If you don’t know much about how to shift gears on a bike, then you have come to the right place. How to use bike gears is a basic question that comes to mind for anyone who hasn’t ridden a geared bike. Well, for starters, it is just a speed system that allows you to go at different speeds very much as you do in your motorized vehicle.
If you can understand how these gear systems work, you will be able to go faster and farther and, of course, have some fun while doing it.
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What are bike gears and drivetrain?
Understanding your bike gears isn’t too complicated on the surface. A bike’s gearing system allows you to make a lot of your overall muscle power. When you are choosing a gear on your bike, you are going for the effort level that you will have to put in to pedal your bike.
When you push the gear lever on one end, pedaling becomes a lot easier. And when you want to go faster, you push the lever on the other end. You do need to choose the right set of gears for the terrain.
Front Gears (Chain and Crankset)
Front gears are called crankset or chainring. Most of the time, there are either three or two chainrings. You can also find single chainring gearing systems as well. They are more popular with the cyclocross and mountain bikers. The smallest of the chainring is going to be closest to the bike frame. And of course, the smaller the crankset, the easier it gets to ride.
If you move the chain away from the frame, paddling becomes difficult, but you also gain speed. You can identify these chainrings by their size or their position. You can refer to them by saying outer/inner (or middle) chainring or larger/smaller. The smallest ring is also referred to as granny gear.
Rear Gears (Cassette and Derailleur)
On the rear wheel, these gears are called cogs, and when you put a few cogs together in ascending order (in size) and link them with your rear wheel, you can call them cassette or derailleur. Modern bikes feature eight to eleven cogs in their cassettes. In this case, the larger cogs are closer to the frame.
Gears are numbered from inside out. It means that when you are using the first gear, you are using the largest cog in the cassette.
Of course, if you are using the largest cog, then you are in the lowest gear, and it will be a lot easier for you to pedal comfortably. However, you will have to compromise speed in such a scenario.
In many cases, you change your front gears with your left shifter and shift the rear ones with your right hand. If you tend to get frustrated and confused about which end controls which gears, then remember Right Controls Rear.
For those bikes that only feature a single chainring right in the front, there will only be a right shifter, unless you have altered its position and installed it on your left hand. Various shifters from different brands work in different ways, but they are all very intuitive.
Just test it out yourself by hopping on the bike and starting to pedal, then push your shifters to get used to the shifting process.
How many gears does my bike have?
After you have found out how to use bike gears, you need to figure out how many gears there are on your bike. If you have three speeds in your bike, telling how many gears it has is pretty simple. It is because there is only one shifter.
It will have a label saying 1-2-3. But if your bike has more than ten speeds, the matters get a bit trickier as there will be two different shifters.
For example, when you have a bike with 18 speeds, the shifter on your left will come with a label saying 1-2-3. But the one on your right will say 1-2-3-4-5-6. It means that for each number on your left shifter, you can use six different speeds on your right. And the total becomes 18.
With gear shifting, the chain moves onto the next ring, and by moving the lever, you change the position of your chain. Your left shifter moves the ring right next to your pedals. The smallest of the rings is 1, and the biggest one is 3.
While downshifting, you’re moving the chain to the smallest ring. Your right shifter moves the ring on the wheels on your back. It works opposite to the front gearing system. Here the biggest one is 1, and the smallest is 6.
You don’t even have to worry about the sizes of the rings. Just have a look at the number on the levers. Downshifting with either shifter is possible by moving it from the highest to lowest. But for a bigger change, you need to change with your left shifter.
How to shift gears on a Bike?
For a quick reference, here are two points that you need to keep in mind.
- When going uphill, you need to shift down, particularly if pedaling gets difficult for you.
- When you can spin the pedals way too easy, it’s time to shift up.
For instance, you are using a 3-speed bike and going at the second speed. When you begin to go up the slope, you feel that your legs are not pedaling fast enough, and you are going to fall over, due to your slow speed. It is the time when you need to shift your gears down to 1. It happens because the first gear requires less effort from you for each pedal spin. Therefore, pedaling becomes a lot easier.
Now, for example, you are right on the top of the hill and start to go downhill from there. You will find out that there is no resistance in the pedal at all. You can pedal as fast as you wish, but it is not getting you anywhere. It is the time when you must up your shifter to 2. And if it is not enough, then shift to 3! With higher gear, you go further with each pedal spin. It will make you put in more effort.
Don’t bend the chain
Just make sure that you don’t bend the chain a lot. Always keep your chain in a straight line between those rear and front sets. Going for those extreme angles from left to right may cause your chain to break, and this can be dangerous for you.
By keeping in straight-line, we mean that with the lowest gear, your bike’s chain will be left on both ends on your sets. And in the highest gear, it will be on the extreme right. But don’t go for the leftmost ring on your front set and right most ring on your rear end or vice versa.
It makes the chain roll diagonally and puts a lot of pressure on it. With this much pressure on the ring, the chain will wear out pretty quickly, and it may even break. In the easiest gear (both rings the extreme left), if you are looking to upshift, then you shift the rear set to the middle.
And keep moving it until it is on the extreme right ring. This position of your chain makes it roll diagonally. Make your front set shift from far left to the middle. The chain will be a lot straighter this way. It ultimately concludes that you don’t use all the gears that your bike has.
So the question is how many gears your bike does need to have. It is a very important question that you need to answer before you start looking for a bike based on its multiple gear-gear options.
How many gears do you need on a bike?
Nowadays, bike manufacturing companies are introducing a wide variety of gearing systems. It is all just a marketing stunt and nothing else. Mostly, all of those extra gears are entirely useless.
In most cases, you will only need 10 gears, and the number is more than enough for any kind of terrain or inclinations. Now bikes come with 15, 18, and 21-speed gearing systems. 27-speed bikes are there as well.
It gets pretty confusing because when you go out to buy a bike, you start thinking about what is the right number of gears for you.
Here’s the truth, numbers don’t matter as long as you have a decent range of gears.
Your bike must have some gears that allow you to go uphill and also have some gears to go downhill. The gears need to be low enough for tough slopes, and they need to be high enough to get you downhill gently.
With good range, the gear numbers become almost irrelevant. And the point that you need to consider here is that you cannot determine the gear range of your bike with the gear numbers it comes with.
The bike that has more gears does have a better range than the one with a less number of gears. But this is not mandatory, and in most cases, you don’t even require the widest range of gears.
A good enough range will suffice. For instance, you don’t need to invest in a car that can go 250 miles an hour because you will be driving on the road with a speed limit of 100. In some cases, having more doesn’t always mean that it is better.
Finding the gear range of your bike is only possible if you go with it for a few test rides. And if you are planning to use your bike on a flat surface, then you don’t even need gears at all. Or maybe you are going for a terrain that only requires three gears.
Numbers are not everything. Understanding the gearing system and how it works is important. Whether you like to ride your bike on slopes or you won’t ride to keep yourself fit, it is important that you have the right gearing system on your bike.
Modern bike manufacturers have introduced different types of bikes that even come with 27 speeds. If you have a decent range of gears on your bike, then you don’t even need to go for these many gears.
Just make sure that there is a considerable amount of difference between the lowest and the highest gear on your bike. Even a simple 3-speed bike will get you through your slopped journey very well.
If you plan to ride your bike on a flat surface, then you don’t even need any gears on your bike.
Enjoy your ride!