A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bicycle Gears & Shifting

gears are confusing

Moving from a one speed bicycle to one with multiple gears is a big step. Not only do you have to learn how to shift the gears, you also have to learn what gears to use, and figure out when to shift into which gear!

I was reminding of this when I received this plea for help…

I have a 28 speed and knowing when to shift, and what gear to shift to is driving me nuts! I need an idiots’ guide to shifting! Help!!!

Well, you got it! Here is the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bicycle Gears & Shifting” to explain everything a beginner needs to know about using a multi-speed bicycle.

Introduction to Gears and Terminology

Ever since bicycles came with more than one sprocket on the front and back, they were usually referred to as the number of gear combinations that were offered. For example, a road bike with two chainrings up front and a five-speed freewheel on the back was a “10 speed,” since the five rear sprockets could be matched with either of the two front chainrings. (2×5=10, it’s just simple math.)

But once you learn more about gearing, you’ll see that that is actually a confusing way to describe things. So to start things off, let’s get the terminology straightened out:

chainrings

The front sprockets that are attached to the crankarm are called chainrings. If you have two chainrings (a big ring and a little ring,) that setup is called a “double.” If you have three chainrings (big, middle, and little,) you have a “triple” chainring setup.

cassette cogs

The gear cluster on the rear wheel is either a freewheel or a cassette. If your bike has five gears on the back, it probably has a freewheel. If your bike has eight to ten gears on the back, it has a cassette. Each ring on the cassette is referred to as a cog. (The difference between a freewheel and a cassette makes no difference in this article, so don’t worry about that.)

For this article, our example bicycle will be a modern mountain bike with three chainrings and an 8-speed cassette. Some people would call this a “24 speed,” but most avid cyclists and bike mechanics refer to this simply as an “8 speed.”

Discover How the Shifters and Derailleurs Work

Having gears won’t do you a bit of good without understanding how the shifting works, so here’s a look at that…

Shifting starts at the shift levers, which are usually located on the handlebar beside the grips. When you move one of the shift levers, a cable pulls or releases one of the derailleurs which moves the chain from one gear to another.

In typical setups, the left shifter is matched to the front derailleur (so it shifts between the chainrings.) The right shifter is matched to the rear derailleur (which shifts between the cogs on the cassette.)

shifters on handlebar

Let’s talk about the shift levers (“shifters”) first…

Each shifter will have numbers on it to indicate which gear you are in (this is the gear indicator.) In this example, our left shifter shows numbers 1-3, while our right shifter shows 1-8.

The lower the number, the easier the gear is. So if both the gear indicators show “1″ then you are in the easiest gear the bike offers. If the left shifter is at 3 and the right is at 8, then you are in the hardest gear on the bike.

left shifter

On the left shifter, you will see numbers to indicate which gear you are in – 1, 2, or 3. The number 1 corresponds to the little ring, 2 is the middle ring, and 3 is the big ring. For the front chainrings, bigger chainrings equal a harder gear.

right shifter

On the right shifter, the numbers 1-8 are all there. The number 1 corresponds to the biggest cog, while number 8 corresponds to the smallest cog. When it comes to the cassette, bigger cogs equal an easier gear.

Let’s not forget the derailleurs…

front and rear derailleurs

This is the easy part though, because once you shift the levers, the shifter cable will relay your instructions to the derailleur.

What happens when you shift is the derailleur cage (which the chain runs through) will move to either side. Let’s say you shifted the front shifter to an easier gear. The front derailleur will move to the left, thereby “derailing” the chain onto the smaller chainring. As long as the derailleurs are adjusted properly, they will do their job just like that, and you can concentrate on shifting!

Types of Shifters

Before moving on to shifting and gear selection, let’s take a quick look at the various types of shifters out there. (We’ll concentrate on the three types that are most common on modern bicycles.)

First, grip shift. With this type of shifting, there are no levers. You shift by twisting a section of the grip forward or backward, depending on whether you want a harder or easier gear. It is very simple to get the hang of it, so it comes on most mountain bikes in the $100-300 price range.

Note: Pictures in this article are grip shifters.

Second, trigger shifters. These are also very common on mountain bikes, but also on road bikes, in different form. (They are usually called Shimano RapidFire or Shimano STI.)

In this case, you’ll have two “triggers” beside each handlebar grip. There are two triggers on each shifter because the triggers only move in one direction.

On the left trigger shifter, the small trigger shifts to a smaller chainring, for an easier gear. The bigger shifter will shift up to a bigger chainring, for a harder gear.

On the right trigger shifter, the little trigger shifts to a smaller cog, which gives you a harder gear. The bigger shifter will shift up to a bigger cog, which gives you an easier gear.

(Trigger shifters do sound complicated, but they aren’t a problem once you practice with them a little bit.)

Basic Fundamentals of Gear Selection

Now you know the basics of shifters and derailleurs, so let’s move on to choosing which gears to use.

The most important thing here is that there is no such thing as the “right” gear. Choosing a gear depends on numerous factors, not the least of which is comfort. Really, gearing is personal preference, so you and your friends will probably ride in different gears, even if you are going the same speed on the same road.

However, one thing to consider is your cadence. Cadence is another word for your pedaling speed (basically, how fast your legs spin in circles.) This is measured in RPM, or “revolutions per minute.”

Cadence is important because it directly impacts your comfort level. Pedaling at a slow cadence usually means you are using too hard of a gear, and your leg muscles will tire out quickly. It can also hurt your knees. A good rule of thumb is to keep your cadence fairly high, usually in the range of 75-90 RPM. (Here is how to count your cadence.)

proper chainline

But aside from comfort and cadence, the middle of your gear range is a good starting point. Say you’re starting out on a flat road at an easy to moderate pace (on the “24 speed” bike.) You should be in your middle ring (2) up front, and roughly your fourth largest cog (4) in the rear.

(A good moderate gear is pictured to the left.)

To make small adjustments to your speed, you will want to shift the rear derailleur. If you need to go a little faster, shift to a smaller cog (5, 6, or 7.) If you want to ease up on the pace, shift to a bigger cog (1, 2, or 3.)

But if you come to a steep hill climb, or a long downhill, you will want to make a big jump in your gearing. So instead of shifting the rear derailleur, you’ll shift the front derailleur first.

 

An Example of Proper Shifting

Here is an example of how you might shift gears while out on a bike ride. At the start, you are currently in the middle ring and one of the middle cogs. Then…

Let’s say you’re coming up to a steep hill climb. You will shift to the small chainring (1) up front. If that gear isn’t easy enough, then you will shift the rear derailleur to a big cog (1, 2, or 3.)

Once you hit the top of the hill and the road flattens, you can go ahead and shift the rear derailleur back to a slightly smaller cog, getting to number 3 or 4. Then it’s time to shift the front derailleur back to the middle ring (2.) If the road remains flat, you could stay in that gear or shift the rear derailleur once again, going to 5 or even 6.

But then when you hit the downhill, you need a big change in gears, so you’ll shift the front derailleur up to the big ring (3.) That should give you a good gear. If you need a harder gear though, you can shift the rear derailleur to the smallest cogs, 7 and 8.

As the road changes, keep repeating the process.

Just remember: Shifting the left shifter makes a big impact, and shifting the right shifter is to fine tune your gear selection. You will shift the right shifter (for the rear derailleur) much more often than the left shifter.

What to Watch Out For

If you followed along through that gradual shifting process, you might have noticed we only ran through about 12 different gear combinations, when the bike actually offers 24. Why?

Well, your “24 speed” bike isn’t meant to use all the gears. Certain gear combinations are very rough and sometimes dangerous.

cross chaining

See, you need to keep your chain running in a straight line for the bike to ride smoothly. You do that by using certain combinations of gears and avoiding others. (A straight chain line is pictured in a previous section.)

For example, when you are in the small chainring, you will want to use the biggest four cogs, numbers 1-4. When you are in the middle chainring, you can use most of the cogs, but I would stick to numbers 1-6. When you are in the big chainring, you should stick with the smallest cogs, 6-8. This will keep your chain in a fairly straight line.

If you use extreme gear combinations, such as the small ring and the smallest cog or the big ring and the biggest cog, that’s called cross chaining. This puts the chain at too much of an angle, which makes the chain wear out extra fast. (You’ll usually hear some sort of grinding noise coming from the chain if you do this.) It also makes it more likely that the chain will fall off the bike.

