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.

Reflections Of Summer

Summer is coming to a close and was I busy enjoying it! In June I finally decided to give in and try a new bicycle. It’s a hybrid step-through and I love it!

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Here on Labor Day weekend with my new (for me,) 2017 Norco Rideau, made of all places, in Canada. Sweet color, hey?

The features of this bicycle are amazing and it’s a dream to ride. A step-through with 24 gears and a crisp shifting system it’s a much lighter bicycle than a mountain bike (or my vintage Schwinn) and has a spring loaded seat post for comfort. When I ride it I never want to get off which is how you want a bike to make you feel so that you ride it.

It was very windy on the San Francisco Bay this year. I usually start my rides around 9:00, 9:30 am because it always gets windy around 1 pm but this year it was windy in the mornings too. All of us regulars bemoaned the wind this summer. It makes me look forward to the winter months because the wind will be much lighter. Although you never know….

It was a wonderful summer to ride all the same and with my new bike, I was a maniac. This was the first summer I didn’t write poetry, or much at all. I apologize but the time off did me good. My average speed scores rocketed.

I hope you had a great summer riding and that my Lazy, Fat and Crazy Lifestyle Change helped you to lose weight or improve your health in some way. My plan is just a simple way to start paying attention to your health so you can get healthier by logging your food, sleeping better and exercising daily. I’d love to get some feedback from you if it helped you or you have any questions. For you newbies, check out my link and get some ideas to start the brand new you. New Years isn’t as far off as you think and good health is sexy!

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I have much to write about and am ready to go. More posts on all things health and biking of course. There’s been a lot of new findings on the foods we eat and how our bodies work. It’s an exciting time to be alive and take advantage.

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No camera tricks, me at 64 and feeling fit! The featured image is my bicycle in a child’s playground at Coyote Point Park.

Keep up with the exercise it’s the most important thing you can do to get your metabolism moving so you can burn fat. I have thyroid problems so mine crawls if I don’t do something about it. It’s my main health problem I take meds for (besides my bad knees) at the moment.

I will be posting more of my photos from my rides on the Bay Trail soon.

Don’t give up! One small step at a time, you can do it!

On Your Left, Safety Counts

When I’m riding the various trails around this area it’s always surprising to realize just how many people using them have no idea there are rules to follow. This often leads to negative interactions, and worse, accidents where people get hurt because people don’t take the time to acquaint themselves with the area they’re spending time in.

Whether on foot or on wheels when on the trails the rules are the same for everyone. If you have young children it’s important to teach them to be on the lookout for moving bicycles and staying safe.

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Rules Of The Trails

  • Stay to the right-no more than 2 across
  • Call out when passing
  • Pass on the left when it’s safe
  • Observe the right of way
  • Top Speed Limit is 15 miles an hour unless otherwise posted
  • Speed Limit is 5 miles an hour in crowded areas
  • Slow down to pass
  • If you stop pull off the trail
  • Use hand signals, even if alone
  • Be polite and smile
  • Keep an eye out for dogs and children.

Bikes follow the same laws that cars do whether riding on a trail or on the street. If there’s no bike trail you use the lane just like a car does. Make sure you’re seen before advancing in traffic. I use very few bike lanes on crowded streets but living near the Bay Trail I can get away with it.

Don’t be confused with the bike in the left lane (image above.) You won’t really stay in the left lane if others are using it. This is to show how to pass someone and the correct place to be.

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“On your left,” is what you should call out when passing someone. I always say, “Thank you,” as I pass by, people resent you less for intruding with your bicycle and makes most of them smile. Being a good “Bicycle Ambassador” (a person that promotes cycling in a good way) is something to be proud of!

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Hand Signals

Hand signals are something you should learn and get in the habit of using. They are universal and easy to do. I use the easy signal on the bottom right (for my right turns) because the other way confuses me.

I don’t see these being used much on the trails but I do because it makes the path I’m taking crystal clear to others. I don’t think cyclists use them enough. You need to use them always even if you’re riding alone. Hand signals make your intentions known, show the path you’re taking and make people notice you.

There are hand signals for everything, check them out at Mapmyfitness: http://blog.mapmyrun.com/10-cycling-hand-signals-need-know/

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Your Voice Is Important

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Know Your Place On The Streets

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This is what to expect from the bike lanes. I have ridden in all 3 by now. The diagram on the right can have a solid line between the car and cyclist or not.

Protect Yourself And Your Noggin

A bike helmet (or brain bucket) is your best friend for protection in case something goes wrong. Make sure you buy a good one and that it fits correctly. Most sports stores or bike shops will be glad to help you.

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Of course, you want to have your bike checked out once a year (more often if you notice problems) to make sure it’s in tip-top condition on the road. Happy cycling!

Know the rules, be polite, ride safe and stay safe.