How To Shift Your Gears

If you’re not riding a “fixie” (a bicycle with no gears) then you need to know how to shift those gears and use them efficiently while riding. Whether you have 7, or 24 gears all it takes is a little practice to make it perfect.

Shifting your gears is one of the fundamental mechanical functions of your bike. Learning how to shift may seem basic, but gearing practice is something that even veteran riders can work on. Proper gearing will not only improve your speed it will also make the ride more comfortable and increase your endurance on longer rides.

The terminology can get tricky but here we will keep it uncomplicated. Note that for our use I’m not getting into the different kinds of bicycles only the basics of how to shift. If there’s something I don’t cover on your bike please leave a question in the comments.

How Many Gears Do I Have?

In simple terms, you could determine this number by multiplying the number of cogs in your rear gears by the number of front gears your bike has. For example, if your bike has 7 cogs (rings) in the rear and three front gears (rings) then you have a 21-speed bike. However, adult bikes are rarely referred to in this way in the modern bicycle industry because, basically, more doesn’t always mean better.

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Rear (Cogs) Gears

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Front Gears

There will always be more rear gears than front gears on your bicycle. On three-speed bikes, the gears are inside the hub of the wheel so you don’t see them.

What Hand Does What?

Left hand: Controls the front gears/front derailleur by moving the chain up and down the chainrings. These levers cause big jumps in gears for sudden changes in terrain.

Right hand: Controls the rear gears/rear derailleur by moving the chain up and down the cogs. These levers are for small adjustments to your gearing to use during slight changes in terrain.

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My bike is a hybrid with 24 gears. The right side controls the rear gears (8) and the left side controls the front gears (3). It’s important to note on the right, the lever on the bottom of my handlebars is low and the one in front (under my brake lever) is high.

Depending on the type of bike you have your shifters may look a little different. On road bikes (any bike with drop handlebars), your shifters are the same levers you use to apply your brakes. To operate the shifters you push the lever sideways until you hear a click. For most mountain and hybrid style bikes with flat or curved bars, you shift the gears by using set paddles that you operate with your thumb. Some bikes operate with “grip shifters”, or a dial that is located to the inside of where you place your hands. For these systems, you change gears by rotating the dial forward and back.

No matter the differences, shifting mechanics are basically the same.

How To Shift

First gear is a low gear and twenty-first gear is a high gear. Downshifting means going to a lower gear, and upshifting means going to a higher gear. You can also say shift down and shift up.

Begin to shift into easier gears with your right hand early to keep a steady cadence. Remember, your right hand is for small changes in the terrain. If you find that your pedaling pace is slowing drastically, you will likely need to use the front derailleur (your left hand) to make the gearing much easier for the big climb ahead. But if you are already climbing up the hill and putting a ton of power down on the pedals you might notice your front derailleur doesn’t want to work. You will shift, hear a grinding noise but nothing will happen and you will likely come to a stop in the middle of the hill.

Instead of grinding those gears, you will need to put a little more power into your pedal stroke right before your shift then, lighten up on your pedal stroke as you shift. With less pressure on your chain, your derailleur will have an easier time popping your chain off the big ring and into a smaller one.

If you completely stop pedaling you won’t be able to shift at all!

Too often, I see people putting too much power into their pedals as they climb up a steep hill or legs flailing as they spin out on a gear that is too easy for the descent they are riding. Your goal while riding should be to keep a consistent speed throughout your ride. To do that, it requires one of two things: shifting or increased power output through peddling.

Shift Often For Increased Efficiency

When I ride, I watch the terrain and shift appropriately. Before I start up a hill or if I’m coming to a stop I will downshift ahead of time. That way I don’t worry about grinding gears when I go up a big hill or starting off in a harder (higher) gear after stopping.

When the riding is a little too easy that’s the time to shift into a higher gear. A higher gear will be harder to pedal but will take you farther at a faster rate.

If you want a more aerobic workout on flats shift into the next highest gear (making it a little harder, but not too hard, to pedal.) Downshift if you get too tired. Be careful to avoid hurting your joints (knees) so if it’s too hard don’t do it.

Shifting Basics Review

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 Low and high shifting levers circled for one side of this hybrid bicycle. Your bicycle might be different so identity your types of levers, dials, etc. before practicing shifting on your bike.

