A Beginners Guide to Using Gears

Whether you have a road bike, a mountain bike, or a commuter bike – you’ll probably have those fantastic little wonders called gears. Gears are the mechanical miracles that makes whizzing along at glorious speeds or powering up a hill that little bit easier.

Master correctly shifting through your bike gears and you’ll be rewarded with a easier, fast and fun riding experience.

To help you understand your bike gearing system we have written down some basic beginner tips to start you off.

cycle lanePractice makes perfect

You’ll be using your bike gears a lot, and as you ride more you’ll get plenty of practice, but if you’re a newbie to cycling, or have just changed bikes, then it’s a good idea to spend some time getting to understand how your bike’s gears change.

To get to the point where you a are able to change gears instinctively and efficiently it helps to start by choosing a safe, quiet path or road to practice shifting up and down both front and back gears. Learning to change gears naturally without hesitation will help when you are halfway up a climb and in a too hard a gear and need to do a quick smooth gear shift! (Classy work)

cycle laneWhich lever does what?

The Left-hand shifter/lever controls the front derailleur, which guides the chain over the chainrings near your pedals – which results in large jumps in gears. The bigger the chainring, the more resistance you will encounter

Right-hand shifter/lever controls the rear derailleur, which guides your chain over the back cogs – where you will fine-tune your gearing. The bigger back cassette cog you select the less resistance you will encounter.

The best way to understand with this is to experiment for yourself, preferably somewhere quiet rather than on a busy road or path.

Crossing the chains is a no no!

It’s really tempting to stay on one chainring, and just shift up and down the gears at the back. That’s ok, except for one thing. You really need to avoid using the opposite extreme ends of the gears. An example of this is when the chain is on the large (outside) chainring in front, and the large (inside) cog in the back.

Improper gear selection like Crossing the chains stretches your chain unnecessarily, and the teeth of the chainrings and the cogs wear faster leading to costly repairs.

cycle laneMake Big changes with the Left Shifter and fine tune with the Right Shifter

If you’re approaching a hill, it’s much better to shift down the front gears using the left shifter, rather than the right which controls the rear gears. This will take you to an easier gear, and then you can continue to fine tune the resistance using the rear gears.

Resist Temptation

Remember to resist the temptation to quickly shift up into a higher gear when you are accelerating along a flat section or cruising down a hill. This action, on some bikes, can cause the chain to completely come off the gears, which of course (if the gears coming off hasn’t resulted in you stacking it) means you’ll have to stop and put it back on, which will result in greasy fingers. Shift up through the gears gradually, making sure the chain has engaged properly with each new gear change before moving onto the next one. Get to know how sensitive your bike is to this, different gear systems will respond differently.

cycle lane

Think ahead

When coming up to a hill or incline get ready to start shifting down the gears as soon as the hard work starts. That way, you won’t be caught out in too hard a gear halfway up and unable to pedal, which could result in the unthinkable – you might have to get off and walk. (gasp!)

A good tip for getting up hills easier is if you change into the easiest gear and spin your legs. Shifting to the right gear at the right time can take a bit of practice, so it’s better to go into a ‘too easy’ a gear then shift up, than the other way round.

If you happen to find yourself in too hard a gear on a climb, try and ride sideways across the slope and then attempt to change gear. The chain can’t shift properly if it’s under a lot of pressure, like when you’re pedaling hard up a hill. Shifting and Riding on a flatter surface, even temporarily, can help relieve just enough pressure to allow you to shift into an easier gear.

Cycle Lane
Cycle Lane

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