How to use gears on a bike

Gears are designed to make pedalling comfortable in different circumstances. As you ride and practise changing gear, you will be able to find a pedalling speed that works for you and as you go uphill or find yourself with a tail wind, you will be able to change your gear to help you maintain that comfortable pedalling speed. In this article we are going to be discussing  gears and how to use gears on a bike. 

How to use gears on a bike and what to use to change gear?

How to use gears on a bike and what to use to change gear?

If you look at your handlebars, you will see the part that changes the gears, the gear shifter, next to your brake lever.  If the bike has gears both at the front and at the back then there is a shifter on each side of the handlebars. The gears at the back are located near the rear wheel and consist of a cluster of different sized cogs, a derailleur that moves the chain between the cogs and a cable that joins the shifter to the derailleur. The gears at the front are joined to the pedals. There are two or three cogs, the derailleur to move the chain and a cable to link it to the shifter. If the bike only has gears at the back then there will be only one shifter. The front gears are controlled on the left hand side and the rear gears by the right hand side. 

What are higher and lower gears?

Knowing about higher and lower gears is crucial in understanding how to use gears on a bike effectively.

When should I use higher gears?

Higher gears help to gain speed but require more power to accelerate. They are used 
1. When you have a tail wind
2. When you have built up momentum
3. When you have a downhill that isn’t steep enough to allow you to just freewheel. 
At the front the higher the gear, the bigger the cog and at the back the higher the gear the smaller the cog. 

When should I use lower gears?

Lower gears make pedalling easier but the bike moves more slowly. They are used
1. When hill climbing
2. When there is a head wind
3. When carrying a heavy load 
4. On very rough or grassy terrain. 
At the front the lower the gear, the smaller the cog and at the back the lower the gear the bigger the cog. 

How many gears have you got on your bike?

When we talk about gears on a bike, what do we mean?  The chain links the cogs on the crank to the cogs on the back wheel. As you pedal the bike is driven forward. The “gear” refers to the combination of the two cogs, back and front in use at any one time.

Each combination of cogs gives a different gear which gives the rider a different pedalling sensation. If you take the combination of the smallest cog at the front and the largest at the back, this gives you the lowest gear that that bike has. If you use this gear and you feel as if your legs are spinning around too fast and you’re not really getting anywhere then this gear is too low for that situation. If you take the combination that is the smallest cog at the back and the largest at the front this gives you the highest gear possible on that bike.   If you find that you have to push really hard to keep the bike moving then this gear is too high for that situation.

How many gears have you got on your bike? A simple way to work this out is to count the number of cogs surrounding the back hub, count the number of cogs near the middle of the bike and multiply them. 

Why? Let’s imagine that you have 7 cogs on the back wheel and 3 at the front. So following that rule gives us 21 gears.  Each cog at the back gives feels different depending on what cog you are on at the front. Some of the gears can feel virtually the same

Are more gears better?

Many modern bikes only have gears at the back. It means that it will have less gears than an older or cheaper bike! Does this mean that it isn’t as good as a bike that has gears front and back? Not necessarily. Good gearing is about having gears that give a good, usable range and offer a low enough gear for an amateur cyclist climbing in the Alps and high enough to pedal down the other side

Technology means that the same range of gears can be achieved with only having gears at the back – just more of them.  

The advantages of a single cog at the front. Known as “1 by” or “1x”

  1. The gears are more sequential. The rider doesn’t have to move back and front.

2) You don’t get rubbing on the front derailleur.

The disadvantages of a single cog at the front.

  1. Because there are more cogs, the chain has to be thinner so it wears more quickly.
  2. The chain has to move across the large number of cogs and there is no front derailleur to keep the chain on the front cog.  While this isn’t always a problem, if it is the a special chainring can be fitted called a “narrow wide chainring”

How to use the gears on a bike- shifting gears

There are two main types of flat bar gear shifters. Trigger shifters and twist shifters.

The shifter may have numbers indicating which gear you are using.  The higher the number the higher the gear.

The lower the number the lower the gear. 

Trigger shifters have two levers. For the front gear the lever on the bottom of the left hand side shifter will move to a higher gear.

While pedalling press the lever until you hear the click.  To move to a lower gear flick the upper lever towards you till you hear the click.

If you have a twist shifter, then while pedalling twist it towards you to go to a higher gear.

Twist the shifter away from you to achieve a lower gear.

For the rear gear the lever on the bottom of the right hand side shifter will move to a lower gear.

While pedalling press the lever until you hear the click.  To move to a higher gear flick the upper lever towards you till you hear the click.

If you have a twist shifter, then while pedalling twist the shifter towards you to go to a lower gear.

Twist the shifter away from you to achieve a higher gear.

Can you change gears while not pedalling?

It is not a good idea to change gear when you’re not pedalling. 

  1. It can break the shift lever 
  2. It can put unnecessary strain on the derailleur
  3. It can cause the chain to slip when you start pedalling again.

Finally, now you know how to use gears on a bike, it’s important to remember that what gear you should be riding in is purely a matter of choice.  It’s about what makes your legs feel comfortable. Try experimenting by using all your gears in different circumstances and see what feels the best and remember that no one else knows how you are feeling. You can read more about how to change gears on a road bike in one of our previous blogs.

Leave a Comment