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Be the Master of Bicycle Gears [Comprehensive Guide]

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The cycling community seems to be divided on bicycle gears subject. Some people believe that gear is a great addition to your biking experience, while others think that it is a complete waste of money.

The truth is bike gears make cycling more comfortable and safer if you know how to use them properly.

In this article, we will explore the various reasons why bicycle gears can be necessary for your cycling life, plus how to shift and use bike gears for an effective riding experience.

What are Bicycle Gears

Bicycle gears are basically a system that helps the rider pedal at a certain speed by controlling the rate at which the drive wheel rotates. This is done through a series of gears that are connected to the pedals and the wheel.

The size of the bicycle gears determines how fast the wheel will rotate. A smaller gear will result in a higher cadence, while a larger one will allow for a lower cadence. The rider can change gears to adjust their speed and pedaling effort.

Why are Gear Shifts Required

You may be thinking, what’s the deal with gears? After all, your first bike did not have any, and you still managed to win a race at school.

Well, it all has to do with physics. When you’re pedaling a bike, you’re essentially converting kinetic energy into mechanical energy. The faster you pedal, the more kinetic energy you have to convert.

This is why it’s so much harder to pedal uphill – because you have to go against gravity and convert potential energy into kinetic energy.

With more gears, you can spread out this conversion process so that it doesn’t require as much effort. That’s why shifting gears is such an important skill for any cyclist.

The Myth of Shifting Bicycle Gears

Ask a layman, and he will tell you that many gears make the wheels turn faster, but this is not true.

A bike with many gears won’t keep pace with a bullet train. The gears are there to balance the effort with the load. The same load is applied to the body when pedaling on different inclines or levels.

You do not have to struggle to pedal up a steep hill. Also, the number of pedals can be maintained by shifting gears. Everyone has their pedaling speed, but that does not mean less pedaling equals less distance traveled.

To understand this better, let us go through the gears in detail and understand their function and meaning.

Anatomy of Bicycle Gears

It is not that complicated to change bicycle gears as opposed to dealing with the terminology, which can be confusing for those who are learning it for the very first time.

Terms such as “front” or “rear,” “large,” ” small,” “sprocket,” or “cogs” are quickly misunderstood, even by top cyclists, so we have summarized them to make it easier for you Usually, most bikes have both front and rear gears.

1. Front Gears

Front Gear — Bicycle Gears

In the middle of your bike’s pedal, numerous metal rings are inserted into a chain. These metal rings in the front are front gears, ranging from 1 to 3.

2. Rear Gears

Bicycle gears

 Rear gears in bicycles are the gears located at the rear of the bike. There are usually multiple gears on the rear, allowing you to change your pedaling speed and resistance.

The number of rear gears can be determined by looking at the back wheel of a bicycle with a chain that runs from the front gear to the center of the back wheel.

3. Chainring

The round surface on which the chain sits and the pedals are attached is called the chainring.

4. Sprocket

 The gears on the rear wheel are called sprockets. They are also known as cogs.

5. Cassette

 A cassette is a group of sprockets. A cassette has seven sprockets and, therefore, seven different gears. The first gear is the simplest, usually referred to as “1 gear” or “lower gear,” while the seventh gear is the high gear with larger cogs.

What determines the number of Shift Gears on a Bike

You can use some simple math and calculation to determine the number of bicycle gears. The number of sprockets (gears) on the rear wheel is multiplied by the number of chainrings in the front derailleur.

In other words, a 10-speed rear cassette with a triple chainring equals 30-speed bicycle gears. Three chainrings can be used in various combinations with all ten sprockets. Similarly, an 11-speed cassette combined with a two-speed derailleur is a 22-speed unit.

With this formula, you can determine the speed of any bike.

We can consider gears as a direct synonym for speed. So we can say that a bicycle with 18 gears is an 18-speed bicycle.

We usually find bicycles with 1, 3, 18, 21, 24, or 27 gears in a bike shop. In old bicycles, we can also find 10-speed and 15-speed bicycles, which are now obsolete.

The lower number symbolizes lower gears, and the higher numbers represent higher gears. This means that the lower numbers denote the first gear.

Hence it’s not hard to guess that the gear with the number 21 is a high-gear bike.

The Secret to Shifting Gears efficiently

If you’ve ever watched a seasoned cyclist shift gears, it looks almost effortless. They make it look like they’re barely doing anything at all. But if you’ve ever tried to do it yourself, you know that it’s not quite so easy. So what’s the secret to shifting efficiently?

First, you want to make sure that you’re in the correct gear for your current speed and terrain. If you’re pedaling too slowly, you’ll likely want to shift to a lower gear. If you’re pedaling too quickly, you’ll want to shift to a higher gear.

You also want to be aware of the terrain you’re riding on. If you’re on flat ground, you’ll probably be able to get by with a lower gear. But if you’re climbing a hill, you’ll definitely want to shift to a higher gear.

1. Technique for High Gear Shifting

High gear is hard but makes it so easy to descend; the highest gear on your bike is achieved when the largest front chainring is paired with the smallest sprocket in the cassette (rear derailleur).

This combination makes pedaling harder, so you do not go too high speed and can control your bike when going downhill. This position is also called upshifting.

2. Technique for Low Gear Shifting

Low gears are easier gear, which means easy riding uphill; this is achieved when your left foot depresses the clutch pedal while simultaneously your right foot applies pressure to the shifter.

By now, you might know that the lowest gear on your bike is the smallest ring located at the front and the largest cog on your cassette (rear gears). The common name of this position is known as downshifting. Another thing to keep in mind is the chain line.

