Shift Gears On A Bicycle For Dummies

3 Steps To Shift Gears On A Bicycle For Dummies

So you finally got that geared bicycle you’ve always wanted. You’re anxious, however, because you don’t know how to use the gears. Fortunately for you, I’m going to show you how to shift gears on a bicycle for dummies.


An overview of bicycle gear shifting is provided below.


How To Shift Gears On A Bicycle For Dummies?


  1. Identify your bike’s gears


  1. Control the front gears with the left-hand shifters.


  1. Control the rear gears with the right-hand shifters.


  1. Downshift (or gear down) to make pedaling easier and less forceful.


  1. Increase the pedaling force by shifting up (or gearing up).


  1. Only shift if you need to pedal forward.


  1. Always begin and conclude in a low gear.


  1. Gear down while climbing hills and up when descending or accelerating on flat ground.


I’ll go over all of these stages to help you understand how to change gears on a bicycle. By the conclusion of this article, you should understand everything about bike gears.


But before we get started, let’s learn about gear terminology and how shifters function.


The Gear Language – How To Shift Gears On A Bicycle For Dummies

To begin, these are the most common gearing terms you should be familiar with:


Sprocket – The individual gear found within a cassette.


Shifters – are in charge of the derailleur.


Chainring – This is the toothed ring on the front of the drivetrain. It is commonly mounted to the crank of a bicycle.


Derailleur – This feature allows the chain to be moved between sprockets or chainrings.


Cassette – A collection of sprockets located at the back of the drivetrain. It can have up to 11 gears.


The drivetrain is the collection of all the moving parts that connect the back wheel to the crank. The chain, chainring, and cassette are all included.


Cadence – is a word for the pedaling speed, which is measured in revolutions per minute (or RPM).


Understanding Bicycle Gears

A geared bicycle typically has front chainrings (front gears) that range from one to three in number.


The pedal crank arm is linked to the chainrings (front gears). There are around 7-12 cogs (what we call rear gears) on the cassette, which are coupled to the bike’s rear wheel.


Your pedaling effort decreases as the bike chain changes from the lowest cog/gear to the largest.


When you move between the chainring and the front of the bicycle, pedaling gets easier on the little chainring but harder on the large.


How Bicycle Shifters Work?

In general, bicycle gear shifters depend on the tension of the wire. The cable connects the levers with the derailleur.


You’ll hear a click sound as you twist the bike’s twist levers, indicating that you’ve selected a gear. We call this indexing, because it signifies you haven’t over- or under-shifted.


Typically, the derailleur shifts the chain between gears. Large springs in the derailleur add tension on the cable. When the twist levers are turned, the cable tightens or relaxes the spring tension, causing the chain to move up or down the gear.


3 Steps To Shift Gears On A Bike For Dummies

Here are the steps to take:


Step 1: Identify Your Bike’s Gears

You should be aware of whether your bicycle has a single gear (single-speed) or several gears. If there are a lot of them, you should count them.


Here is how you do it:


  • Count the front gear

Take a look at the pedals, particularly the central section. One or more toothed metal rings that fit onto the chain should be visible.


The metal rings are referred to as the front gears. So, add them up. They are typically 1-3 in most motorcycles.


  • Count the rear gears

Examine the back wheel to find the chain that connects the front gears to the wheel’s center (back wheel). Then count the number of rings that the chain crosses.


They are referred to as the back gears. There are often more rear bicycle gears than front gears. Some bicycles have up to 12 rear gears.


  • Multiply the front gears by the rear gears

The overall gear number is 27 if the front gears are three and the rear gears are nine. This results in a 27-speed bike.


And if you have three front speeds and six back gears, you have an 18-speed bike.


However, if your bike simply has one rear and one front gear, it is a single-speed bike. Unfortunately, you can’t shift a single-speed gear.


Step 2 – Learn The Shifting Basics

Here are the fundamentals to shift gears on a bicycle for dummies:


  • Shifters on the left = front gears


The front gears are typically controlled by the left-hand shifters. The derailleur swings the chain sideways to grab a front gear when you press the left shifters.


As a result, the front gears assume a significant shift in the bike gear ratio.


  • Rear gears = right-hand shifters


When managing the back gears, you must use the right-hand shifters. The rear gears have their own derailleur.


When the right shifters are engaged, the rear derailleur swings sideways, allowing the chain to grab a back gear. As a result, the rear gears experience a minor change (adjustment) in the gear ratio.


The mechanism is almost identical to that of dummy front bicycle gears.


  • Gearing down (downshifting)


In some cases, gearing-down (changing to a lower gear), also known as downshifting, is the best option. This includes while preparing for a climb.

Downshifting makes pedaling easier and, most importantly, less forceful. You won’t get very far, but you’ll get there faster.


In general, there are two ways to gear down:


  • Changing into the lower front gear
  • Changing to a higher rear gear 


  • Upshifting (Gearing up)


If you want to travel further, you’ll have to pedal harder, which involves shifting to a higher gear on your bicycle. It’s called upshifting or gearing-up, and there are two methods to achieve it:


  • Changing to the larger front gear
  • Changing to the lower rear gear


  • Practice gearing up and down on a level surface


Now that you know when and how to gear up and downshift, you must practice. There is, coincidentally, no better site for that than the level land.


You can practice at the park, on the streets, or in a parking lot.


Depending on whether the pedaling is stiffening or relaxing, you’ll hear the chain rattle or click.


