When to Shift Gears on a Bike or Bicycle

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If you’re a relative novice to cycling, then it’s understandable that you’d want to learn when to shift gears on a bike.

After all, this process largely determines the safety and comfortability of your ride but it can be a confusing process.

Bike gears are designed to make sure that you enjoy comfortable pedaling no matter what kind of terrain you find yourself in. Read on to find out when to shift gears on a bike to pretty much guarantee a smooth and fun ride.

What You Should Know About Bike Gears?

Bike gears are located in the drivetrain of your touring bike and are designed to regulate pedaling cadence or speed as well as the speed of the drive wheel.

Some bikes come with fixed gear while others only feature a single gear. But, for the most part, bikes contain nine gears on three chainrings which gives you 27 gears.

These gears are there to either simplify or complicate the bike’s pedaling power and they will affect your speed.

When to Shift Gears?

So, when to shift gears on a bike? Well, first you have to determine what kind of terrain you’re on. For instance, when climbing up a hill or against the wind, then it’s recommended to shift to an easier gear.

A harder gear is more suitable when you have a tailwind. If you’re not sure which gear to utilize, then simply shift before you reach a change in terrain, which means you shouldn’t wait until you reach an incline before shifting gears.

Shift before you get to the incline. You must continue pedaling while shifting but not so hard, especially if you’re going up an incline. The moment you stop pedaling, the chain might just fall off or simply skip so always make sure you use a bike chain degreaser to keep the chain clean.

If you’re new to biking, then you should stick to the back or even the middle front chainring. This makes it easier for you to learn the ropes while you figure out how to shift into advanced gears.

Look down to determine what gear you’re in. Looking at the front of your bike will let you know which ring you’re in while looking at the back will let you know if you’re in high or low gear.

As you get more advanced as a rider, you may start playing around with the gears. For instance, the small or middle front chainring is suitable for headwind and uphill riding, as is the use of bigger rear cogs.

Riding downhill, on the other hand, requires you to use smaller rear cogs and a bigger front chainring. Lastly, flat terrain allows for the use of different rear cogs and a big or middle front chainring. Just don’t engage in cross-chaining or else you’ll find yourself in a difficult situation, to say the least.

Cross chaining happens when the chain slants so that the small cogs go to the back and the small ring goes to the front, or the biggest cog goes to the back and the biggest ring in front.

This causes pressure on the hardware while making it difficult for you to access a wide range of Shimano gears when shifting. Cross chaining often causes annoying noises as well which can interrupt an otherwise joyful and relaxing ride.

Crossing the Chain

For best results, you shouldn’t use the largest back sprocket at the same time as the large front chainring because this can lead to a chain slip or shift. This is known as “crossing the chain” and you should at least go through most of your back hears before you even get to the front chainrings.

The first thing you need to do when learning when to shift gears is to check your cadence. When you know what your cadence range is, then it’s easier to shift to gears than get you there. Always keep your eyes on the road so you know when an incline is coming in order to shift before you actually reach it.

Learning when to shift gears on a mountain bike or any other models for that matter is an essential rite of passage for any rider and as with most things, the more you practice, the better you get at it.

However, you should keep your initial practice runs close to home and avoid complicated trails in the beginning. Your driveway or parking lot should suffice because it’ll make it easier to focus on the shifting instead of worrying about road hazards and traffic.

Why About Single Speed Bikes?

The key to knowing when to shift gears on a street bike is to understand how to ride a bicycle without gears. Single speed bikes are incredibly popular because they’re easier to operate but they still contain a gear whose size depends on the rear cog and front chainring sizes.

Single speed bikes and urban commuter bikes are a great investment for regular commuters who live in areas with mostly flat terrain because they’re low-maintenance.

However, they’re also often utilized for racing because they’re lightweight and offer a simple gear shifting process. All you have to do is make sure you’re choosing the right gear ratio. Track bikes only have a single gear but you may switch it up depending on your needs.

It’s so much easier to learn when to shift gears on a dirt bike with a single gear because you’re able to enjoy precise and smooth shifting because smaller increments are required for the chain to get over the larger sprocket or descend onto a smaller one.

This makes it easier to experience better pedaling efficiency. It’s easier for cyclists to improve their pedaling speed based on terrain when operating a single-speed gear and there’s less energy required.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, learning when to shift bike gears is pretty easy even for beginners. It doesn’t matter if you have a single-speed or multi-speed bike, the process is easy to follow.

We hope this article has empowered you with the information you need to feel safe and in charge when cycling, regardless of the terrain you find yourself in.

James is a passionate bicyclist who has done about every kind of biking there is. He loves the wind in his hair, the sun over his shoulder and maybe even the bugs in his teeth. No, just kidding about that last item. He isn’t crazy about road burns, either, but acknowledges that to have the good there is the occasional tumble. James feels that his bike is the place where he can unwind, leave troubles alongside the road, meet new people, go new places, and live the life of adventure that he loves. He is ready to share the ride with you.

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