When to Shift (A Few More Pointers)

To shift smoothly and easily and keep a constant, comfortable cadence, you want to anticipate your shifts. It’s just like the example above.

If you are approaching a steep hill climb, you want to shift down to an easier gear before you need to. The steeper the hill, the more gears you will want to shift down.

If you wait until you can barely turn the pedals before shifting down, you’ll have a heck of a painful time trying to climb the hill!

Likewise, if you are going downhill, gradually shift up as you gain more speed. Don’t wait until your legs are spinning around like crazy!

Another thing to anticipate is starting up after you come to a stop. If you are riding in a big gear, you will want to shift down as you slow down and come to a stop. If you stop while you’re still in a big gear, it will be very hard to get started again!

But if you anticipate that and shift to a low gear before stopping, you will be able to start easily.

Proper Shifting Technique

There is more to shifting than just twisting some levers. Shifting requires precise coordination between your hands and feet; the better you coordinate your movements, the smoother your shifts will be.

The basic principle here is that you have to be pedaling for the bike to shift. The chain needs to be moving forward for the derailleurs to do their job, so always pedal when shifting.

But there is a little trick to it. You need to be pedaling lightly and softly for the bike to shift smoothly. It’s called “soft pedaling.”

If you are pedaling too forcefully, your leg power will override the derailleurs and there will be no shifting, just grinding noises! (Think about it, your legs are big and muscular, and the derailleurs and chain are just little pieces of metal.)

So here’s how to shift:

As you move the shifter with your hand, simultaneously ease up on your pedaling for one stroke. You should hear and feel the shift complete smoothly. Then you can resume pedaling with full force. Don’t worry, you only ease up for a second, so you won’t lose speed just from soft pedaling.

That’s all there is to it. Most people I see that have trouble shifting simply need to try soft pedaling. It is a common misconception that you need to pedal hard and fast to get a shift to complete. Proper shifting actually calls for the opposite approach!

Just get out there and practice…

Getting Started (Practice Makes Perfect)

Now that you know what to do, it’s time to do it. But it won’t hurt to do a few practice runs first!

The first thing I would do is run through the gears by hand. Just prop the bike up so the rear wheel is off the ground (if you don’t have a repair stand, just hang the bike on a tree branch or something,) and then shift through the gears while pedaling with your other hand.

Once you see it in action, head out to an empty parking lot and ride in circles. You just want to get the “feel” for shifting so that it becomes second nature. You want to be able to go ride and pay attention to your surroundings, without needing to look down at the shifters.

Don’t feel bad if it takes a while, we’ve all been there at one point! It’s not easy to go from one speed to dealing with 24 or 27!

(Think of it like driving a manual transmission car – most people don’t know how to do that!)

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78 Comments so far

  1. john on September 26th, 2008

    what would an incorrect gear change cost in time?

  2. Levi on September 26th, 2008

    @john

    In most circumstances, switching to too high or low of a gear can easily be fixed by switching back, and you’ll lose a negligible amount of time.

    However, say you’re coming up to a very steep dirt hill climb (when mountain biking.) If you’re in the wrong gear, or shift too late, you could end up falling over and rolling back down the hill, costing you a lot of time.

  3. Margie on October 17th, 2008

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this article. My granddaughter and I love to bike together, and her bicycle is complicated (to us). She is only twelve, and my bike only has two speeds, so when hers started grinding I had no idea what was wrong. Your article explained it perfectly. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

  4. Levi on October 18th, 2008

    @Margie

    I’m glad it helped, that makes it well worth the effort to write it :)

    Have fun out there!

  5. Lisa on October 19th, 2008

    just picked up an 8speed. havent rode a bicycle in over 30 years. thank you for helping me try to understand the madness of the shifting combos. i apperciate your efforts.

  6. Carole Teegarden on April 18th, 2009

    Very helpful – Now I am less of and idiot.

  7. Chris on May 14th, 2009

    VERY much appreciate you writing this article. My last bike was an old 3-speed, just got a cheapie 18-speed and got really confused with the gears.

    Thank you thank you!

  8. s on September 30th, 2009

    Another grateful reader here… Just picked up a mid-80s Univega “12-speed” and as the gears have no marks or numbers I was unsure whether “down” meant “lower” gear, and how to coordinate the two… Your article is great at explaining the “how to” for dummies — Now I’d love to see a follow-up explaining the physics of why certain gear combos are easier or harder… BTW, I guess my bike is actually a 6-speed then? (Big front ring 4 rear smaller cogs, Small front ring 2 remaining rear cogs) THANKS!

