The combination of a compact chainset and a wide-ranging cassette isn’t the only choice for a climb-friendly gearing setup on your road bike: triples still have some advantages.
It’s not that they have a greater number of gears – out of a triple's nominal 30 gears, not all are usable and some are duplicated – but that they’re closer together, with smaller jumps between them.
The Shimano Ultegra groupset's 30-tooth inner chainring and 28t cassette sprocket give a 29in bottom gear that should be low enough for virtually all climbing needs, while its old-school 52t big ring offers a top gear of 128in.
The highlight of the new Glossy Grey version is undoubtedly the chainset (£239.99). At 816g, without bottom bracket, it’s heavier than a compact, but thanks to the combination of Hollowglide outer chainring and Hollowtech II cranks that it's inherited from Shimano's top-end Dura-Ace group, it’s exceptionally stiff and efficient. It’s available in four different crank lengths too, from 165-175mm.
As for the levers (£319.99), these have great ergonomics for a comfortable handhold, but at 452g there are lighter options available. Shifting is as quick and accurate as you’d hope for, from both the triple-specific front and rear derailleurs. Ultimately, whether you prefer a double or a triple is your call, but the Ultegra triple is a very high quality product worthy of serious consideration.
And soon Shimano will be the only road triple option out there. Campagnolo’s 10-speed Comp bows out after 2011. Shimano, though, show no sign of cutting production, and with Ultegra’s smooth, controlled gear changes and pedalling, a wall-climbing bottom gear and a crank-it-to-the-max top gear, you can see why.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine.