Gear Shifting 101

Bicycle Gear Shifting 101
Shifters, Derailleurs, and Pedaling- Oh My!
Contributor: Valerie Goubeau

Why do bikes have gears?

The purpose of gears is to make the bike easier to pedal up hills and enable you to pedal down them. The idea is to maintain a constant pace on the pedals and change your gears according to the wind and terrain conditions.

Two common types of gear shifters:
Grip shifters, which you shift by twisting a section of the grip forward or backward, depending on whether you want a harder or an easier gear

Trigger shifters have separate levers that change gears to the next gear up or down; they are common on mountain bikes and road bikes

Proper Shifting Technique
There is a little bit more to shifting than just twisting some levers. Shifting requires coordination between your hands and feet; the better you coordinate your movements, the smoother your shifts will be. The basic principle is that you have to be pedaling for the bike to shift. The chain needs to be moving forward for the derailleurs, which move the chain from sprocket to sprocket, to do their job. But there is a little trick to it. You must be seated and pedaling lightly for the bike to shift smoothly. It’s called “soft pedaling.”

Shifting Pointers

1. When to shift– If you are approaching a steep hill climb, you want to shift down to an easier gear before you need to. Anticipate your shifts. The steeper the hill, the more gears you will want to shift down.

2. Gear numbers– Use your low numbered gears on the left with your low numbered gears on the right, and vice versa. If you’re in gear number 1 on the left, you should use it with gears -4 on the right. Likewise, if you’re in number 3 on the left, you should use it with gears 5+ on the right.

3. Frequency of gear shifting– Think of yourself as the bike’s engine. Like an auto engine, you’re most efficient pedaling at a certain rate. To maintain efficiency, shift every time you feel your pedaling rate slow or speed up. Following this rule, on a rolling course, you’ll be shifting almost constantly to maintain that steady cadence. But at ride’s end, you’ll be fresh while a ride partner who shifts less will be spent.
This is a rear view of your bicycle chain in an optimum position, with the chain in a straight line.

The above information was compiled from the following websites. Please visit them for more information:


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One Response to Gear Shifting 101

  1. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day.
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