What is a bicycle cassette?
A bicycle cassette is the cluster of sprockets on your bike. The cassette is normally situated on the rear hub of your bike; slotting onto a freehub body, and held firmly in place with a threaded cassette lockring. Depending on the ‘speed’ of your bike, your cassette could have anything between a 5 and 12 sprocket; most modern bicycle drivetrains utilize either 9, 10 or 11 speed cassettes.
Why are cassettes important?
Cassette sprockets provide you with a range of gearing options that your chain can run on. The range of gear ratios allows you to vary your pedaling cadence (revolutions per minute), to achieve optimum efficiency.
Running your chain on one of the larger sprockets (more teeth) on the cassette will provide an “easier” gear; letting you turn your legs faster. Running your chain on a sprocket with a lower number of teeth, will allow you to keep pushing power through your drivetrain, without “spinning out” (pedaling at an uncomfortably high number of revolutions) on a downhill section or sprint. A good range of gears on your cassette, therefore allows you to select the optimal gear to use; to keep your pedaling as smooth and as fluid as possible.
How do you choose the right cassette sprocket for your bike?
The choice of a cassette sprocket can appear overwhelming at first glance. There are different combinations of sprockets, to suit different tastes and terrains; with a significant difference between the cassettes you would use for a triathlon bike, compared to a mountain bike cassette.
The main thing to consider is the spread of gears on the cassette sprocket. The closer the highest and lowest number of teeth is, the smaller the jump between gears; facilitating a smoother gear change. However, having closer geared sprockets will normally decrease the size of the largest sprocket on the cassette; leaving you with a gear ratio that may be less suited to climbing and tough terrain.
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Article Source: http://guides.wiggle.co.uk/cassette-buying-guide