How To Use And Get The Most Out Of Your Bike’s Gears
Unless you’re an accomplished cyclist, just looking at your bike’s gears can be confusing. There are different sprockets and chainrings, and on the handlebars are a few non-descript levers. If you’ve found yourself dragging too big a gear up a hill, or spinning your legs uncontrollably downhill, this could be the quick lesson for you.
Starting with the rear wheel, you’ll find the cassette, a collection of sprockets connected to the hub of the wheel. Any cassette can have somewhere in the region of 5 to 13 sprockets of different sizes, but typical road bikes usually have 9, 10, or 11. The chain is moved up and down these sprockets by the rear derailleur, which also works to adjust and compensate for slack in the chain.
At the front, on the end of your pedal crank and attached to the bottom bracket, are between 1 and 3 chainrings. A lot of mountain bikes tend to have 3 chainrings here, with road bikes typically having 2. The chain is moved here by the front derailleur, attached by a clamp to your bike’s frame.
On your handlebars, the shifting levers can vary from bike to bike. Some have a ‘grip shift’ system, while others have 2 levers for each hand. But both do the same thing, on your left hand the shifters will pull the front derailleur up and down, and the right hand levers will operate the rear. Some have useful numbers to tell you exactly which sprockets your chain is on, too!
Which Is ‘Easy’ And Which Is ‘Hard’
So, out of this combination, which is the hardest gear (the one with most resistance), and which is easiest (the gear which will spin more easily)? As a general rule, the smaller the sprocket on the rear cassette, the harder the gear will be, and on the front it’s the reverse, where the larger chainring is harder. Your biggest and hardest gear will be when the chain is on the smallest sprocket at the back, and the biggest at the front. For the easiest, it’s the reverse (slightly confusing, but soon becomes second nature!)
How And When To Change
Now you know which is hardest and easiest, and what mechanism operates what, how and when should you change your gears?
The hardest gear on your bike may feel tough to push, but when you’re going quickly, and especially downhill, this will increase your speed. Going downhill, you simply won’t be able to feel any resistance on a lower gear as your wheels will be turning too quickly.
Going uphill is when you’ll need those lower, easier gears. A word of caution though, take it easy when shifting your gears going uphill. Due to the extra force you’re applying through the chain, it can be harder for the derailleurs to smoothly change gear. Generally, try not to change with too big a leap, instead change your gears incrementally.
To cycle as efficiently as possible, it’s a good idea to try and always be in the gear with the highest resistance that you can still easily turn your pedals. You shouldn’t feel like you’re grinding uphill, or that your legs are turning too fast that you can’t control them. And, as always, experiment changing your gears, they’re there to be used!