How to Shift a Bicycle

How to Shift a Bicycle

The vast majority of bicycles today come with a minimum of 21 gears, they also come with 24, 27, and 30 gears. Most people who are not familiar with modern bicycles are both overwhelmed and intimidated by the number of gears not understanding why someone would need so many or even how they work. This section is intended to give one a quick introduction into how to use all of the gears.

Just as cars run best at a certain rpm (rotations per minute), so do bicycles. When pedaling person rotates the pedals a certain number of times per minute, a measurement known as cadence. Most people should spin a cadence somewhere between 80-100. This is a speed at which one is not pushing down on the pedals with so much force that their muscles would soon give out from exhaustion, not is it a speed that is so fast and easy that your heart and lungs won’t give out. For most people pedaling at this cadence allows them to ride a bike for a long time (depending on conditioning) without exhaustion.

The purpose of gears on a bicycle is to allow one to maintain an optimal cadence. Lower gears allow one to maintain the same cadence while going up a hill as one does on a flat section without having too much power that one gets muscle exhaustion. Larger gears on a bicycle allows a person to maintain the same cadence on downhill sections without overly wearing out the cardiovascular system causing one to want to quit their ride sooner rather than later.

While the actual shifting levers can be different from one bike to the next, method of shifting gears is generally the same. The chainrings are the big metal rings with teeth near the front of the bike that the chain moves around. Most bikes have either two or three chainrings. By shifting down into the smallest chainring in front, or the one that is closest to the bike, you will find you can pedal most easily. This is the best ring to use for climbing hills.

The middle chainring is the best for relatively level ground.

The large chainring is best for going downhill. This ring gives you the most resistance allowing one to use more power on the downhills without “spinning out” the pedals.

Bicycles also have gears on the rear wheel. There are very small incremental changes between the gears on the back. When riding up a hill a person may be in the small chainring on the front, the steepness of the hill will determine which gear (or cog) one will use on the back. The same is true for level or downhill riding. The rear gears allow the rider to fine tune the bike to match the terrain and their riding comfort.

Generally speaking the gears that are closest to the bike are the easier to pedal or lower gears. As the chain moves away from the bike, front or rear one is shifting into larger gears. Most, but not all bikes have gear indicators on the shifters. The lower the number the easier it is to pedal. There is not necessarily a right or wrong gear that a person should be using. This varies based on a person’s riding style and strength. The gears are there to allow you to maintain the same general cadence whether you are on a downhill, flat or uphill section.

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