Compact vs Standard

Understanding Chain Rings

Chainrings are an essential part of your bike’s transmission, being the means by which power applied through pedalling is transmitted, through the chain, to the back wheel.

When I first got my bike, I had a fairly standard setup. I was running a 53/39 chainset, and and 11-25 cassette. I’ve covered cassette options in a separate post. This time I’ll cover chainrings.

I’ll never forget the day I first learnt the need for different chainrings. I was climbing up to Hong Kong’s infamous peak. It’s a tough 40 plus minute climb from the bottom of Stubbs Road. On one of the steeper sections, I was grinding a 39-25 gear when another rider coasted past, effortlessly spinning the pedals. Leaving me wondering ‘what the hell am I doing wrong?’

The very next day I was made aware of a compact chainring.

Now let us discuss the two types of chainrings.

Compact vs. Standard


A compact chainring is a smaller option than a standard one. A compact chainset typically has 50/34 gearing while a standard chainset has 52/39 or 53/39.

For many beginners, a compact chainset is likely to be more useful as it allows for easier pedaling. However, you lose some efficiency with compact especially when you’re riding flat or downhill. This is when standard chainrings are more useful.

Why choose compact?

Compact chainring is a 50-tooth, when combined with a typical 11-28 tooth cassette, [it] “gives you a full range of gears that will allow you to stay in the saddle and ride at a good cadence up most climbs.” Compact chainrings like this can cover most rides a cyclist go through. There are exceptions, however. If you ride mostly on flat roads and uphills, you would want standard, harder gears that allow you to ride faster.

Why choose standard?


Standard chainring refer to using 53-tooth outer chainrings paired with a 39-tooth inner ring. Paired with 11-28 cassette, most professional riders prefer this for daily use. Standard chainrings are useful for races that do not involve uphill tracks as you’re never going to be undergeared.

Which one should you choose for riding then?

As with any other cycling rule, deciding which chainring will be efficient for you depends on the type of rider that you are, and the type of races that you join. Deciding means finding which one you’re more comfortable with riding, and which one takes you to the finish line.

Today I have at home a series of chainrings that I swap all the time; a 53/39, which I use all the time in Singapore, and a 50/34 for hillier terrain. Plus, I have a 36t as well, but have never used it. The key is getting the gearing that suits your cadence. I prefer to climb at 95+ RPM whenever I can, so I chose a smaller gearing.

What chainrings do you have? or have tried?





5 thoughts on “Compact vs Standard

  1. Typo? “If you ride mostly on flat roads and uphills, you would want standard, harder gears that allow you to ride faster.” Shouldn’t that be “flat roads and downhills”?


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