably worth it.
As indicated in the chart, other junior gearing combinations also exist, but are less common. Visit LifeOnTheBike.com for lots more info and a cool calculator to check out possibilities.
The WickWerks Solution:
We recommend the WickWerks 44/34 Chainring Set accompanied with a 12-(?) cassette to meet the USAC junior gearing rules. Here’s why:
1. For a bicycle equipped with typical 700C x 23 tires and a 12T small cog on the cassette, the 44/34 provides a 3.667 ratio; and an estimated roll-out distance of 25.23 ft — just shy of the 26 ft limit. (Calculated) Note: calculations are good, but distance rolled out is the governing standard. Tire size and other factors contribute to the actual roll-out distance.
2. As mentioned, there are lots of ratios that meet roll-out limits, but the constraint is usually finding the equipment. Tire size can be one of many. The 700C x 23 is popular, but 700C x (??) and other sizes are available and nice for certain situations. Cassettes are available with various tooth counts, but the 12-(?) are common — like 12-23 or 12-25 or 12-27. Paired with our 44 tooth big ring, the 12 tooth small cassette cog is a great ratio (making a 44 to 12 top combination) and will be legal for most bicycle arrangements.
3. A 44/34 is lighter than a 52/36 combination just because they’re smaller. Same with the cassette. Junior specific cassettes are NOT built high-end. They’re big and they’re heavy (in comparison to typical high-end cassettes). Using the WickWerks 44/34 chainrings allows a much lighter / better (and more common) cassette.
4. WickWerks chainrings shift great! When juniors are developing, you want them to learn proper skills that will assist them throughout their years of cycling. Many juniors don’t learn to front shift effectively because they are so often given equipment that doesn’t shift well. Instead, juniors often spin through a whole race in the small ring, or grunt through the race in the big ring. Either way, it makes them slower. It’s also not as fun and it develops poor skills. We recommend giving them rings that shift well, then teach them the skills and watch them flourish. WickWerks chainrings help to accomplish this.
5. As part of the skills, a smaller big ring allows greater range on the cassette — a 12-27 has a lot more range than a 14-25. This will allow choosing a best ratio for the conditions. ALSO, the smaller step (44 to 34) on a front shift (compared to a 52 to 36), allows the rider to stay more in the center of the cassette which gives a better chainline and improves efficiency.
6. For younger juniors, they will appreciate the lower total ratio available with a 34t small ring up front (compared to the more common 36t rings).
Can WickWerks rings really live up to these claims? Good question. Check out the reviews by VeloNews or Slow Twitch. Read our customer reviews. Search the web and see what people are saying. BRIDGE Technology really IS what we say, and it will make a difference in your race — and not just for junior gearing.
All the above are pointed at helping young riders develop better skills as well as making them faster in competition.
That is the WickWerks Advantage.
Post (and updates) by Eldon, WickWerks Engineer, and a Coach of the Front Rangers Juniors Cycling program in Colorado Springs. Photos including some of the Front Rangers team riders were used in this post.