In 2013 WickWërks introduced a new chainring size — requested and run by of one of the greatest women riders ever on a ‘cross bike. With the industry change to 11-speed, Katie Compton determined the optimum size for her would be a 42/34 chainring set — which she asked us to produce. We did, and her results were amazing.
These new, slightly smaller rings made a broader range of usable ratios available for her to optimize conditions — even though it’s the opposite direction of most industry thinking. Katie is a very powerful rider, and to some, that would mean bigger, not smaller gears, but in this case going down in size proved best.
The traditional cyclocross ratio is 46/36 (46 teeth on the big chainring and 36 teeth on the smaller ring). That’s big for many riders, so WickWerks offers the 44/34 — 2 teeth smaller on both chainrings — and, of course, the 42/34 as run by Katie. For many riders, this gives a more usable gear range.
Behind The Scenes
A “behind the scenes” issue with smaller chainrings is cage clearance for the front derailleur. On Katie’s bike the tail end of the front derailleur cage interfered slightly with chain stays of the bicycle frame — as can be seen here in this 2013 photo of Katie’s prototype Trek bike configured with the early WickWerks prototype chainrings. (Also see the photo at the top of the page of Katie’s bike at Cyclocross Nationals.)
Note the arrows in the photos. In this case, a slight modification of the derailleur cage made things fit and function fine, but for many bikes, the modification is not so easy.
The problem is NOT in the size of the chainrings — rather, in the “one size fits all” front derailleur. Most road front derailleurs are made to accommodate a large chainring jump — like the 50/34 or 52/36 sized chainrings. That’s a 16 tooth difference (which makes sense for road), but not so much for ‘Cross. In the photo here, you can see the relative size difference (inside ring to outside ring). (Photo shows a WickWerks 42/34 CX set, left; and a 52/36 Road set, right.)
In Cyclocross the rings are smaller, and the difference between the big ring size and the small ring is less. — like 10 teeth in the 46/36 & 44/34, and only 8 teeth different in the 46/38 & 42/34 (shown above) sizes.
Why then, do we need a derailleur with a cage sized for a 16 tooth differential?
The Answer: For cyclocross, we don’t. Long cages may be the only offering of the big “S’s”, but they’re not best for ‘cross. In fact, a long cage makes the front derailleur more flexy, and in Cyclocross, that’s not best. Enter the new “Short Cage” Front Derailleur. This particular one is made by MicroShift and provided by Gevenalle — a company focused on unique products for CX. This cage is tough and stiff, made of steel and sized for performance in cyclocross racing.
As seen in the comparative photos below, the short cage Gevenalle is 6.75 mm shorter (more than 1/4″) than a more traditional road derailleur (in this case, Ultegra) — which will give clearance to the chain stay when using smaller chainrings like the WickWerks 42/34. Incidentally, because it’s stiffer, it’s a great choice for all ranges of cyclocross — including the traditional chainring sets like 46/38 and 46/36, as well as smaller sets like our 44/34 and 42/34.
This particular short cage front derailleur is for 10 speed, though an 11 speed is on the way. In the meantime, however, we have used this short cage with 11 speed, and if you fuss with the derailleur set-up just a little, it works.
If you want smaller chainrings because they better fit your physiology or racing paradigm, break out of the mold and try something like the 42/34 or 44/34 ‘rings (available here for various crank styles). If your bike does not accommodate a long cage traditional road front derailleur, the solution may be this one, with a shorter cage. At $49 (get it here) it’s not expensive, and it solves a lot of clearance problems.
Enjoy The Ride !!