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How To Shift Bike Gears

two people wearing full face helmets riding mountain bikes on a forested trail

How To Shift Bike Gears Effectively

Most beginning cyclists think that gear shifting on a bike is about as simple as something can get. Shift up to go faster on flats and downhill, and shift down for headwinds, hills and slow rides.


Well, that's the basic idea, but it turns out there is more to shifting than that. There are a lot of tips and tricks that riders can use to make gear shifting simpler, smoother and more effective. Let's get to it.

The Basics Of Shifting


The basic idea of shifting is well-understood by most riders. To make pedaling easier, shift down onto a smaller gear; the higher ratio of pedal turns to wheel turns will make it much easier to power your way up hills and through tough rides. Shift up onto a larger gear to make pedaling more difficult when you need to stand up and accelerate or speed along with a tailwind or down a hill.

Smooth Shifting


To make your riding more efficient, it is best to make your shifting as smooth as possible. Don't try to make massive gear shifts (for example, shifting several gears at once) all at once; be gradual with your changes, and make sure that when you move your shifting levers or grips you move smoothly and at a medium pace.

This is easiest when you prepare ahead of time for hills and other obstacles that require gear changes. As you approach, it will make your shifting smoother and cleaner if you actually begin to shift before you need to. This will remove that jerky feeling that sometimes occurs when you shift after beginning a climb, for example.

Don't Cross The Chain


One important thing to know about gear shifting is the concept of crossing the chain -- something that anyone with a triple-chainring needs to know about. Crossing the chain refers to shifting onto gears that are on opposite sides of the chain path -- for example, the most difficult gear (furthest to the right) in the front, and the easiest gear (furthest to the left) in the back. When this occurs, diagonal strain and rubbing on the chain and gears can cause premature wear. Avoid this by making sure to you don't cross your chain.