How to Shift Gears on a Bike

We have been there before, and we know how the skill of shifting gears on a bike can be confusing, especially if you are new to cycling. You may even consider keeping off the gears entirely. But you will use a lot of energy cycling, and you may not go so far when you avoid using the gears. Bicycle gears are there to help you pedal comfortably in whatever terrain. With the skills to shift gears on a bike, you can be sure that your riding will become relaxed. Therefore, we have put together this article that contains all the details that will help you know about the best time and manner of shifting gears on a bike.

How to Shift Gears on A Bike

How to Shift Gears on A Bike

Here is a simplified summary of how you need to shift gears on a bike;

Slowly pedal while you are using the shifter. This way, you will get a smoother shifting. However, when shifting, avoid backpedaling.

To shift one rear gear, use the left shifter. This method is what you will employ in most cases.

To shift your gears to a different chainring, use the left shifter.

If you are pedaling at high speed and don’t feel any resistance while at it, you should shift to a more complex gear to achieve a higher speed.

On the contrary, if you are pedaling slowly under too much resistance, do not fear shifting to a higher gear. It is better to ride slow without using too much energy.

The pro tip that you need to keep in mind is that riding with the chain nearer to the bike, both for the front and back gear, makes pedaling easier; shifting it further from the bicycle enables you to achieve a higher speed.

All in all, practice and practice some more. Maneuver with the gears and experience the effect of different gears. You might discover something new that you can share with us!

Why Do You Shift Gear on A Bike?

Why Ride a Fixie

In a nutshell, you need gears on a bike to enable you to achieve a comfortable pedaling speed regardless of the terrain or slope, which you cannot achieve when you avoid using the gears.

A high gear, which most cyclists refer to as the ‘big gear’ is ideal when you are descending a slope or riding at high speed. To achieve the ‘big gear’ or the high gear, you need to combine the smallest rear sprocket and the largest front chainring.

On the other end, combining the smallest front chainring and the largest rear sprocket or cog, you will achieve the lowest gear available; this helps you keep pedaling your bicycle when ascending a steep terrain without using too much energy.

However, you need to not one thing — going for a bike with many gears does not mean that you will have a bike that will ride faster. A bike having more than 30 gears does not mean that the bike is designed to take a shorter time to cover a mile as compared to a bike that has only one gear, assuming that they all have the same ratios.

Achieving a high speed depends on gears that have a much wider range or the choice of gears depending on the terrain and the weight you are carrying on your bike. Like cars, bicycles also benefit from having a low gear that helps them gain speed from an inactive state and climbing a slope.

A high gear on the other end helps you to be able to pedal at high speeds without using too much effort.

Back to the car example, when you engage the high gear, the car consumes a lot of gas. The same effect applies to the energy you will use while pedaling a bike at a lower gear.

So, a bicycle with more gears only guarantees you more choices to choose the best option for your pedaling and your speed.

Different Types of Bike Gears

Choosing road bikes

Here are the different types of gears.

Standard Double

These have two chainrings at the front coupled with around 11 sprockets placed at the rear. The inner ring has a ratio of 39t or 42t inner rings and 52t or 53t ratio outer rings. Most racing bikes have the standard double setup since they have the largest chainring sizes that keep the rider pedaling smoothly and at high speed.

Some bicycles come with a smaller inner chainring. However, it can only be as low as 38t. Therefore, if you need a bicycle with low gears, the standard double is not the best choice for you.


With a bicycle that has three chainrings, you can manage to add a smaller gear option. The third chainring has a ratio of 30t or lower. When this small gear works together with a rear cassette with a large ratio, you will achieve an extremely low gear that is very useful when climbing steep terrain.

A triple gear is the best choice for people who normally ride on a hilly road.

A triple gear is also good for people who carry heavy loads since the weight makes the pedaling harder.


A compact gear has a setup like the double gear but is smaller. Both the outer and the inner chainrings have a smaller size; normally 34t or 36t  inner chainring ratio, and 48t or 50t outer chainring ratio. The smaller chainrings reduce the gear ratio.

The compact gear is currently the most popular since its lower gearing enables the rider to tackle even steep climbs. Since the top gear does not have a huge reduction, the bike will also have a smooth and fast descending.


SRAM launched this type of gear sets in 2019. These gears are famous for their smaller chainrings. The available options are 46t/33t, 48t/33t, and 50t/37t.