  9. Graeme on October 9th, 2009

    Yet another grateful reader here ! Thanks for the article, it really has helped understand exactly how to handle gears. I bought for first 24 speed bike, the last bike I had was a BMX when I was 10 years old so at the grand age of 36 I’d lost track of how technology has moved on. I still find it shocking that large UK bike shop chain stores (they know who they are) sell 21/24 geared bikes but don’t actually spend any time just explaining to their customers how to use them, I can only presume this is so you have to use them to get them to repair them at a charge once you’ve managed to break the chains lol. Your article however has really helped plugged my knowledge gap so thanks very much for this.

  10. Janet Perkins on October 28th, 2009

    I”m just confused… let’s say I”m in 6th spot on right shifter should I then be in the number 3 on the left for proper use and not ruining the chains? I just need to know what is correct…. low on right (1-3) use 1st on left…. (4-5) use 2nd gear on left…. (6-7) use gear 3 on left… is this right? Someone at the bike shop told me this is the correct gears for each side…. Please help….. Thank-you

  11. clay on November 20th, 2009

    First of all let me say thank you for this article. I’ve been so confused since I started biking a few months ago. This explains everything. I do have one follow-up question. How do you describe what gear you are in when you are talking? Do you say “2-6″ or would you say “13th gear”? My girlfriend asked me while we were riding last week and I awkwardly said “Um…2 on the big on and 6 on the little one?” Needless to say I didn’t look very cool.

  12. Mohamed Abuldahab on February 17th, 2010

    Thank you for your very helpful explanation. I just have a different bike I bought this evening. On the right I have numbers from 1 to 6 which explains how it works 1 for steep hills and the more I go up with numbers the more I gain speed. However, on the left handle I have something called friction and a plus and minus signs. What is this used for? Can anyone help?

  13. Levi on February 18th, 2010

    @Clay

    Say “2-6″

    In situations like that, just pick one choice and act confident about it. She probably wouldn’t have second-guessed you ;)

  14. Levi on February 18th, 2010

    @Mohamed

    There are two types of shifters – friction and index. Indexed shifters mean there is a specific slot for each gear, and each twist of the shifter clicks it into a different gear. These ones are numbered like where you see the 1-6.

    Friction shifters do not have specific slots for each gear. You push the lever to shift in either direction and stop whenever the chain in lined up over the chainring.

    I would guess you have two chainrings up front. You follow the same principles mentioned in the article as far as which one to use, the only difference is the feel of the shifting when you move the lever. Just push the lever back and forth to shift while you’re riding and you’ll figure it out.

  15. wishIstartedBIKING10yearsAGO on April 6th, 2010

    “Likewise, if you are going downhill, gradually shift up as you gain more speed. Don’t wait until your legs are spinning around like crazy!” Hahaha!that’s funny. It happened to me several times and its not a nice feeling to have while going down hill fast. It almost makes me feel I have very little control of the bike. I now shift to higher gears as I approach steep down hills. Cranking it is a lot of fun as supposed to coasting as well.
    Great article and helps a lot. Thanks!

  16. Dawn on April 29th, 2010

    Thanks so much for this!! I just got a new road bike and had to figure out how to use the shifters!! This was great. Thanks again for the help!

  17. Jessica on July 7th, 2010

    I have a three speed Schwinn cruiser/road bike. When I stand to pedal it feels like the bike is shifting gears even though I have not manually shifted the gears. Any help? Thanks in advance.

  18. momof2 on July 23rd, 2010

    I have an OLD Free Spirit. It is so old I can’t really remember when I bought it, but I haven’t rode it for at least 5 years. I want to get back to riding again but I can’t remember how to operate the gears. The bike says it is an 18 speed, but the numbers on the right only go from 1-6. Onthe left, there are NO numbers, just an L and an H. If I am trying to go up a hill should the controls be set on L and 1? Also, when I apply the front brakes it is 20 times worse than nails on a chalk board. My husband says the brakes can’t be oiled. Any suggestions?

