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By: Zdenko Kahlina
How To Use Bike Gears Properly
Bikes have anywhere from one front chainring to three chainrings these days, accompanied by seven to eleven gears in the back. The different combinations of these gears will determine how easy or difficult it is to pedal and will dictate your speed. If you are looking to make small adjustments in the speed/difficulty then you will want to change your back gears (also known as cogs).
If you are looking to make a big change in your effort or speed then you will likely want to change the front chainring. A great example would be when you are heading from a downhill in the big ring and then switching to the small chainring as you climb up the other side of the hill.
Using Bike Gears
To begin with, start in your small chainring up front. Get on your bike and become familiar with changing your back gears with your right shifter. Get comfortable shifting through the gears (while avoiding cross chaining) before you start shifting with the front gears as well.
Attempt to maintain a smooth steady cadence of about 75 – 95 rpm while maintaining a moderate effort when pushing on the pedals. Change the gears appropriately to maintain this steady cadence and effort.
The Basics of Bike Shifting
Left Shifter – Changes the front chainring and makes the biggest shift change.
Right Shifter – Changes the rear cogs and makes the smallest incremental shift changes.
With a little practice, changing gears can be as intuitive as pedaling. Here are six things to remember.
1. The Gears
Most bikes have two or three chainrings in the front and anywhere from 7 to 11 gears, or cogs, in the back. Moving the chain from the smallest rear cog to the largest eases your pedaling effort incrementally. Moving it between the chainrings in the front results in a more noticeable change — pedaling feels easier in a smaller chainring and harder in a bigger one.
2. Shifter Savvy
The left-hand shifter changes the front gears; the one on the right controls gears in back. If you get flustered on the fly, remember: RIGHT = REAR.
3. It’s Okay To…
• Use only the rear cogs and the small or middle front chainring when you’re just getting comfortable on a bike.
• look down to see what gear you’re in.
• shift whenever a more experienced rider does.
4. When to Shift
The reason bikes have gears is so you can pedal (relatively) comfortably no matter what the terrain. Shift to an easier gear on climbs or when you’re riding into the wind. Use a harder gear on flats or if the wind is blowing from behind. When in doubt, shift before the terrain changes. When you shift, ease up on the pedals, especially on hills; if you’re pushing hard, the chain may skip or fall off.
5. Avoid Cross-Chaining
That means the chain is at an extreme slant, either in the big ring up front and the biggest cog in back, or the small ring up front and the small cog in back. This not only stresses the hardware, but it also limits your options if you need to shift again.
6. Cheat Sheet
For: Uphills and headwinds - Use: Small or middle front chainring + bigger rear cogs
For: Downhills - Use: Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs
For: Flat terrain - Use: Small or middle front chainring + smaller rear cogs
How bicycle gears are measured…
Bicycle gear calculations are based on the distance, in metres, that a bicycle travels for each turn of the pedals. This distance is commonly called ‘metres development’ – a rather odd name for a logical and useful way of measuring gears. Low gears will move your bike a very short distance for each turn of the pedals – just what you need for tackling steep inclines at slow speed. High gears will move you three or even four times as far – assistance from gravity or a tail wind will probably be needed!
For practical purposes, the extremes are:
2 metres : lowest gear
9 metres : highest gear
Unless you are riding a folding bike (I do!), the circumference of your wheels will be just over two metres. Later, I’ll help you measure tyre circumference – accurately and without tears – but for now we’ll assume that our bicycles roll forward 2.1 metres for each wheel rotation.
What Is the Proper Gear To Be In?
The appropriate gear to be in is a gear that allows you to have a good steady cadence without feeling like you are pedaling too hard or too gently. If you select a gear that is too high for the conditions, it will force you into a slower cadence. Pedaling slower than your ideal cadence is wasteful of energy. You also run a higher risk of muscle strains and joint damage, particularly to the knees and hips. Pedaling faster than your ideal cadence can allow you to generate an extra burst of speed, but you will tire yourself out too soon if you try to maintain an excessively fast cadence.
1. LOW GEAR – Great For Climbing
Use the small or middle chainring upfront and the bigger gears in the back. You will want to switch in to these gears early as you approach the climb allowing you to climb the hill slowly and with less effort.
This is a great gear for climbing. Switch down to this gear combination as you approach the climb.
You’ll be able to climb the hill slowly and steadily with less effort.
Front gear= Small chainring
Back gear= The largest sprockets
2. MIDDLE GEAR – Great For Everyday Terrain (or flat roads)
Use the small or middle front chainring and the middle or small gears in the back. Focus on small adjustments with your back gear.
Learn how to set up your middle gear, with the middle chainring on triple and the middle sprockets at the rear.
Front gear= Small chainring on double/compact
= Middle chainring on triple
Back gear= The middle sprockets
The medium gear is perfect for flat or undulating terrain.
3. HIGH GEAR – Great For Descending
Use the large front chainring and the bigger gears in the back.
Learn how to set up your high gear, with the big chainring at the front and small sprocket at the rear.
Front gear = Big chainring
Back gear = Smallest sprockets
A high gear is perfect for descending.
You will also want to get into a high gear for accelerating. In a high gear, you travel a long way for each turn of the pedal.
What To Avoid When Changing Bike Gears
Cross chaining occurs when the chain is on a big slant. The chain should not go on the big ring up front and the big ring on the back simultaneously, nor should it go on the small ring upfront and the small ring in the back. Cross chaining wrecks your chain, decreases efficiency and it also gives you less options when trying to find a new gear.
Which bike gears should I avoid?
Avoid using the following combinations of cycle gears, as they will cause your chain stretch and wear your chain out quickly.
It may cause your chain to slip, not shift properly, and will stretch and damage the bike chain over time. Front gear = smallest chainring Back gear= smallest sprocket
It may cause your chain to slip, not shift properly, and will stretch and damage the bike chain over time. Front gear= biggest chainring, Back gear= biggest sprocket
Top tips for finding the right gear when cycling
A good way to understand your cadence and get the right gear on your bike is to find a nice quiet bit of road and practice riding at different cadences. For one revolution you count one foot doing a full revolution. It is best to count this at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
On flat or rolling terrain on your own or in a group you should be looking to have a cadence of between 80-99 revolutions of the pedal per minute. It’s also worth experimenting with different cadences and work out what feels most natural to you. The same goes for climbs; generally the optimum cadence is between 60-80 revolutions per minute. Again, find a quiet hill and ride up it at different cadences and see which one got you up the hill for the least amount of energy spent (remember that £10 note). You can then try climbs of different gradient, but always look for that optimum cadence and decide what gear is going to get you to that cadence.
Most importantly, get out there, have fun, and enjoy your bike! Hope to see you on the road.
Have a good and healthy season.
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Tags: Coaching staff