Best Crankset For Triathlons – UPDATED 2021 – Compact Crankset Vs Standard

There are multiple questions when it comes to compact crankset vs standard and what is the best crankset for triathlon. Below we go into some basic detail on some of the combinations and what may work for you on your next triathlon bike. Aimed towards beginners this mainly focuses on chainring size and combinations. Remember the size of the cassette plays a huge roll in this as well as other factors such as cadence, power, terrain, and crank arm length.

Compact Crankset Vs Standard

There are often a lot of questions from triathletes about what crankset they should use, and the difference between a compact crankset vs standard crankset?

First of all the main difference between a compact crankset vs standard crankset is the size of the chainrings. A compact crankset is based around a 50/34t or 50/36t combination, while a standard is much bigger at 53/39t. Then just to confuse you a little more, there is also a semi-compact model, which sits in the middle with a 52/36t combination.

While there are benefits to all three combinations, choosing the best crankset for triathlon is often difficult for beginners and sometimes even experienced triathletes.

To be get started you need to first look at your fitness level. Your power output and cadence can give you a good indication of the combination that will suit you best.

The larger chainrings provide a larger gear that moves you further with each pedal revolution. This means a larger gear is more suitable for a more powerful rider that rides at a higher speed. Although for the less powerful rider can benefit from the larger gear going downhill but may struggle to turn over the gear of the flat.

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Smaller gears provide a shorter pedal revolution, thus helping the rider to get up climbs. For the weaker triathlete, this is beneficial if you are struggling to turn over the larger gears on the flat. Meaning smaller size chainrings can help you on the flat also, especially if its windy.

Secondly, you need to look at the terrain you ride on or the triathlon events you are entering. This plays an important factor that also coincides with your fitness level.
While 90% of triathlon courses are relatively flat, you may only be entering a few races a year. This means looking are your training ground rather than the race to determine the best crankset for you.

To sum it up, if you live somewhere hilly with climbs that last for more than 10-15 minutes a compact crankset is advisable unless you are a strong cyclist. While if you ride on more flatter terrain, go towards the semi-compact or standard crankset.

Benefits of compact Crankset

Benefits of Compact Crankset

There are many benefits of a compact crankset if you are a triathlete. From the easier gear ratios as you go up the cassette to the ability to turn over the pedals in a shorter revolution. A 50/34 or 50/36t may seem small but it is more than enough to propel you along the flat at 40km/hr. Actually, a 50/11t combination is bigger than a 53/12, so when you think that having a 50t on the front is not big enough, think again.

Because of this, the 50t allows you a large enough gear for flat courses and the inside chainrings (34t/36t) offer a lower gearing for climbs and windy conditions. For most people, this is a good combination for different types of terrain.

While the cassette plays a large part in the gear ratio, this is something we will take in another post.

50/34 Vs 52/36

Since the rise of the semi-compact crankset, there has been a debate over having a 50/34 vs 52/36 size crankset. You have to remember that 90% of the triathlon courses around are based on rolling or flat courses. As we discussed a 50/34t crankset is great for the rider that lacks power or lives in a hilly area, the 52/36t can be beneficial to both the weaker and stronger triathlete.

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Because it sits in the middle of a compact and standard crankset, the 52/36t size offers the benefits of both a large enough gear for the flat, yet small enough gear for the climbs. As long as you have the right cassette combination on the back, this is probably the best crankset for triathlon out there.

Because of this, it makes it an all-round combination that is not just suited to one type of rider or one type of terrain. It can also suit both your training and racing unless you live somewhere that is dead flat. In that case, maybe shift towards the 53/39t, if you have the power to push those larger gears.

Best Cassette For 52.36

Best Cassette For 52 36

If after reading this you are looking at changing to a 52/36t crankset, knowing the best cassette for 52 36 is important. Just like the front chainring sizes find the best combination is crucial.

There are multiple options available on the market today, and depending on what speed your groupset is will determine the ratios you are able to buy. But since we are talking about triathlon and not road cycling, we are looking for a close-ratio cassette than controls the cadence without any large jumps in cadence from gear to gear.

If you are running an 11-speed groupset then look to a cassette of 11-25 or 11-28t. This offers a more controlled cadence shift from gear to gear. Pairing this with your 52/36t will give you a 36/28t which is small enough for the steepest of climbs and a 52/11t for those fast downhills or tailwinds.

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Best Crankset For Triathlon

Best Crankset For Triathlon

The best crankset for triathlon depends on numerous factors. Your power, your cadence, and the terrain play the role in determining which size is best for you. If you are still stuck on which crankset size is best for triathlon try starting with a compact model first. Then as you get stronger on the bike move into the semi-compact model. This will naturally move you into a bigger ratio (depending on the cassette size) as you get stronger.

If you are a stronger cyclist a 52/36 is usually the best crankset for triathlon, as you can usually pair a smaller or larger chainring size to this model. There are a lot of aftermarket chainrings that will work with the BCD. This means you are then able to change the ratio for specific courses or events along the way. Thus putting on a 53t for those super-fast bike courses or keeping the 52t for the rolling ones.

Trial and error can work well but is often expensive, so go into your local bike shop and speak with a mechanic or talk to your coach. They will then help you to pick the right size based on any data from the training you have collected.

In terms of crankset material, well that is a personal choice. Both alloy and carbon have benefits but usually, the cost of carbon far out weights the benefits to that of alloy. But this is a whole other topic for another day!

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