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.

Spring Time On The Bay Trail

It’s springtime on the Bay Trail and after all of the rain, the drought is over in California making it a happy time for plants, flowers, birds, bees, and me! I’ve been aware of the Bay Trail for decades but since Feb. 20th, 2016 I’ve been riding regularly and taking photographs of the Bay Trail on my rides.

I’m thankful that I live close enough to ride this beautiful nature trail all year round and my photographs have grown into an amazing collection.  The photos in this post are from this spring (2017) and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them.

If you check out my sidebar you can see even more of my photos and I change it occasionally so always check for more. 

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The water levels in the bay and surrounding natural sloughs are always changing with the tides. There is mud on the far left, deeper water channeling in the middle and shallows on the right. The patterns in the mud and water are always changing as nature is the best artist.

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There are crushed shell beaches along the San Francisco Bay that are great for walks when I need a bike break. The white is a nice contrast to the colors of the various plant life. This is low tide and in the distance is the San Mateo Bridge which is highway 92.

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Take a walk through Coyote Point, a 670-acre park which houses a yacht harbor, the CuriOdyssey museum and lots of places for picnics/cookouts all within a small forest of Eucalyptus trees. The paths up and down the cliffs are breathtaking with views of San Francisco, the airport, and the peninsula shoreline. There’s a full golf course nearby, a pistol/rifle range, and a playground. Kite and windsurfing are just some of the sports enjoyed here and the Bay Trail runs through it.

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Coyote Point used to be much more! As you can see here it was the Merchant Marine Cadet School in 1942 and after that, the College Of San Mateo campus until 1962. Coyote Point used to be an island connected by marshlands to the mainland. It’s now landfill turned into a golf course.

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The yacht harbor at Coyote Point with wildflowers in the forefront. Some of the flowers were brought in and some are natural it’s hard to tell which is which anymore but they’re all lovely to look at.

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I love to look for everyday shapes in nature like this rock that’s shaped like a heart. The yellow blooms are ice plants they almost bloom year round but go crazy in the spring.

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Just look at these yellow flowers, there were only 2 bushes like this. While I was taking close-ups of the flowers I almost missed this tiny hummingbird. The back of his head was bright red but my camera didn’t pick it up.

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This was one of my favorite flowers this year due to the color and detail but they weren’t around for long.

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Daisies are found all along the Bay Trail of numerous kinds and colors.

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After the purple blooms, little white flowers come out from the insides of these flowers.

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After all of the rain, we had many kinds of mushrooms growing. Not edible but very interesting.

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I like the striped petals and color of this flower. I tried to look up some of these flowers using Google Image Search but wasn’t that successful. It’s not a perfect system.

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Even the trees are amazing along the Bay Trail. That’s San Francisco in the distance but look at this tree! The foliage along the cliffs at Coyote Point and along the bay are bent and twisted from the winds and weather into some neat shapes.

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There are so many different flowers in this world and I never tire of them.

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These have yellow centers that look like the color’s running. Some are bushes some are single flowers.

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This was one of the first flowers to bloom and the petals look like someone crushed them but that’s how they grow. There’s still some left as of this write.

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Aren’t these pretty with the spotted petals? They are tiny things.

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Can you see the hawk in the center of this photo? The yellow and purple blooms are ice plants. They close at night and open with the sun.

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Get a load of these colors! They’re almost done blooming now. (These look like, but aren’t ice plant blooms.)

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The petals and shape of this flower are interesting!

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Bottlebrush flowers are the Hummingbirds favorite. I had a few trees near my patio once and didn’t need to have a feeder.

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These purple, white or pink flowers on stalks are the bees favorite and they will swarm you if you get too close. The tree (with the bare branches) looks dead but it’s not. I never see anything grow on them so it’s a mystery to me. That spot in the sky is not a plane it’s a bee.

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Can’t leave out California poppies. Bright orange, you see them everywhere even in the middle of the freeway. This year down south they had so many bloom that they could see them from the Space Station. They call that a super-bloom.

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These tiny yellow flowers grow everywhere in the wild grass.

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I had to include this cactus in a nearby garden although there are plenty of succulents that grow wild. I’m still waiting for it to bloom. (The ice plants are succulents.) Love those tiny blue flowers too!

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I could show you more flowers and plants but that’s enough for today. I’m closing with this photo of some stunning clouds above the San Mateo Bridge at low tide. The bay and sky are ever-changing from minute to minute. The birds are busy feeding and everything is peaceful on the Bay Trail.

This site is fairly new but I’m troubled by the lack of comments. Please leave your thoughts I’m waiting to hear them. If you want me to write about something now’s the time to let me know. I plan on more articles about health and biking but surely there’s something you want to hear?

Happy 200th Anniversary to the Bicycle! Read about it from the Wall Street Journal.

Come Bike With Me

This map shows the beautiful area that I bike in on the Bay Trail. If you’re ever in the Bay Area you can get ahold of me on this site or on any of my social network accounts I’d be happy to show you around!

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Anza Lagoon to Belmont Slough

Bicycling In My Area * Burlingame * San Mateo * Foster City * Redwood Shores

Some of the finest biking anywhere, come bike with me! If you are ever in this area you must visit the Bay Trail whether you’re biking, walking, roller skating or whatever it’s lovely and you’ll find your stress draining away.

Coyote Point to Redwood Shores (Peninsula)

Ride your bike 17 miles (one direction) through three cities along a continuous, mostly paved Bay Trail including towering Eucalyptus, beautiful flowers, and an elegant bicycle/pedestrian bridge to restored wetlands teeming with shorebirds. The city of San Francisco and the airport can be seen across the bay along with Mt. Diablo and many other famous landmarks. There are many parks along the way to stop and enjoy.

Source: baytrail.org

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All you need is a bicycle and the road to good health opens up to you.

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Put The Fun Between Your Legs!