26. How to Shift Your Gears

Learn how to use your full range of gears: applies to 21, 24, and 27 speed shift systems.

IMPORTANT: Nuts and bolts on your bike should always be tightened to the manufacturer's specifications.
How to Shift Your Gears
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  • 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.

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