Shifting Bicycle Gears FAQs

Why does my bike have so many gears on it?

Bikes have lots of gears on them so you'll have just the right gear for any particular hill. Also with lots of gears the steps between them are smaller. That means the RPMs on the pedals don't change as much when you shift gears. That's good because it allows you to pedal at a more even pace, which makes it easier to ride farther.

How do I shift my gears going up hill when I have to lighten the pressure on the pedals in order to shift?

You have to anticipate your shifts a bit. However, once you get your timing down, it doesn't take but a second to shift your gears while going up hill.

How do I prevent the scraping or rattling noises I get in certain gear combinations?

An easy way to prevent those gear noises, is to shift the left side, only when you're in the middle numbered gears, on the right. Another way to say the same thing is, use your low numbered gears on the left shifter, with your low numbered gears on the right; similarly, use your high numbered gears on the left, with the high numbered ones on the right.

The same tip applies to road bikes. The difference on a road bike is that the gears aren't numbered, so you have to look down to see what sprockets the chain is on to determine what gear you're in. Running the inboard ring up front with the inboard cogs in back, and running the outboard rings with the outboard cogs prevents those gear noises. Expressed another way, avoid running the big gears in the front with the big gears in the back; and avoid running the small ones with the small ones.

How do I know when to use the left shifter?

Use the left shifter when you want to make a BIG change in how much easier or harder the bike is to pedal. Gear number one is for steep up hills, number two for flat ground, and number three for down hills. Get "in the ball park" with the left shifter, then fine tune on the right. Most of your shifting will actually be done on the right side.

I like to pedal in high gear all the time so I can get a good leg workout. Is that OK?

You can certainly ride that way if you want to. However, expect to replace your chain, cassette and large chainring about once a year. This type of riding wears out the driver train quickly. See Transmission Wear (Does My Bike Need A Tune Up?)Moreover, fatigue sets in more quickly when you ride in high gear. Pedaling at a brisk pace, in an easier gear, increases your stamina over a longer rides. It's like weight training. You can do more reps with a lighter weight. Notice how fast the guys that race pedal.

Why does my bike mechanic grimace when I click my shifters while I'm standing still?

Shifting your gears while standing still stretches the cables and strains the derailleurs. Remember, you have to be pedaling before the bike will change gears.

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