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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07/17 Front derailleur can't shift from inner chainring to outer...sometimes

So I'm having a very strange problem. I have an old 10 speed Chimo with friction shifters on the stem. A few months back I noticed that when I downshift to the inner chainring, my front derailleur can't shift it back up to the outer chainring. I put it off and only used 5 gears till I tried to fix it today. I flipped the bike upside down and played around with it and it shifted perfectly back and forth. I then righted the bike and had someone hold up the back tire. It also shifted just fine. But when I rode it, once again it refused to shift back up to the outer chainring. Any ideas what this... Read more >>

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Hi guys -- I'm new to the forum. Thanks for reading.

I'm fixing up a bike I've had for ~15 years that, sadly, I wasn't able to maintain. The bike is an 18-speed Royce Union mountain bike. Aside from new tubes/tires and a new chain, everything else is original (thumb shifters, both derailleurs are Shimano).

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Hi

My rear derailleur is horizontal to the bike frame as opposed to vertical.

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Hi everyone,

I am very new to bicycle mechanics, trying to get an old mountain bike running better. As I was scrubbing off years of gunk from the chain and derailleur, a piece popped off. I have included pics.

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04/30 Need to press twice to get to lower clog

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02/29 STI shifter problem

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01/16 Single-speed to 8x geared conversion shifter problem

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01/04 Broken Campy Shifter Help?

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12/26 Failure to shift from 4th to 5th gear

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11/24 Shifter/Cable Slack

Hello,

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11/15 Derailleurs

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