  • Only shift when pedaling forward


The final thing to remember is to only shift when pedaling ahead. When you do that while cycling backward, the chain will not tighten enough to catch a gear.


If that happens, it will fall off the next time you pedal.


Step 3: Know When To Shift Gears On A Bicycle

After you’ve mastered the fundamentals of shifting, it’s time to learn when and how to shift.


Here’s everything you need to know:


  • Start and end with a low gear


To begin riding, you’ll need easy gear (also known as low gear). So, once you get on your bicycle, shift down. This will make pedaling much more bearable.


When coming to a halt, you’ll also need to downshift. This makes it simple to get started the next time you want to ride. This is especially crucial in difficult terrain, such as a steep drivetrain.


  • Gear-up gradually to build speed


After downshifting to begin cycling, you must upshift to gain momentum and speed. When you start pedaling, you’ll realize that the low gear feels effortless, which doesn’t help with speed.


To move quicker, you’ll need to prepare. Furthermore, gears exist to make you faster, therefore you must use them.


Change to a higher gear to feel the pedals hardening, and that will increase your speed.


You won’t have to wonder ‘how do bicycle gears work’ once you get to this point.


  • Downshift to overcome climbs


When it comes to climbing hills, the easy gear (low gear) is required.


You don’t expect to go fast there. A higher gear will not assist.


Nothing beats a low gear for gently and gradually ascending. Downshift when you expect to ride uphill.


It will also mean more balance when tackling the hills.


  • Shift-up on descents and flat grounds


When descending or cycling on flat ground, speed is essential. So, if you anticipate a slope or gentler terrain, try moving up.


Simply said, shift into a higher gear. This will keep you accelerating steadily until you reach your peak speed.


However, because you’ll be driving so quickly, you must be careful not to injure yourself or hit someone.


  • Gear up carefully not to hurt the joints


Finally, take care not to injure your joints when moving up. Remember that high gear might cause joint tension, particularly in the knees, which you do not want.


As a result, learn to gear up more carefully to avoid joint stiffness and inflammation.



1. What Is Low Gear On A Bicycle?

The low gear is essentially the front chainring with the smallest chainring and the largest cog on the cassette. It’s also known as easy gear, because it’s ideal for climbing.


A low gear experiences less resistance, making hill cycling on a geared bicycle much more comfortable.


2. How Do Bicycle Gears Work?


Typically, the right-hand shifters control the bicycle’s back gears while the left-hand shifters handle the front ratios.


Gear down (change to a lower gear) if you wish to ride uphill, start or stop.


In such a situation, you’ll need to change into either the smaller front or larger rear gear. This will allow you to relax off the gas and shift down.


When you want to accelerate, shift up to stiffen the pedals. To shift up, you’ll need to change either a higher front gear or a lower rear gear.

3. What Bicycle Gear Should I Use On A Flat Road?

While a high gear is great for descending and a low gear is best for ascending, a middle gear is optimal for flat road riding. It’s ideal for cruising on flatter terrain since it allows you to develop enough resistance to pedal effortlessly.

4. What Gear Should I Use for Going Uphill?

Low gear (the easy gear) is the optimum gear for climbing uphill. The smallest chainring on the front and the largest gear on the cassette are frequently used.


Because such a gear makes cycling much more pleasant, you can bike uphill with less difficulty.


5. Why Is It Hard To Shift Bicycle Gears?

Your gears may be difficult to change as a result of improperly set cable tension. In that scenario, the cable tension must be adjusted. If you are unable to do so, take the bike to a mechanic.


A misplaced rear derailleur might potentially be the cause. In such a case, here’s how to fix a mountain bike’s front derailleur.


Other causes include a filthy or inadequately greased drivetrain or chain, as well as worn-out gears.


6. At what RPM should you shift gears on a bicycle?

The ideal cadence, indicated in RPM (revolutions per minute), is between 3,000 and 5,000 RPM.


It should be noted, however, that the cadence stays ineffective as the bike ages.


7. In what gear should I ride my bicycle on a flat road?

When riding on flat land, it is preferable to have higher speed. That just implies you need to move up and into high gear.


Switching to a higher gear helps you ride your bicycle considerably faster even though the pedaling is more difficult.


9. What Is the Easiest Bike Gear?

The lowest gear is the easiest. That’s the front chainring’s smallest cog and the cassette’s largest cog.


In this situation, the other gears are between the two extremes. Climbing is best done using the easiest gear (low gear).


10. How Do You Know When To Shift Gears On Your Bicycle?

When you begin or stop riding, you must shift into a low gear. It’s also a good idea to downshift (or down gear) while approaching a slope.


When descending or accelerating, you should gear up (change to a higher gear).


Final Words – How To Shift Gears On A Bicycle For Dummies

Everything you need to know about how to shift gears on a bike for dummies is covered above. So, even if you’ve never changed a bike’s gears before, you can now do it effortlessly and confidently.


This guide is helpful whether you’re riding an MTB or a road bike. So put it to use.


About the author

Meet Alex Brown, a fervent advocate for bicycles, dedicated to sharing his passion and knowledge with the world. From his early fascination with cycling, he has evolved into a lifelong enthusiast, committed to making the world of bikes accessible to everyone. Alex believes in the transformative power of cycling, aiming to create a future where it's not just a means of transport but a lifestyle that promotes joy, health, and community.




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