Road Bikes: Your Ultimate Guide to Gear Changing

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For novice cyclists, knowing how and when to change your gears to optimise endurance can be difficult. So Bikes Instore has put together this little guide for you.

The Gears

Geared bikes typically have one, two or three chainrings at the front. These are the rings attached to the pedal crank arm. They typically have anything from seven to 12 gears (cogs) in the back. This is the cassette attached to the rear wheel.

Shifting the chain from the smallest back cog to the largest makes pedalling incrementally easier. Shifting it between the chainrings at the front creates a more noticeable difference. Pedalling is far easier on a smaller chainring than on one of the larger ones.

To truly understand the feel of your bike’s gears, a good idea is to go to a safe riding space away from traffic. Here, shift through the gears and gain an understanding of how they feel when riding. Advanced cyclists spend plenty of time switching rear gears to find their cycling sweet spot.

Gear Shifters

The left-hand shifter typically changes the front gears, with the right shifter controlling the back. If you get confused when riding, remember the mnemonic “right equals rear”. For bikes with a single front chainring, you will only have a right-handed gear shifter, unless your bike has been built for the rear to be a left-side shift.

Knowing When to Shift

When climbing hills, it is best to shift to an easier gear. The same goes for riding in the wind (there is nothing worse than riding on a hard gear in the wind). Use a harder gear when the wind is blowing from behind (a tailwind) or you’re riding on a flat. When in doubt, switch gears before the terrain change. This is especially so for hills. Don’t wait to switch as you might find yourself struggling up the incline. Once you shift, keep pedalling but take it easy on the pedals (especially on hills). If you pedal too hard or stop pedalling altogether, you might find your chain skipping or falling off.

When you’re beginning to become comfortable on your bike, only use the rear gears and the middle or small front chainring. This allows you to get a proper understanding of the bike before you take on the harder gears. If you’re unsure of which gear you are sitting in, a quick look at the back will give you an indication of what gear you are sitting in.

Once you begin to feel more comfortable, you can start to try out different gears in different situations. When riding into a headwind or going uphill, you want to use the middle or small front chainring and larger rear cogs. When riding downhill, you want to use the large front chainring and a variety of back cogs.

Also, you want to avoid cross-chaining. This is where the chain is at a great slat either in the biggest cog in back and the big ring up front, or vice-versa with the small rings and cogs. This stresses the gears and also limits your gear-shifting options. You will often hear a noise when cross-chaining.

Gear shifting can be tricky at first, but after a few practices and some experiences, you will find yourself shifting like a tour pro.

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