  • Use your left hand to shift the front gears.
  • Use your right hand to shift the rear gears. This hand gets the most use.
  • Gear down to make your pedaling easier but less powerful.
  • Gear up to make your pedaling harder but more powerful.
  • Practice shifting up and down in a flat area.
  • Only shift while you’re pedaling forward.
  • Pick a low gear when you start off.
  • Gradually gear up as you build up speed.
  • Shift down for hills and stops.
  • Shift up when on fairly level ground and for downhill areas.
  • Shift up carefully to avoid hurting your joints.
  • Avoid choosing gears that “crisscross” the chain. (Example: the front gear on the largest gear and the rear gear on the smallest gear.)

Everyone is a little different when it comes to how you ride your bicycle. The better you know your bike the better rider you become. Practice being at one with your bike and enjoy the ride!

A Word About Your Brakes

Brakes aren’t used when shifting but it’s important to know where yours are and how to use them. The right side is your rear brake lever that stops the rear wheel and the left side is your front brake lever that stops the front wheel. The most important thing to remember is to always use the rear brake first! With time you’ll learn to use both brakes together. You have to use both brakes to make stopping fast and safe.

My sister-in-law who knew how to ride her bike broke her jaw in three places when she forgot this important fact during a group ride flying over the handlebars after applying her left, front brake without the other. If you accidentally use your front brake while stopping you stop only your front wheel probably hurting yourself.

When I’m stopped I’ll also use my brakes to steady my bike when I’m getting on, etc. Your brakes are your friend.

Some Last Words

When you’re busy riding you should be watching the road in front of you for traffic, people, animals, car doors opening, street lights, debris, hills, and more. If you’re like me you’ll be looking at everything except those things. No worries because with practice and good habits, you’ll be handling it all without breaking a sweat (unless you mean to sweat.)

Sources: Drawings from WikiHow.
Some facts from Google searches.
Featured Image: The shifters and handlebars on my Norco, Rideau.

Be careful out there. Know your bicycle and your riding trails. Use hand signals. Be and stay safe.

Back On The Road Again

I felt like it would take forever to get back on the road again after dual knee replacement on August 26th. After 2 days in the hospital and 9 days in the rehab hospital, I was glad to get home. When I came through the door my Norco was waiting patiently for me but it would take some time. It was good to be home and see my bicycle again!

I crushed my PT thanks to the experts at El Camino Acute Rehab Facility and got to ride a stationary bike several times. At the 4 week point, I was already doing what people achieved at 6 weeks and my team was pleased. I worked hard on my PT and had a group of great people at the facility that made all of the difference.

On Sept.13th I went in to have my waterproof bandages removed at my surgeon’s office. I saw my stitches for the first time and got all kinds of good news.  I had full range already and was told I could walk without my walker, drive, and even start to ride my bicycle again. Very carefully of course. This was only a month after surgery so I was thrilled!

I was having PT once a week at the clinic where I was able to ride stationary bikes, use weights and learn to walk again. Because my knees were bent replacing them meant I now had straight legs. I had been embarrassed for so long about my knees, they were ugly and made me walk with an abnormal gait. When I looked in the mirror I was in awe!

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In this photo on my bike, you can see how badly bent my legs were at the knees. In the second photo, it’s fixed. It seems like magic.

On Sept. 21st it was a warm sunny day and it seemed like a good day to try my first ride. My roommate came along to give me strength. Although I’m a seasoned cyclist I was feeling really shaky on that ride. On the other hand, what a feeling it was to be back on my bike!

The hardest part was starting out and stopping because both put the most pressure on my legs/knees. My thighs above my stitches were hurting and burning but I still made it the 8.92 miles around Coyote Point Harbor with a smile. What’s a little pain when there’s so much pleasure to be had?

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My very first bike ride after dual knee replacement was painful but oh so sweet!

Sept. 29th would be my next ride. I was going mostly on weekends with my roommate. I was feeling great but still having a lot of pain so working on recovery was paramount. Before surgery, I was riding 20-30 miles every other day and now it was 17 miles once a week but I had to start somewhere.

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That smile just keeps getting larger. At 5 weeks (above) I’m not doing too badly. My knees are still a little swelled.

Today I have 16 rides under my belt and am almost back to biking every other day. During my off time, I lost a lot of conditioning so it’s going to take months to get that back. I’ve gone out to Radio Point (26 miles) twice but am still riding 17-20 miles most days. I have my work cut out for me it just takes time.

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James (my roommate) and I taking a break on our favorite bench during a bike ride. He was great to come with me when I needed it.

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Look at those straight legs and sexy bicycle!

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The Bay Trail is on my left, San Francisco Bay on my right.

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It’s starting to get cold on my rides so it’s time to get the fur out.

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Yesterday was my last ride but I’ll be going out tomorrow! If you look into my sunglass lenses you’ll see the white pelicans I was looking at.

