How to Shift Your Gears
Learn how to use your full range of gears: applies to 21, 24, and 27 speed shift systems.
- 02:14 - Never use either the large/large or small/small gear combination!
Most bikes these days come with ’21 speeds’. However, this doesn’t mean you have 21 useable gears. Actually, on a 21 speed system it’s closer to 13. A lot of people get confused by all of the gear combinations available. I myself didn’t understand it when I first started using a multi-speed bike, so today we’ll learn how to use your gears most effectively.
It’s very important not to shift under pressure, as this will cause shift problems and damage your drivetrain. If you’re going uphill and you need a lower gear, keep pedaling, but ease off and pedal lightly while you shift.
Most systems have three gears on the front, which are controlled by your left shifter. The rear gear cluster usually has 7 gears, with some systems having 8 or 9. Not to worry, the concepts here are the same.
For most everday riding, you’ll want to keep your chain on the middle ring on the front, or number 2 on your left shifter. This allows you to use the full range of rear gears. Number 1 on your right shifter is the easiest gear for climbing hills, as it puts your chain on the largest rear sprocket. Number 7 on your right shifter is the hardest gear for going really fast, and it puts your chain on the smallest rear sprocket.
I find it helps to think of numbers 1 and 3 on your left shifter as options for extreme circumstances.
If you’re climbing a really tough hill and your left 2 and right 1 combination aren’t easy enough, you can shift your front derailleur to number 1 which drops the chain down to the smallest front chainring. While you’re in the smallest front gear you can shift the rear gears between 1 and 3 for a finer range adjustment, but you should always shift the front back to 2, or the middle chainring before using gears 4-7 on the rear.
If you’re going really fast and need a harder gear, and your left 2 and right 7 combination isn’t fast enough, you can shift your front derailleur to number 3 which pulls the chain up to the largest front chainring. While you’re in the largest front chainring you can shift the rear gears between 5 and 7 for a finer range adjustment, but always shift the front back to 2, or the middle chainring before using gears 1-4 on the rear.
Never use the full range of rear gears when you’re in either the small or large front sprockets (number 1 or 3 on the front shifter). This causes too great an angle in your chain line, which can cause noise and shifting problems.
- Jim Langley: How to Shift A Bicycle
- Sheldon Brown: Shift Your Bicycle's Gears
- Bicycle Torque Specifications
- Park Tool CG-2 Chain Gang Chain Cleaning System
- Park Tool GearClean Brush GSC-1C 11
- Finish Line Wet Chain Lube (Cross Country)
- Phil Wood Tenacious Oil
- Park Tool SK-3 Starter Mechanic Tool Kit
- Park Tool PK-3 Professional Tool Kit
Discuss this topic in the Shifter Forums
I have an older Athena group (circa 1995/96, hard to remember it has been so long) on my Cannondale R600 frame. It has been a great combination and served me well for over a decade. However, at the end of a ride last weekend, the left brake/shifter lever (plastic combination lever / thumb shifter) for the outboard action (pushing the lever to the right for the larger chain ring) gave way from its ...Read more
Hi All, First post on this forum. Simple question - there are various models of Shimano Revoshft shifters- RS35; RS41; RS45; RS47. As I need to replace one of these, as long as the gear number matches - are they all compatible? Phil...Read more
I've tried searching for YouTube assistance but to no avail. Cycled to the shops this morning and the gears weren't functioning, had a look and something has gone horribly wrong. It's as though the chain is suddenly inches longer than it should be and it isn't holding any tension unless the derailleur sits all the way back (image attached) almost so the chain is touching itself as it travels throu...Read more
I've got a problem with the front derailleur on my 21 speed mountain bike. The bikes chain keeps moving to gear one or even slipping off the chain entirely on the front when I try to ride it. I use this bike to get around my college campus, so I use this bike every day, so I need this bike to work. The bike in question is a 1996 Marin bolinas ridge mountain bike I got at a garage sale years ago ...Read more
I'm brand new to bike maintenance, and I have incredible difficulty getting my front derailleur to shift into the third (highest) gear, and then staying there. I don't know if the problem is with the shifter or the derailleur, and I would really appreciate any help. derailleur: shimano (that's all I know about it) shifter: a cheapy gradient thumb-knob shifter. No clicks, no numbers, just a - and...Read more
Bought a bike from our neighbor for my husband, 1990ish Schwinn Woodland. When he tried to ride it, realized it doesn't shift gears at all. Where do we start to look at what could be wrong?...Read more
I fell from my bike at quite the speed, I got injured pretty badly and this happened to my bike as well, is there a way to fix this or do I need to replace https://imgur.com/a/xlGbC...Read more
Hi. I just bought a used bike and had to change the inner tube in the back wheel. Putting the wheel back on I forgot to reattach the brake arm. I jumped on the bike and almost immediately the wheel locked up. I've taken everything apart and put it back together again, but the wheel just won't move. Does anyone know what I messed up here?...Read more
This concerns a Shimano Tiagra 4600 2x shifter. There is travel remaining in the rear deraileur, but none in the shifter itself. I can't reach the two biggest cogs using either of the front chainrings. I did dump the bike, albeit not hard. However, that accident caused the shifter housing to become out of line with the handlebars. I suspect either my repair efforts or the crash have damaged t...Read more
First bike in 7 years and I'm recently experiencing Ghost shifting, I know little to nothing about repairing bikes and I'm in need of help of how to stop the bike from shifting on its own it is very frustrating and makes it difficult to ride at times...Read more
I have vintage Charger brand gear levers and I am wondering if they'll work with Suntour VX derailleur as well as derailleurs that say index system....Read more
Hi. Sorry I dont know if this is in the right section of the forum. I just got a mtb for the 1st time as an adult. On the left hand side of the handle bars where you can change for 1 to 2 to 3. When I change from 1 to 2 it doesnt alwaya do it. The dial moves to 2 but the bike makes an awful noise and no matter how much i pedel it still makes that noise. If I then go into 3 it then after a good ...Read more
I am riding a Bianchi 928 with SRAM Red components. I have a 10 speed 11x28 cassette. I am replacing my rear derailleur since the guide pulley cogs are now worn to sharp points. The present derailleur has a short arm. SRAM seems to have 3 sizes of derailleur arms for a 10 speed cassette; short, medium, and long. The 28 cog gear still works will with my short derailleur. I heard that yo...Read more
I have a Deore LX shifter like on this photo The push button at the bottom doesn't catch the piece inside unless I press slightly up when I shift. Is that fixable or do I have to change the part? Thanks!...Read more
Yesterday 5 meters away from my destination my rear derailleur suddenly "snapped". I though at first that the cable broke, but no. I flipped the bike around and started shifting and it looks like it kinda "works" but it suddenly doesn't want to shift into the lowest gear (the biggest gearsprocket). I rode back home just fine, but I am a little bit worried and I am not sure what happened. It is a ...Read more