How many teeth do your chain-rings have?
Seems like an innocuous question, but the answer will tell you a fair bit about what kind of cyclist you are talking to.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not judging; if someone has next to no interest in gear ratios and could only answer this question with a wild guess at best, that’s fine by me. That’s a perfectly reasonable position to take. There’s more to life, after all.
Some would disagree: racers who need to understand this stuff to maximise their competitive advantage; practical types who have an inbuilt need to understand the workings of anything mechanical; bike snobs who don’t like to accept that it’s possible to enjoy riding a bike without it consuming you; amateur mechanics who would never dream of taking their bike to a shop to have someone else work on it (how can you possibly maintain your own bike if you don’t understand it…etc, etc).
Just to be clear, all these points of view are fine by me. I’m a live and let live kind of cyclist. Ragtime Cyclist is a broad church, so to speak.
Personally speaking, my chain-rings are 50/34t: a compact.
In some parts this fact might elicit a whole new debate of its own (the relative merits of a compact chain-set, and it’s slightly lower range of available gears…discuss), but let’s save that for another day. I consider myself only vaguely practical at best, but as the author of this website I am setting myself up as someone who knows what they are talking about. If someone asked me how many teeth my chain-rings have and I was found stuttering and stumbling for an answer, that just wouldn’t look good.
So I make a point of understanding all manner of bike related details; some of it really interesting, some of it not so much.
When it comes to your chain-rings, If you fall into that category of ‘don’t know, don’t care’, well done. Continue. If you are more of a ‘don’t know and really wish I did’, try this guide from the ‘over 40 cyclist’ . If you’re under 40, I think that’s ok, and all the information still applies.
The point I’m trying to make is not about chain-rings, but about cycling in general. There are those who find the world of cycling intimidating, impenetrable, archaic and clique-y, but ultimately, however much or little you know, that’s fine. Some know the ins and outs of every moving part on their bike, and plenty of others just ride the thing.
Sure, if you find yourself stranded on some windswept Cumbrian hillside in 3 degrees Celsius and sideways rain (as I have on more than one occasion) a bit of practical knowledge will definitely increase your prospect of making it home alive. I would recommend understanding all the important stuff if only to avoid making a phone call home to request a rescue; apart from anything, mobile phone reception on your average Cumbrian hillside is sketchy at best.
And phoning for help is never a good look.
But you don’t necessarily have to understand the physics, the mechanics, and the dynamics of what makes your bike, your bike.
Unless you want to, of course.