While most people learnt how to ride a bike when they were a kid, a lot of riders have only recently gotten back on the saddle, and its not surprising that they are unfamiliar with gears after riding single speed bmx’s and childrens bikes decades ago. With that said, gears are complicated to explain, but easy to learn and once you take the time to learn, it will become second nature when you’re out riding.
So what are gears? And how do you use them?
Gears help you adjust the effort needed to pedal a bicycle. So if you are riding comfortably on a flat surface and are suddenly met with an uphill slope, the effort to pedal the bicycle would obviously increase, that is, unless you change gears of course, to reduce the effort required to ride up the hill. Likewise if you’re comfortably pedaling on a flat surface and meet a downhill slope, you might find pedaling too easy, and if the slope is steep enough you may feel like your feet are spinning out of control. Gears are your best friend and its important to learn how to use them.
Firstly it helps to get all technical and learn some of the parts and their names, this will help later on. These parts may look different from bike to bike.
Shifters: You change the gears by moving the levers and traditionally they are found on the handlebar stem. The right controls the rear derailleur (pronounced derailler), and the left controls the front derailleur. Just follow the cabling on from your shifter and see where they go next time you see your bike.
Cassette/Freewheel: This consists of a cluster of cogs aka sprockets, and each sprocket represents a particular gear. The cassette is connected to the rear wheel and thats how the chain turns the rear wheel when you pedal. The biggest, sprocket represents the easiest or lowest gear and the smallest sprocket is used as the highest and hardest gear.
Cranks: Cranks usually consist of 2 chainrings. Unlike the rear sprockets, the smaller or inner chainring is the easy gear, while the larger outer chainring is the harder gear.
Rear Derailleur: This mechanism is used to move the chain from sprocket to sprocket on the rear cassette.
Front Derailleur: Just like the rear, this mechanism moves the chain between the 2 chainrings.
Finally, how to use your gears?
1. Use the correct starting and stopping technique to start riding your bike.
2. While riding ask yourself how it feels. Is pedaling comfortable? Or is it too easy or too hard?
3. If its comfortable, awesome, stay in that gear.
4. If its too hard or easy you’ll want to change gears but remember NEVER change while stationary or coasting; ALWAYS change while pedaling forward.
5. If it feels hard then PULL the right shift lever towards yourself. I find using my left hand is easiest as my dominant right hand will remain on the handlebars. You only need to move it a cm or 2, the further you move it, the more gears you will change at a time. This should make pedaling easier by moving the chain left from a smaller to a slightly larger sprocket on the rear cassette. Listen and feel with your feet to make sure you’ve successfully changed. Repeat until a comfortable gear is found.
You could also push the left shift lever away from you which would move the chain from the bigger and harder chainring to the easier and smaller one.
6. If it feels easy then PUSH the right shift lever away from yourself. Again, you don’t need to move it far. This should make pedaling harder by moving the chain right from a bigger to a slightly smaller sprocket on the rear cassette. Repeat until a comfortable gear is found.
You could also pull the left shift lever towards you which would move the chain from the smaller chainring to the bigger one.
7. When changing gears always remember big and small. If you’re on the big front chainring, its best to be in a small sprocket on the rear. And if your on the big rear sprocket its best to be on the smaller chainring at the front. This is because if you’re on a big + big gear your chain may stretch, and if you’re on small + small gear, your chain will be too loose and may fall off.
So which lever should you shift? Well thats a judgement you have to make while riding by looking down at your cassette and chainrings and figuring out what gear you’re in and then deciding whether its better to move the right lever or left lever to ensure that you are in a comfortable gear, yet maintaining a straight chain. For example if you’re on the very hardest gear (big front chainring + small rear sprocket) then you’ll want to shift using the right shift lever because if you shift the left lever you will shift to a small front chainring + small rear sprocket scenario, which isn’t ideal. If you’ve moved to the middle sprocket on the rear, and its still too hard, then you will want to pull the left shifter lever and move to the small front chainring, as pulling the right further results in a big + big scenario that may stretch your chain.