    Thank you

  19. Kristen on August 4th, 2010

    Thank you for the article, I thought I was the only one that didn’t know whatI was doing! In Seattle, the hills are treacherous and I have been afraid to ride, but I think I can manage now!

  20. superstoker.com on August 9th, 2010

    cool, i didn’t know that about the soft pedaling, interesting

  21. Sue on September 16th, 2010

    Thanks. This was a very clear explanation. I haven’t gone for along bike ride since Jimmy Carter was in office! Bikes have changed quite a bit. I get my bike tomorrow and I’ll ride around until I get the “gear thing” working.

  22. Rod on September 30th, 2010

    I just bought a 24-speed mountain bike online that came 90% assembled (including shifters/derailleurs). After completing the assembly, I discovered that the right (rear) shifter indicator appears to indicate the opposite of what it should (i.e., it is easier to pedal when it indicates I’m in 8th gear than it is in any of the lower gears.) What’s wrong with the bike setup that causes this?

  23. Nihal on November 6th, 2010

    Thanks. It was a very good explanation.

  24. Rionna on January 6th, 2011

    Yes, thank you so much for taking the time to post this information. It is so helpful. I am currently looking for a bike and didn’t really know what was hype, what wasn’t, and what I would need.

    This helps tremendously. THANKS!!!

  25. Larry Fisher on January 7th, 2011

    Thanks, I really needed this information as I lost the booklet that came with the bike and couldn’t figure out what to do. Great explanation!! Thanks

  26. Armin on April 25th, 2011

    A very high quality article, please continue to cover beginner concepts.

  27. Victor on May 5th, 2011

    I have not been on a blike for twenty years and recently decided to get back to riding. Your article is VERY helpful.

    I have one question: Do you have to pedal going downhill? Can’t you just leave the gears where they are (instead of shifting up) and just coast?

    Thanks.

  28. Levi on May 5th, 2011

    @Victor

    No, you don’t have to pedal downhill. You can coast if you prefer.

    Just make sure you’re ready to shift gears when you start pedaling again, because you’ll probably want to use a different gear than you used to get up the hill.

  29. Rowal on May 10th, 2011

    Thanks I found this very useful not only for myself but also it saved trying to explaing it to my cycling partner – we are both newbees
    Rowal

  30. Nick on May 11th, 2011

    Best explanation I found online. I just got a 9 speed road bike (double) and the bike shop fitted me and adjusted the bike etc BUT DIDNT TELL ME–A NEWBIE–HOW TO USE THE GEARS!

  31. Shawna on June 27th, 2011

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been looking all over the web for such a through but simple explaination of the gears. I was so confused!

  32. Chris on June 29th, 2011

    Many thanks! This explained everything perfectly. Now I finally know what that grinding noise is … and why those pedestrians were walking faster than me uphill! ;)

  33. RDOwens on July 13th, 2011

    Thank you. This was exactly the kind of help I needed. I appreciate the time and effort you put into this.

  34. Pauline on July 22nd, 2011

    Thanks so much for this article. Shifting is intimidating for me and is an experimental adventure for my husband! We’re “seniors” picking up our new 21 speed cruisers today. Understanding how the gears work will make riding our bikes much more fun and easier now.

  35. A Norman on August 27th, 2011

    When changing NEXUS gears should I pedal forw ards,backwards or not pedal at all?

  36. Levi on August 28th, 2011

    @A Norman

    With the Nexus internally geared hub, it should shift fine while pedaling or stopped. It doesn’t require effort on your part like a derailleur system, which is what this article focused on.

  37. Peace on November 22nd, 2011

    I know the article was written a while back, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I recently got a 24speed bike & couldnt figure out squat on it. This article really helped me to understand gears & shifting.

    Well written & truly an article for beginners & pros alike.

    Thanks.

  38. mike o on December 3rd, 2011

    I brought a used a moongoose xr200 26 sp, back wheel turns freely both ways front and back, whats wrong with it? thanks, mike

  39. Kelly on February 15th, 2012

    Thank you, thank you, and thank you. I haven’t been on a bike for 25years and have just been given a shine new fluid mountain bike with all these gears which I had no idea how to use. Your instructions are easy to understand and now I can ride with my little boy without feeling like an idiot!

    Wishing you a great day!

