IMO it really depends on the rider and riding style and most importantly - type of event.
Here is my first hand experience. Take a deep breath, turned into a bit of an epic post on another forum a while back....snip. snip.....
Rewind to May 2 years ago - I was headed to Italy for a week of Riding.
Arrived in Rome on Friday – Train to Rimini on Sat – riding the Nove
Colli Gran Fondo – Marco Pantani on Sunday with 10000 other
Nove Colli means "nine hills" – nothing super long around there –
but plenty steep. Averages deceive. Sections of 12% were common and
touching 20% on occasion. I was just back on the bike after a broken
collar bone and so was pretty unfit. I therefore decided to do the
130km version rather than the whole 9 hills @ 200km. Anyway. I was
also travelling light so decided I didn't want to lug around a bike –
picked up the hire bike @ the hotel on Sat arvo – rode round the
block and then hit the bar for a bit of carbo loading with the rest
of the lads.
The Belvedere bike hotel in Riccione is amazing. But that is a whole
other topic. The bike was a lovely De Rosa Carbon frame with mid
range wheels and campy groupset but that is where the sex appeal
stopped - horror - it had a - Triple – yep – a triple. I wasn't impressed when I saw it.
What was I to do ?
A few beers later I decided I just wont use the granny gear will I ?
That'll make it all ok.
I rode the Gran Fondo (or rather the Fondo in my case) the next day.
We hit that first hill through a cobbled village street hup hup - up
up. Grrrrragh and click click - Woops. I was in the granny gear.
There was no going back – It was great - I span up every hill like a
junior – had a great day out and rode a time way beyond my
expectations. What's more, I recovered well and rode 600km over the
following 5 days up and down real nasty hills around San Marino.
I said then – if I ever go back to Europe to ride – I'll pop a
compact crankset on my bike. I really can't imagine tackling (and enjoying) the Alps or Dolimites without one.
1. Fast forward to late 06 and I noticed that the UK websites
were selling out of alloy Centaur compact cranksets for 40 squid. Also
needed a new front mech and BB though. Too easy. Click click click.
Cost me about 70 squid all up.
Neutral - Cost is more for Campag as you need a new front mech. (edit - not any more)Shimano you don't. Also means it's easy to switch back and forth if you run shimano. I don't, but I do have several bikes.
2. I put the compact gear on my steel training/Gran Fondo bike and
embarked on the Alpine 200 in Jan 07. Again on very limited training.
Ran a 12 – 25 on the back. I had ridden all those hills
individually on a 39 – 23 In the past but you know what Buff feels
like when your legs are shot after 140km eh ? the 34 25 would get me
through that world of hurt wouldn't it ?
To my surprise I actually used the little gears earlier than
expected on T1 and T2, even Falls. I thought this was a bad sign and
I was going to be in for a hard time on Buffalo. However I was
wrong – I'd saved my legs and I got to Buff feeling great and didn't
go near the little gears – 34 19/21 all the way up. Rode 7 ½ hours –
over 1 ½ hrs better than my previous attempt.
Worth mentioning 50 -12 is ok on most descents but could do with
more if you are chasing.
A big tick for the Compact - long mountain stages(as demonstrated
by the pros) and non competitive Gran Fondo/Audax events it's a
3.Training around town I generally ride the little ring 39. Riding
the 39 – 15 @ 30kph …cadence is approx 90. Compare to Compact - You
have to ride the 34 – 14 or even 13 a lot more. I don't like
crossing my chain like that, so invariably means flipping onto the
big ring and therefore between the two more often that you have to
when riding the 39 53. Shifting from the little to the big ring is
also not as sweet as it is on the 39 53. This drove me nuts.
The 50 12 does not quite feel like enough sometimes when you are
hammering downwind for the chook shop sprint.
Negative for the compact – but read on.
Solution - I switched to a 11-23 and a 36 front ring for general training. This works well around town but I would argue a 36 is hardly worth the switch to compact for.
4. Racing – My race bike is traditionally geared @ 39 53 and I race
on an 11 23 or 12 25 and always said that if I need my 25 its
probably cause my race is over ! on Northern Combine hills
anyway. I would not consider putting a compact on my race bike for
this reason but I have ridden Baw Baw and would consider it
exceptional. Perhaps I should have my domestique ride my steel
compact bike to the foot of the climb and do a swap ? Now there is a
My Conclusion - A compact is not required around town and even on most of the rides you are likely to do out of Melbourne, so why bother ? If I only had one bike I would not ride a compact. It's crossing the chain and missing my regular gear ratios in the middle that are the issue. As compact proponents will point out the top and bottom end are similar.
However, If you go to Europe on biking holidays often or own a couple of bikes - a compact is a nice addition to the stable............