Apex is the first gearing in the group or super-compact gears. The Apex bearing by SRAM Company made the gear a compact double chainset. However, these gears have a large ratio cassette and a unique rear derailleur that reduces the gearing.

Apart from offering an extremely low-bottom gear, the unique features of this gear set also provide a top-notch larger top gear more than the triple gear. With these features and abilities, the Apex setup poses a threat to the existence and need of the triple.

Hub gears

Hub gears boast of their tough, low-maintenance universal gear system. The gear system is contained on a rear hub. This type of gear system keeps growing strong by the day.

The famous Rohloff hub contains 14 gears. The SRAM, Sturmey-Archer, and Shimano only have four, seven, eight, and nine 12 gear options.

Since hub gears can be long-lasting and do not need high maintenance, they are most suitable for regular commuters, especially since they allow you to change the gears without pedaling.

However, their weights are quite high, so they are not the best to use in mountainous areas and for long rides.

PMP 33t chainring

The PMP 33t chainring is a simple fix that seems to be a reduced compact gear ratio. PMP has a 33t ring while the compact has a 34t ring so, it lowers the bottom gear.

Basics about Your Shifters

Normally, the shifter on the left-hand shifts the gears on the front. The gears located on the left side, on the other hand, shift the gears at the back. If at one moment you get confused, remember this cue: “right means rear.”

Some bikes come with only one chainring located at the front. Therefore you will realize that you only have the shifter on the right hand unless your bike was customized to be changed on the left. Diverse shift brands come with slightly different features, but still, all shifters are quite the same.

You can use your seller’s help when making the purchase, or you hop on the bike, pedal, and play around with your shifters, and in no time, you will master how they function. Just don’t be too afraid to try them at all.

How to Deal With a Chain That Has Dropped

How to Deal With a Chain That Has Dropped

Sometimes, your chain will slide off the ring. This case is called a dropped chain. Such cases happen when you are shifting when you shift the gears under a lot of pressure or when you shift the gears between the small and big ring in the rear.

Therefore, when you are riding towards the tip of a slope, you will be pedaling so hard, and you will experience too much resistance. This is not the best time to shift. To avoid shifting under these circumstances, it is advisable that you downshift before starting a climb and not while already climbing.

However, if you must shift, it would be best to reduce the pace a little, change the gears, and then carry on riding on with more power.

If the chain drops in the process, first, you need to pull over and climb off your bike. Then, squeeze the rear derailleur toward your front wheel. Then grab the chain and place it back to the chainring. Then lift the hind wheel until it is off the ground and pedal several rounds using your hand to ensure that the chain is completely in line.

Note that your hands will be full of grease after touching your chain. So, you might consider riding around with some hand wipes or a pair of surgical gloves. They will come in handy for such scenarios.

In some instances, you can deal with a dropped chain without getting off your bike. If the chain drops off at the chainring, just pedal lightly, then use the left shift to bring the chain into the huge ring.

If you notice that your chain has started the tendency of dropping regularly, you should consider tunning your bicycle’s derailleurs. Ride to the nearby workshop and let an expert adjust the derailleurs for you. You may be tempted to adjust the derailleurs by yourself, but this may turn out to cause more damage, especially if you don’t have any skill and you have never done it before.

Tips for Efficient and Effective Shifting

With all that said, here is something you should always remember while enjoying your ride: there is nothing like perfect gear! Keep shifting!

We often see people using too much power while pedaling their bikes as they ride on a hill while their gear is on a lower gear or their legs flogging as they ride on a gear meant for smooth pedaling as they descend the slope. You should always ensure that you maintain a cadence, which is the speed and time to pedal a complete rotation.

To achieve that goal, you are required to shift or use increased power output. Shifting is always the better option because if you go the power output route unless you are superhuman, you will run out of supply. We, therefore, suggest that you keep shifting to achieve the appropriate cadence on different terrain conditions.

Pro tip: start shifting into easier gears using your right hand early enough to have a steady cadence. Always know that the right hand is for small changes in the terrain. When you notice that your pedaling speed slows down, you need to engage the front derailleur (on the left) to make it easier to pedal over the climb.

But if you are already mid-way on a hill and using a lot of energy on your pedals, you will notice that your front derailleur does not want to cooperate. You will shift, drop the chain, and you will be forced to come to a stop. Know the right timing of when to shift your gears, and you will be good to go.

Final Thought

You cannot become a pro only by reading this guide. It would be best if you got to work or play. Get on the bike, pedal, try different grounds and keep shifting until you master the gears on your bike. Happy shifting!