    Kel

  40. Mandy on February 19th, 2012

    After spending some time reading your article I firstly went and cleaned my bike!My husband then very helpfully lifted the rear wheel off the ground while I practiced changing gears. My problem has always been changing the front gears. I think that I’ve snatched at it in a sort of panic (!) resulting in grinding at best and the chain coming off at worst.This lack of confidence meant that I only ever stayed in the 2nd front gear and used the rear gears. Well, I have just returned home from a wonderful 4 hr solo ride where there was only an occasional little grind which I soon rectified and during which the chain didn’t come off once….EUREKA!!I feel so pleased.Understanding what is happening has made such a difference and given me the confidence to experiment. Thank you, thank you for sharing your knowledge and in such a way that people like me can understand the process.Safe riding everyone.

  41. JACKIE on March 11th, 2012

    have a older ironhorse. love it but recently the cassette broke. replaced it now it clicks and jumps and clanks when i pedal, impossible to ride. what did i do wrong or what else might be wrong?

    thanx for the help!
    jackie

  42. Levi on March 11th, 2012

    @jackie

    Very common problem. You can’t mix new and old drivetrain parts. Your old chain won’t match up properly with the new cassette, so you’ll need a new chain. With the new chain, you may then need new chainrings.

  43. Shewale Patil on March 30th, 2012

    Hi!
    I am begineer, we friends bought 6 bikes yesterday of Hybrid -Helix Bergamont make. In morning i has ride & found difficulty. This artical give me so confidence that now Cycling will be cakewalk for me. I also shared this artical with my friends & they are so happy to read the same. Thanks a lot

  44. Vik on July 20th, 2012

    Any document can’t be better than this one. I cant tell you how much impressed with this simple but great article. I am newbie biker and never used gear bike and bought a very nice diamond back bike for myself to keep fit and for outing.

    As I never had gear bike so confused for 2-3 days about how to use gears and read so many articles and seen youtube videos. Some of them were incomplete or did not go well with my bike gears but I must admit this article is made for bike or ppl like me who are new to gear bike. I have got 3*8 gears so was confused much.

    In end this nice knowledge sharing document wiped out my doubts and now I can even train someone in bike gearing stuff.

    Keep the good work continue and Thanks a lot.
    Vik

  45. Sandy Ryan on August 3rd, 2012

    Thanks Levi. Great article. Reading slowly…to comprehend it all. I am a triathlete (6 time sprint) Most of my tris are on flat ground. I have a Cannondale EN14764. I have 3 speeds on the left, 7 on the right. Can’t seem to pick up speed beyond 13.5mph. Usually have it in 2 on the left 4on the right shifting for small hills. What am I doing wrong? Pushing hard, everyone flying by me! Frustrated!!
    Sandy

  46. Irvin Houn on August 6th, 2012

    Thanks a bunch Levi. I just got a “24 speed” Brodie bike and this article has definitely answered some of the questions about proper gearing. I’m gonna take my bike out and practice playing around with the different gears.

  47. Christa on August 9th, 2012

    Thanks!! I just got a “21 speed” after YEARS of not having a bike, and I wanted to really make sure I was doing to avoid unnecessary wear on my new bike. I want it to last as long as possible. I’ve read several other articles about proper shifting, but this was the most concise and helpful, and the examples finally made it click for me. Thanks again!

  48. Mary on August 9th, 2012

    I still dont understand what the marks on the left handle bar mean. It says H & L and each line gets thicker. What do I do with that? It seems like even after I lower my gear to 1 on a hill, it is extremely difficult to pedal. Do the marks have anything to do with it? Help!

  49. Levi on August 21st, 2012

    @Sandy

    The ones flying by you probably have expensive triathlon bikes and tough training schedules giving them the ability to ride in the big ring at high speeds!

  50. Alexandra on September 22nd, 2012

    This is definitely the best guide I’ve read for newbies. I’ve started to figure out the gears for flat and downhill (although slightly unnerved by some of the grating sounds as I experimented) but defeated on even the smallest hill despite being reasonably fit. Heading out on my lovely new Diamondback to seek out hills! Now thinking why did I wait so long to find out how much fun this is. Thanks for the article.

  51. Karyn on September 23rd, 2012

    Oh wow!! thank you so much. The easiest and best explanation I’ve come across. Are keen to go out and give it a go. Previously – no wonder I did a lot of walking pushing the bike!!

