Do Pros Use Compact Cranksets?

Shimano cranksets on display in a store.

Understanding Compact Cranksets

As an avid cyclist or a biking enthusiast, you’ve probably come across the term ‘compact cranksets’. You might be even using one! But have you ever thought about whether professional cyclists use compact cranksets? Let’s find out!

What are Compact Cranksets and their Benefits?

A compact crankset is a particular type of crankset that features a smaller number of teeth, typically 50/34 (compared to a standard crankset’s 53/39). This setup offers important benefits for your ride. For instance, it makes climbing hills easier on your legs as it requires less force to pedal. Additionally, a compact crankset may also offer a broader range of gears, allowing you to keep pedaling at a comfortable pace, no matter the terrain.

Uncommon Usage of Compact Cranksets among Pros

When it comes to professional cyclists, the use of compact cranksets is rather rare. Why? Well, it all comes down to specificity, strength, and the need for speed.

Professional cyclists often opt for standard cranksets due to the demanding races they participate in, which consist of high-speed flats and challenging climbs. Pros have the necessary strength and power to push a larger gear, thus giving them more top-end speed on flat roads, which is crucial in professional races.

Moreover, professional cyclists typically want their gear ratios to be as close as possible to allow for small incremental changes in cadence and power. Compact cranksets, on the other hand, with their larger jumps in gear ratios, can make it difficult to maintain an optimal cadence.

But remember, being a ‘pro’ isn’t just about using what the professionals use. It’s about using the gear that suits your strengths, style, and the terrain you ride on. Compact cranksets are a great tool for those who enjoy a more relaxed biking pace or deal with many steep slopes during their rides. They make cycling more accessible and enjoyable for all levels of cyclists. So, compact or standard, pick what works best for you and keep enjoying the ride! 

Benefits of Compact Cranksets (For Non-Pros)

As you delve further into the world of cycling, you may find that you’re not just looking for what professionals use, but rather, what suits your cycling needs best. Here, explore why compact cranksets can be an excellent choice for non-pro cyclists like you.

Lighter Weight Advantages

Unlike professional cyclists, you might not require the high-speed attributes of standard cranksets. Instead, you could need a more flexible and less physically demanding setup, and this is where compact cranksets shine.

Compact cranksets are significantly lighter due to fewer teeth on the chainrings. This reduction in weight can lead to benefits when your rides involve steep climbs or long-distance journeys. Less weight often translates into less exertion, allowing you to maintain a comfortable pace longer and minimize fatigue.

Also, compact cranksets’ versatility in having a wider range of gear ratios can enable you to manage your effort more effectively, particularly on varying terrains. This flexibility can provide you with a more efficient and pleasurable ride.

Improved Handling for Amateurs and Beginners

For beginner or amateur cyclists, handling a bike with compact cranksets can be a more pleasant experience. The main reason for this is the enhanced maneuverability offered by compact cranksets.

For instance, the smaller chainring sizes make it easier for beginners to get acquainted with shifting gears because they do not have to grapple with potentially confusing larger ratio changes. The smaller jumps in gear ratios allow for a more consistent cycling rhythm, essential for those who are just starting to learn efficient cadence.

Moreover, the compact setup also offers a couple of practical benefits. It is easier to clean and maintain, and some find that the smaller chainrings can increase ground clearance in certain situations, providing a bit of extra confidence on rocky or uneven terrains.

In conclusion, while professional cyclists may prefer standard cranksets due to their specific racing needs, compact cranksets do have certain advantages that could make them a more optimal choice for non-pro cyclists. Therefore, remember to consider your unique cycling needs, style, and the terrain on which you ride while choosing the right fit for you. 

Comparison with Standard Cranksets

Just like non-professional cyclists, professional cyclists also need equipment that accommodates their unique needs. But unlike most non-pro athletes, pros often prioritize power and speed over comfort and simplicity. For this reason, many professionals may gravitate towards standard cranksets over compact ones.

Pros’ Preference for Larger Chainrings

You might wonder, ‘why do pros prefer standard cranksets with larger chainrings?’ The answer is simple: speed. Cranksets with larger chainrings require more effort to pedal, but they produce higher speeds. For professional racers, this often means the difference between a win or loss in competitive races. But remember, they’ve trained intensely to maintain the stamina and strength needed to maintain high speeds over long distances.

An additional benefit of standard cranksets for professional cyclists is gear ratio. Larger chainrings yield a larger gear ratio which is beneficial for achieving higher speed and maintaining cadence. For pros, this mechanical advantage is vital in race scenarios where every bit of power translates into crucial speed.

