Bicycle Gears for Dummies – How to Shift

Whether you are riding a road bike, a mountain bike, or a commuter bike, you cannot escape the gears. Gears are mechanical wonders on the bike that lets you accelerate in the flat and smooth roads.

It also lets you get the power to ride the bike on the steep mountains. Knowing how to shift gears on your bike rewards you with a fast and smooth ride on your bike, irrelevant of the terrain on which you are riding it.

Understand the gears

Hands on bicycle's handlebars

The geared bikes come with chainrings in the front. This could be either one, two or three in number. The rings are attached to the crank arm of the pedal. There are also around seven to twelve gears or cog towards the back or what is known as casset and this is attached to the rear wheel.

When the chain is moved from the smallest of the cog in the rear side to the largest, then it helps to ease the effort that you put in pedaling. This happens gradually.

When you move in the front side and in between the chainrings then this is more noticeable as the pedaling seems to be easier in the small chainring and hard in the bigger one.

To understand the gears in your bike you should shift through the gears in an empty space and understand how it feels when you ride it. The cyclists normally use the rear gears.

Understand the gear shifters   

The left-hand shifter are typically be used to change the front gears. The right-hand shifter are to be used to change the back gears. The best wear to remember is right-rear. There are bikes that have just the chainring in the frontal side. These bikes only have a right-handed shifter. Different bikes could function differently, but all shifters are more or less the same.

When should you shift the gear?

When you are riding your bike up the hill or riding into the wind then you need to shift the gears to make your ride smooth. A higher gear is used when you are riding in the flat or if there is a tailwind. When you are riding on the hill then shift before the terrain starts to change. Do not wait until you feel the incline to shift the gear. You should shift the gear when you anticipate an incline.

After you shift the gear, do not stop pedaling but ease up a bit on it. If you push hard or if you stop to pedal then the chain will fall or skip.

To begin with, use the rear cogs on lube and the small and the middle chainrings on the front. This will let you understand the gears before you move to the harder gears. Beginners may want to look down to know what gear they are in. Looking down towards the front lets you know the ring that you are in. Looking down to the rear will let you know whether you are riding in a low or high gear.

The idea is to first get comfortable with the gears before you start to play with the different gears in various situations. When you ride up the hill or into the headwind then use the middle or the small front chainring and use the rear cogs that are bigger.

When you ride down the hill then use the front chainring and the smaller rear cogs range. When you are riding on a terrain that is flat then use the middle or the big front chainring and a range of the rear cogs. Cross chainrings should be avoided.

When you are riding your bike in an extreme slant terrain then avoid cross chaining. Cross chaining is when the chain is at an extreme slant. This ends up causing stress on the gear and it limits your options to shift the gears again.

6 things that you need to know about shifting gears

  • To shift the gears on the front use your left hand. The bikes that have gears will come with hand controls on the handlebars that are used to shift gears.
  • Your right hand should be used to shift the gears on the rear.
  • To make the pedaling less powerful and easy you have to gear down. You shift down when you move to a small gear on the front and a big gear on the back.
  • To make pedaling hard you have to gear up. This will, however, be more powerful. In this case, you shift to a big gear in the front and a small gear on the back.
  • The best way to practice shifting gear is to work on it in a flat area
  • Shift your gears only when you pedal forward. The chain will catch on the new gear only when it is stretched tightly and this happens when you pedal forward.

6 tips to keep handy when shifting gears on your bike

  • To start off, pick a low gear first. The first few pedals that you do on your bike are the hardest. This is because you are moving your bike from a standing to a running position. Shift to low gear when you start to ride which makes it easy to get to speed.
  • Gear up gradually as you build on speed. As you gain speed, the low gear will feel easy and build up speed you need to gear up gradually.
  • When going up the hill you need to shift down the gear. You cannot go up a hill in high gear.
  • When you are riding on level ground then you will shift up the gear.
  • When shifting the gears do it carefully so that your joints do not get hurt.
  • Do not use gears that cause the chain to get crisscrossed. Thus, do not use the largest front and the largest rear gear together. Also, do not use the small front gear with the small rear gear together.

bicycle handlebar with green grips on street background

Practice will make you perfect

Now you know the basics of how to shift gears and it is time that you practice it. Doing a few practice runs at first is highly recommended to get used to the gears on your bike. Run through the various gears using your hand and then take it out to an empty place and ride your bike to understand the gears better.