  52. Prakash on October 7th, 2012

    Thank You, I just got a geared bi-cycle which I never used before and was really wondering how am I going to learn using gears, this guide was so user friendly explaining technically and functionally on the way of using the geared bi-cycle

  53. Khaled on October 17th, 2012

    This is the easiest informative tutorial for using these complicated bikes. I amd 35 yo and decided to start pedaling. After buying a 24gear bike, I got really frustrated as I didn’t know what and when to shift (though I knew how as I knew soft pedaling).

    Now I knew. Thanks.

  54. Peg on November 19th, 2012

    Thank you, thank you for this article. I was so confused after switching from a hybrid to a road bike with trigger shifters. I now feel confident to hit the road again.

  55. dan kachman on February 7th, 2013

    Your article was exactly what I’ve been looking for! Haven’t ridden a bike in years and recently had the opportunity to “ressurect” an 18 year old 18 speed Murray bicycle. Got the front and rear derailleurs working However, in hanging the bike on a makeshift rack so that I could elevate the rear wheel for adjustment of the gears I can’t seem to get the adjustments right. The chain keeps coming back to the same gears instead of staying where they’re set. Do you have any articles as “follow-up” on the setting and adjustments of the derailleurs? many thanks

  56. Levi on February 11th, 2013

    @Dan

    Glad to help! Sounds like you might have an issue with the cable or maybe the shifter.

    Try http://bikerepairvideos.com/

  57. Jack R. on February 15th, 2013

    I found this info so useful that I saved it to my “favorites” for future reference. I’ve been riding a British Raleigh 3 speed for years and have grown tired of it and just purchased a Mongoose XCOM 7 speed. The 3 speed was just whooping my butt. The 7 speed looks like it’s just a matter of “clicking” the R handgrip to whichever gear you’re looking to switch to. Do any or some of the same principles apply as to the proper time to change gears?

  58. Turjo on February 21st, 2013

    Hi! Thanks for your help i have a hercules 18 speed rodeo, when i shift to my 5th gear it makes like a cranking sound as if the chain if falling and wants to jump off what should i do

  59. Andy on March 31st, 2013

    Can you please tell me how to reassemble my gear assembly on the back tyre of my 18 speed mountain bike.I took it apart to fit new wheel bearings & don’t remember how to fit it back together.I am rather confused now & need your help.

  60. Kevin on April 8th, 2013

    It helped me a lot and can i do the same procedure in 21 spd bicycle ??

  61. Pam on April 10th, 2013

    Thank you – you have no idea how much you’ve helped me here! I’m switching up from a 25 year old metal hybrid to a road bike from “this century,” and it’s like stepping out of a time machine. Now I’ll at least know about gears and shifting. You rock!

  62. Jason Bourne on April 16th, 2013

    I have a 7 gear shift bike I got from a friend but it won’t go to 2 Or 1st gear the derailluer also popped off do I need to replace the derailluer or can I salvage it also do I need to replace the gear shift or can I salvage that or do I née to replace the bike all together please help thank you

  63. Levi on April 18th, 2013

    @Jason Bourne and others

    As much as I’d like to help, you really have to take your bike to a mechanic to see what’s up.

    Or check a site like http://bikerepairvideos.com/ if you like to get hands-on.

  64. Amaey on April 27th, 2013

    Best till yet!!!
    I am planing to buy a new Hercules Roadeo Stealth 21 Speed MTB.And will Leave my Old single speed Bike.
    Thank You.

  65. The Ogre on June 29th, 2013

    Sad. Despite what seems like a thorough explanation, I reached the end just as clueless about shifting as the last time I owned a bike (a 10 speed), back in 1990. :P

    Guess I’m destined to remain one of those sad sacks who can’t play with the Big Boys and will have to stick with a single-speed (and automatic transmissions for cars) bike and mostly walking uphill. :)

    Oh, well. Good try. :P (and thanks for being one of those relatively few sites that allow for open commenting – modern life requires too many accounts!)