Detailed Differences Between Compact and Standard Cranksets

Both cranksets have their unique attributes. Compact cranksets, as you have learned, have smaller chainrings, which makes them lighter in weight and it’s easier to shift gears. These advantages accommodate riders who prioritize long-distance comfort, flexibility, and less strenuous uphill battles.

Standard cranksets, meanwhile, sport larger chainrings, translating into more power and higher speeds. For professional cyclists who often race on mixed-courses with long flat sections, this is a significant advantage.

However, the difference here is in their application. For pros, the increased speed and power from a standard crankset often outweigh the convenience and comfort offered by compact cranksets. This contrasts non-professional cyclists who value comfort, flexibility, and practicality that compact cranks tend to provide.

To summarize, professional cyclists often opt for standard cranksets due to the increased speed and power they provide. In contrast, amateur and non-pro athletes might find compact cranksets more suitable with its benefits geared towards comfort, flexibility and ease of use. Ultimately, the choice between compact and standard cranksets should depend on your unique cycling needs, level of fitness, and the terrain you’ll often be bicycling on. 

Pros’ Occasional Usage of Compact Cranksets

While it is true that professional cyclists often opt for standard cranksets due to their power and speed advantages, there are particular scenarios where compact cranksets come into play. Applications in very steep hills and certain race conditions are notable examples.

Application in very steep hills

When professional cyclists encounter extremely steep hill climbs in their course, compact cranksets can be a strategic choice. This scenario is often met in mountain stages of certain tour races. These cranksets, owing to their smaller chainrings, ease the intense effort required to maintain cadence and speed on uphill climbs.

Unlike a standard crankset which demands intense power outputs, a compact crankset can support a pro cyclist’s need for efficiency in such strenuous conditions. The decreased gear ratio resulting from smaller chainrings allows for easier pedaling. This factor can be decisive in maintaining a competitor’s pace and conserving their energy during challenging uphill tasks.

Instances in races, particularly among domestiques

In the context of professional racing, particularly in events like the Tour de France, team tactics often come into play. Domestique cyclists, those who support the team leader’s bid for victory, may choose to utilize compact cranksets. In their role, domestiques often need to surge ahead to fetch water bottles, negate breakaways from rival teams, or set the pace – tasks requiring agility and endurance, not just raw power.

A compact crankset suits these missions, considering the gearing versatility it offers from flatter terrains to sudden inclines. Unlike team leaders who usually conquer flat sections with higher gears for speed, domestiques value the flexibility and lower strain provided by compact cranksets. This helps them fulfill their duties more effectively without draining their stamina excessively.

In conclusion, while the standard crankset’s power and speed advantages align with the professional cyclist’s requirements for most scenarios, compact cranksets have particular applications. Professional cyclists harness the geared versatility and strain reduction of compact cranksets for specific situations – during especially steep hill climbs and in certain racing roles like domestiques. This demonstrates the strategic selection between compact and standard cranksets, based not just on power and speed, but also on the varying course demands and racing roles of professional cycling. 


In conclusion, professional cyclists do occasionally use compact cranksets in specific scenarios. While standard cranksets are preferred for their power and speed advantages, compact cranksets offer unique benefits that make them a strategic choice for certain applications.

Summary of pros’ usage patterns

Professional cyclists utilize compact cranksets in two main scenarios. Firstly, during extremely steep hill climbs, such as those encountered in mountain stages of certain tour races. The smaller chainrings of compact cranksets make it easier to maintain cadence and speed on uphill climbs, reducing the intense effort required and conserving energy.

Secondly, compact cranksets are often used by domestique cyclists in races like the Tour de France. Domestiques support the team leader’s bid for victory and perform tasks requiring agility and endurance, not just raw power. The geared versatility and lower strain provided by compact cranksets allow them to fulfill their duties effectively without excessive stamina drain.

Considerations when choosing cranksets for personal needs

When considering cranksets for personal use, it is important to assess your own cycling needs and preferences. If you primarily ride on flatter terrains and prioritize speed and power, a standard crankset may be the better choice. However, if you frequently encounter steep hills or participate in races where agility and endurance are crucial, a compact crankset may suit your needs.

Additionally, your physical abilities and fitness level should be taken into account. Compact cranksets offer lower gear ratios that make pedaling easier, which can be beneficial for individuals with lower power outputs or those looking to conserve energy for longer rides.

Ultimately, the decision between compact and standard cranksets should be based on a thorough understanding of your cycling requirements and the specific scenarios in which you will be riding. Consulting with a professional or experienced cyclist can also provide valuable insights and guidance in making the right choice.

Remember, the goal is to find the crankset that best aligns with your individual needs and riding style, allowing you to enjoy your cycling experience to the fullest.

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