Looks like some pretty decent wheels are going to be coming my way, hand-me-down. Sweet!
They won't have a cassette, so I will need to purchase one. Someday I will upgrade the bike itself, and these wheels are nice enough to take with, so I'd like to get a cassette that will not need to be upgraded later.
Currently, my entry-level bike has a Shimano Tiagra 10sp. 12-28T cassette and a Compact 34x50T crank. I sometimes need the big gear for climbing, but don't often use the smallest gear. While still improving (only 2nd year), I average about 20-22 MPH in a race, depending on terrain.
Any advice on what to buy? In addition to ratios, how do I decide between the zillion of cassettes? Is there really a difference between a "top end" cassette and a "bargain end" cassette? I've Googled a bit but this seems like a complicated topic. Any help greatly appreciated.
You could buy the identical cassette and put it on the wheel, assuming it's SRAM- or Shimano-compatible (probably a safe assumption). Easiest solution all around. Amazon has it pretty cheaply, and I may need to go buy one myself! That should be a very versatile range for a hilly terrain, and it sounds like it's just the right amount for you if you use that 28. Not many 13-tooth cassettes out there, but you can find them (Miche?). If you're not using the 12 much, then definitely don't bother with an 11. And make sure it's a 10-speed, and not 9 or 11.
You could also buy a chain whip and cassette tool and just change the cassette between wheels (it's inconvenient).
For quality, I find the "cheap" stuff works very well especially for training and even racing. Shimano Tiagra and 105 are both quality functional parts, same with SRAM. Better quality parts are usually lighter and perform slightly better (but I can't notice it). I have yet to wear out or break a cassette in 5 years, but I don't ride 10k miles/yr either.
A cassette is a wear item, no need to spend a lot of money on them. A more expensive one will shift better, but the real difference is going to be weight. A lot of people recommend replacing a cassette whenever you change the chain, as they wear at the same rate, but I haven't really found that to be all that necessary. A cassette will not last forever, though.
I swapped out the cassette on one of my bikes and have a barely used 10 speed, Ultegra 12-25 laying around. If you decide that's what you need, make me an offer.
Less teeth on the small cog = faster at high speeds
More teeth on the big cog = easier to climb
Check out the this website for gearing ratios/revs/speed:
I use 12x27 with compact cranks on my race bike. I rather have the extra climbing gear and seldom run out of gears on the fast end (30+ mph) in a triathlon. My road bike has 11x28. The 11 helps me keep up with the fast-moving peloton, but with the wide spread some of the middle gears are missing (16-tooth cog) that makes finding that perfect gear a little harder on the flats.
As for Dura Ace/SRAM Red vs Ultergra/Force/Apex, the high end models are lighter and may last a longer since many of the cogs are titanium. For my daily rides, I use Ultergra that cost about 1/2 as Dura Ace while my race bike has Dura Ace.
the ultegra is probably the best bang for the buck.
you get probably something like 80-90% of the advantages of dura ace at about 1/2 the cost.
the 105 and tiagra are both fine and work very well, they may not have the sexyness of the ultegra and dura ace but they get the job done, so if you are on a tight budget get those, they will serve you fine.
but if you are looking to not upgrade in a few years and don't want that feeling of "what more can i upgrade to?" then ultegra is the way to go. dura ace is great no doubt but its really really expensive and not really worth the extra money unless you have that disposable income.
also remember if you are getting a new cassette to use daily then get a new chain put on the bike at the same time, it will shift a lot nicer. the difference may be subtle or not depending on if you notice things like that, again my suggestion is the ultegra chain, great middle ground again.