After all is said and done I’m back on the road again and so happy to be back! As I’ve said many times now, dual knee replacement was the hardest thing I ever did but so far it’s so worth it. The things I’ve gained outweigh the pain and hardship of recovery. It still feels new but after a year I’m told things will settle down and feel more normal.

On Feb. 20th it’ll be my 4 year anniversary for riding every other day, losing and maintaining my weight loss, and living a healthier, better life. Because of surgery, I missed more days this year than any other but I’m going to make up for it and will be celebrating heavily on that day.

Time is flying and the holidays are fast approaching with Thanksgiving coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m not ready but I never am. At this age and being solo the holidays are just more days to enjoy. I will be making a turkey and soup with the leftovers. I’m thankful I got my surgery over with after waiting for decades!

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Back in the saddle again!

May Is National Bike Month

May is a great month, the month I was born but it’s also National Bike Month! This is the month to grab your friends, get on your bicycles and celebrate everything about bicycles. Become a bicycle ambassador. There’s a lot to feel good about!

Become a bicycle ambassador for your area. Spread the word!

May is a wonderful month to start cycling if you’re not already enjoying this popular sport. It gets you outside, it’s fun and it gets you fit. You will see people of all ages on bikes with smiles on their faces. The smiles and good feelings are genuine.

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Proud to be a Bicycle Ambassador for the Bay Trail. Be the best cyclist you can!

There is a movement for bike riders of all backgrounds to become more of a cohesive community following similar beliefs by banding together. Urban cyclists and the racing world combined. I consider myself a Bicycle Ambassador of the Bay Trail loosely following rules set by other communities being formed all over the world.

One of these in Portland Oregon, 21st Avenue Bicycles (a shop), launched The 21 Ambassadors program, to directly support the urban cyclist. They believe:

“To ride a bicycle is to be part of a community, to share a common experience, as much as it is about good health and helping the environment […] We believe that as a community we should support each other in bad times as well as good. We, the 21 Ambassadors are here to help you. When tires flat and spokes break, when chains fail and gears groan, when you need a hand, we hope to be there to assist.”

I believe we can all become Bicycle Ambassadors simply by riding mindfully and stopping to help others. I’m not much help mechanically when someone has a flat, or a broken spoke but I do have my phone, some cash, a first-aid kit, protein bars and can direct you on the trail. I have (what I call) “can do.” We can all do our part.

  • stop and offer assistance to fellow cyclists
  • use hand-signals and follow all rules of the road
  • set the standard for exemplary riding
  • be polite and helpful-some people may decline your help

It makes this urban cyclist feel good to say I’m a Bicycle Ambassador! A great way to participate in National Bike Month. Be the best cyclist you can!

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If you don’t ride daily May is a great month to start! Riding your bike 3 to 4 times a week will reward you with better health, weight loss, a stronger core, quality sleep at night and make your real-age lower than your birth age by as much as 10 years! All good reasons to ride your bicycle daily.

Consistency is your secreat weapon! Use it liberally. 

Consistency is a useful tool when trying to make a lifestyle change. For some people, working out at the same time each day helps but others benefit from just linking exercise to some other event during the day. People who do this and make it a habit find it’s easier to maintain.

This is something I take advantage of. I have breakfast at the same time every day and after doing dishes I get dressed to ride. I am fueled for my morning while getting out early for a ride before coming home to a clean kitchen. It works!

National Ride To Work Day During Bike Month

If you ride to work, first of all, I want to say you are awesome! That is a lot of miles to and fro every week navigating commuter hours. I salute you! Ride To Work Day is the day your place of employment may have some surprises just for you. (More about that soon.)

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Bike Month has all kinds of unexpected perks and ways to celebrate it. Perhaps a group you didn’t know about is having a group ride? Maybe there’s someone you’ve been wanting to ride with but haven’t asked? A new route you wanted to try? This is the time to do it. Meeting others who ride and learning from them is a huge plus.

In the coming months I’ll be posting on some of these subjects:

  • health benefits
  • ride safety
  • helpful gear
  • free applications for tracking rides
  • food choices/recipes
  • bikes
  • sleep

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I’m going to start sharing my rides here so will be writing more often. I meant to do so at the beginning of Bike With Bekkie but got caught up with sharing my weight-loss and health improvements because I wanted to tell everyone what I discovered. I was a hot mess and I knew if I could lose weight and get healthy so could others.

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Kids love to ride their bikes too! Take them out for National Bike Month!

Cyclists banding and sharing together for the future. Power in numbers!