Gearing Down

4000 miles and we begin to get acquainted with our steeds. For Liz, this has meant long climbs and sore knees. Strengthening exercises a morning routine. The pain remains. Something just isn’t right. 


Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We have known for a long time that the gears on the Salsa Fargo are too tall.  Unfortunately, the crank that comes with the bike won’t take smaller gears and we haven’t had time to order new ones.  Further, I’ve come to learn that Liz has shorter cranks than I do meaning she has to apply more force while climbing.  I share this information with Liz and immediately she feels betrayed. “I’ve been working harder than you!”

In Santa Fe, we finally have the opportunity we are waiting for. Good bike shops and lots of time to make something happen. Mellow Velo helps us source new cranks. Lower gears.

We pass the time waiting for the cranks to arrive researching gear inches and frame geometries. Liz reads a post by Off Route and sees a familiar theme. She sends it my way. Liz may need a new frame as well as lower gearing. Moving from 29″ wheels to 27.5″ wheels is another way to reduce the amount of force required to climb. At 5’3″, the smaller wheel set will allow for a better fit and a lighter set up.

We consult the owner of Mellow Velo the following day regarding fit. Luck would have it, that at that exact moment, a customer brings a Soma B-side into the shop.  It’s the exact size we are looking for. We ask the customer if Liz can try it out. She rides around the parking lot. Much more room between handle bar and knees. We decide to go for it and ask the shop owner to order a frame but everyone is out of stock in the size we need. Unable to wait longer, we get the cranks and move on to Albuquerque loaded with ideas.


Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

In Albuquerque, we find out that the frame could be a month out.  Maybe more.  We work with another bike shop to try and improve the fit instead of swapping frames. A new seat post and stem move Liz forward on the bike and create more room between hands and knees. New cranks are installed at Esperanza Community Bike Shop. It’s a quick solution that will be tested in the coming weeks.


Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

My bike sees upgrades as well. A new RockShox Reba RL shock for the front and a modified Salsa Anything Cage HD for the down tube. A sawzall makes for quick work removing part of the cage that interferes with the front chain rings. Clearance with the front shock is tested by draining it of all air pressure and bottoming out the suspension. A few well placed dents are made in a 64 oz Gatorade bottle. Everything fits. I can carry 2 liters in the new cage where I previously had 0.7 liters. Liz’s bike gets the same mod for water. No new shock for her yet. We want to test the new fit. If it works, a new shock is in her future. If not, a new frame.


As for the shock pump that one is advised to carry with air suspension… it’s getting tossed. I’ll use the bike pump we already carry if there is ever a need to add air in an emergency. I’m already developing an SOP (standard operating procedure) where I can set the shock pressure accurately without a gauge.



10 thoughts on “Gearing Down

  1. A few thoughts:

    Crank arm length affects hearing in non-intuitive ways. The bigger effect is on your foot speed. Longer cranks trace a larger circle, with a larger circumference, which means you foot has to move faster to keep the same cadence. That can get uncomfortable at higher cadences, and going to shorter cranks can make your gearing feel lower as you can ramp up the cadence for more power, without knee-burning high foot speed.

    If you find yourself getting out of the saddle to crank up climbs more often than you’d like, chances are your cranks are too long. I’m 6’2″ and I prefer cranks shorter than the standard 175mm.

    The B-Side is a great bike though! Thanks for the mention. It’s a totally different bike than a Fargo, with a long to tube that might be ill-suited to drop bars. But sounds like the longer top tube is exactly what you want!

    Happy trails!


    • Thanks for the note. I’ve been cramming as much as possible recently. Particularly regarding gearing and cranks. Liz rides a 170 while I’m on 175mm. I first started digging into it as we rode the divide with unicyclist. He had two holes in his crank where he could swap his pedals for climbing and descents. It got me thinking about what you mentioned. Unfortunately, the Fargo’s gearing was so tall that we couldn’t even ride at cadence on the big climbs. More just hiking with a bike.

      I’m tempted to put Liz on 165 cranks if we go to the Soma B-side with 27.5″ wheels. The smaller wheels will travel a shorter distance per pedal revolution meaning she will have to pedal at a faster cadence to keep up. As you said, the shorter cranks will mean her foot has to travel less distance to do that.

      We put 70 Miles on the new cranks today and she was much faster.


  2. WoW!! Great update!! Thank you so much! Yes, my friend has been working harder!!! Thankful you guys are getting her some relief and have attacked the issue head on. I like it! How are your knees Liz…you know me…nurse always. Thankful for your time to rest and evaluate also. Thank you so much for the updates and pictures. Big HUG!


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