How to Shift Bike Gears
Knowing when, why and how to shift bike gears is an important part of staying comfortable while riding, as well as enhancing your ability to ride long distances. Maintaining a proper gear ratio is inextricably linked with cadence. The basic idea is this: On the front wheel, the bigger the gear you are in, the harder the bike will be to pedal but the faster you will go per revolution. On the back wheel, the bigger the gear, the easier it will be to pedal but the less propulsion you will get per pedal stroke.
You should strive to maintain a consistent and comfortable pedaling pace while riding a bike, and this is especially true over long distances. This might mean you inch slowly up a hill while spinning quickly or fly down a hill while pedaling slowly. Modern bikes are incredibly easy to shift, and they offer a lot of gearing options. You should not be afraid to change and adjust your gears often!
It is important, however, to remember not to cross your chain up. This means riding in the biggest chainring while also in the biggest cog. If you do this, your chain will become angled. You might hear it grinding and scraping against your derailleurs, and the chain could even end up falling off.
There are basically three instances that call for an adjustment in your gear ratio:
1. You begin to go up an incline or start pedaling into a head wind. In these instances, you will notice it gets harder to pedal. Your first instinct might be just to push through. Unless you are racing, though, there is no reason to do this. Instead, shift into an easier gear, and spin your legs a little faster. You will expend less energy, you’ll be able to ride longer, and, at the end of the day, you’ll be happier.
Backroads Pro Tip
When it comes to knowing how to shift bike gears, anticipation is key. If you know a hill is coming, shift before it gets hard!
2. You start going downhill or get a tail wind. In these instances, you will notice your legs are spinning faster and it’s easier to pedal. While you could take a break and coast down the hill, it is more efficient to maintain a consistent cadence. Shift into a harder gear, and pedal your way down the hill—unless it’s really steep! You will keep your muscles warm, and you will go farther, faster.
3. You get tired. It’s OK to shift into an easier gear, even if you’re on a flat road! Sometimes it helps just to give your legs a change of pace. Making it easier to pedal and spinning faster can help relieve some fatigue.
Remember that gears are there to help you. They are your friend. You have to use them, though, for them to be helpful! Tiny adjustments to your gearing—made often—will increase your riding pleasure, comfort and time.
Backroads Pro Tip
Try to shift just one cog at a time, and wait until the chain is settled before shifting again. You can “jump” your chain off the cogs if you drastically change your gear ratio all at once.
When shifting bike gears, don’t be afraid to make your bike easier to pedal, and don’t shy away from giving it that extra juice on a downhill!