  66. just like getting back on a bike on July 9th, 2013

    OK. I haven’t owned a bike since 2003. It was a hybrid that had 10 cogs IIRC. I haven’t shifted gears since then. I’m in the market for a Spec. Dolce Compact. This was very helpful. I wish somebody would do an animated version on how this works ;)

  67. Sylvia J. on August 3rd, 2013

    I give up…..no one will show or tell me HOW TO shift the gears. Yes, I know you pull the handle while in motion, but I just want a BASIC gear and I’ll leave it there. I just want to ride down to the store, I’m not training for a race or riding in the mountains. I think I’ll sell the bike and buy some new running shoes.

  68. Thelma on August 16th, 2013

    Thanks Levi! This has helped me decide if I should what type of bike to purchase since I haven’t owned a bike since I was ten years old! My son is seven and we just bought him a bike so now he’s ready to go bike riding however both my husband and I don’t have bikes so we are looking to purchase some bikes to go bike riding. Great article and great information.

    Sincerely,

    Thelma

  69. Siva on November 10th, 2013

    Great Guide!!! Solved many doubts

  70. Cavan Lee on November 18th, 2013

    Thanks for the effort Levi! Helps me a lot since I’m a freshman in the bicycle industry!

  71. Richard C. Beck on January 4th, 2014

    A lot of very detailed and clear advice. Now, … learn how to compute your gears into “gear-inches (G.I)”, then make a small chart with the G.I.s and tape it to your bike’s stem. Now you will be able to more intelligently select different gears based on how they compare to one or another.

  72. Terri on January 12th, 2014

    As with many others on this site,I have not been on a bicycle in 25 years. Last night I told my 19 year old son, “I want to buy a bike tomorrow so I can get back in great shape.” This morning he drove me to the store and bought me a 7 speed bicycle. (sweetest youngman!) Foolishly, I thought “Once you learn to ride a bicycle you will never forget…” Your article brought it all back. THANK YOU! However, our neighborhood is all steep hills. I have muscular legs but, found myself walking up the hills halfway. Any suggestions on exercises for the muscles needed to climb steep hills? I do not want to let my son down. I have to be able to ride the neighborhood while he runs. :)

  73. Simon on January 22nd, 2014

    Just come in from a second ride on new bike. Needed to find out if my gear shifters were set up correctly as they seem to be set up opposite to the other. Your article explained clearly that the shifters are correct and I now realise how to change the gears correctly.

    41 yr old bought a 21 speed hybrid.

    Thanks

  74. Arun on May 11th, 2014

    Loved the finely written article.

    Learned a lot
    Thanks

  75. Justin Johnson on June 17th, 2014

    This helped me so much on my 4-h bike presentation. i have been in our bike club for 9 years, one of the biggest in the country. yes i understand all of this but it really helped to peice my presentation togethier.

  76. Laura on June 20th, 2014

    Hi Levi, Your article was very informative regarding the technical aspect of how gears work. I was recently given a DiamondBack Serene Citi Classic 7 speed bicycle. It has Shimano 7 speed twist gears. As someone else mentioned in a comment, the right grip has numbers 1-7 but the left grip says friction or -. I tried looking at the manual for DiamondBack bikes but it is so general it doesn’t help. When I’m going uphill, I begin gearing down (I usually cruise in 5th or 6th gear)and the chain is on the middle cog wheel near the pedals. If I’m understanding correctly, as I gear down to go up the incline, the chain should move over to the smaller cog wheel near the pedals. But it never seems to leave the middle cog wheel near pedals no matter what I do. I’m not clear on the purpose of the and – on the left grip and didn’t really follow what you said to the other commenter. What is the left grip for? And, how do I get my bike to shift down. I can barely make it to the top of a steep hill w/out getting off and walking. My old Schwin 10 speed (from childhood) was too small for me hence the new bike but on that one I never had any problems shifting! Thanks for your help.

  77. Levi on June 21st, 2014

    @Laura

    Yes, the chain should indeed me moving over to the smaller front ring as you move the shifter on the left grip. If twisting that shifter doesn’t easily move the chain back and forth between all three front chainrings, it needs adjusted by a bike mechanic.

  78. Laura on June 26th, 2014

    Thanks Levi–I’m taking my bicycle back to where it was purchased to have them look at it. The left shifter will move all the way to the and move to the large cog wheel by pedals but will not move all the way to the – and go to the small cog wheel. I thought I was just using the shifters incorrectly. Thanks to you, I know now there is something wrong with how the shifters are working.

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