When shifting gears, you want to avoid crossing the chain over itself (known as “cross-chaining”).

This can put unnecessary strain on the chain and could cause it to break. So when shifting gears, always try to maintain a straight line between the front and rear sprockets.

Finally, when shifting gears, it’s important to do so smoothly. Sudden shifts can jolt the chain and damage your drivetrain.

Just apply gentle pressure to the shifter lever to shift gears smoothly until the chain moves onto the desired sprocket. There’s no need to push hard or fast – just be smooth and steady.

With these tips in mind, shifting gears should be a breeze!

Left-Hand Shifter & Right-Hand Shifter

The left-hand shifter and right-hand shifter are two types of bike gears that are commonly found on almost all bikes.

They work by moving the chain in the front ring and are used for significant or slight changes, respectively.

Left-hand shifters are usually located on the left handlebar, while right-hand shifters are located on the right handlebar.

Note: A few bikes will come only with one chain in the front, which means only a single right-hand shifter will be present.

How can I determine the Perfect Bicycle Gear

Well, it really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you try to push the pedals smoothly and sit in higher gear at an uphill climb, you will end up very tired. Instead, you can pedal quickly with increased efficiency in lower gears. 

The energy input might seem the same, but the pressure on your knees significantly decreases. Very high cadence can also disturb the balance, especially when you are on a regular plane road, so a higher gear shall maintain your balance.

A lower gear would be apt when climbing high. This will make peddling much easier, whereas a high gear can opt for cycling along a flat plane. You might even end up covering more distance with it.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding what works best for you and your situation. So, learn to balance both accordingly.

How to Shift Bike Gears Efficiently

By now, you might have a rough idea about gear combinations. So, let’s talk about shifters.

Every bike comes with gear shifters. They look a little different as various models have their distinct designs. Bikes with drop handlebars, such as road bikes, will have shifters, the same brake lever you might use to apply your brakes.

To put them into function, you need to push the lever sideways unless a clicking sound is heard. 

For mountain bikes and other hybrid-style bikes that have flat bars, shifting the gears is achieved using ‘set paddles,’ which can be easily reached with the thumb.

Also, a few bikes operate with ‘grip shifters,’ which are closely a dial located on the inside surface of the place where you place your hands while riding the bike. All shifters are connected to cable, which is enclosed for protective reasons. 

As the bicycle gears are clicked, the cable keeps on tightening and loosening, which, in turn, apply varying degrees of force on the derailleur responsible for moving the chain up and down on the cassette or the chainrings. 

Now we’ll explain to you word by word what each lever does.

The left-hand controls the bicycle gears present in the front, also known as the front derailleur, by moving the chain up and down in the chainrings. The function of these levers is to initiate huge jumps between multiple gears and withstand sudden changes in different terrains.

The right-hand control the bicycle gears located at the rear. Also known as rear derailleur, by moving the chain up and down the cassette. You use them to enact small adjustments when small changes are encountered in the terrain. 

Big Lever: The largest one will move into larger rings among the two shifter levers. So shifting into the larger rings by using your right-hand makes the pedaling much smoother. 

If you try to do the same thing with your left hand, things will turn tricky. 

A small lever is the smallest of the two shifters, and its function includes moving the chain into the smaller rings. So if you try to shift into smaller rings with the right hand, shifting it will seem hard.

Shifting into gears with the left hand will make pedaling much easier. You will end up making a complete rotation, even at different speeds.

What is Cross Chaining

Cross-chaining is often seen as a no-no in the cycling world, but what exactly is it?

Cross-chaining refers to the act of using the largest cog in your cassette (the easiest gear) with the largest chainring (the hardest gear).

Alternatively, you can use the smallest cog in your cassette (hardest gear) and the smallest chain ring (easiest gear).

This can put unnecessary strain on your drivetrain, leading to decreased performance and increased wear and tear.

So why do people cross-chain?

In some cases, it’s simply due to ignorance – they don’t know any better. But in other cases, it can be a matter of necessity.

If you’re in a big gear and need to make a sudden shift to a smaller one, cross-chaining allows you to do so without having to readjust your gears.

It can also come in handy when climbing hills – being able to quickly shift between a big and small cog can help you maintain an ideal cadence.

While cross-chaining isn’t ideal, there are times when it’s necessary. Just be sure to avoid doing it excessively, and make sure your drivetrain is well-maintained so that you can avoid any potential issues down the road.

Everything about Electronic Drivetrain on A Bike

Instead of metal cables, gears shift can also be controlled by an electronic monitor known as a drivetrain. The top reason for using this is to maintain consistency. 

Yes, using cable search is excellent, but they can develop a slop and might also stretch over a period of use.

In contrast, an electronic drivetrain will not show any signs of sloping, and accurate shifting can be achieved in every condition. The only thing you’ll have to take care of is the batteries that must be charged from time to time. 

If you decide to use the electronic drivetrain on a bike instead of metal cables, you must include this expense in your investment.

The good examples of these electronic systems are from Shimano in the form of its di2 shifting and frame, which comes with eTap shifting.

Manufacturers like Rohloff even offer electronic shifting today. 

The primary gear-shifting mechanism can be summarized in the following

  1. Downtube Shifter
  2. Twist Grip Shifter 
  3. Bar and Shifter 
  4. Trigger Shifter 
  5. Brake Levers Color and Road Level

All of the above shifts can be made by hand. Yes, you read it right—manually.

How to use A Grip Shifter

Commonly, a Trigger Shifter is used when one gear needs to be changed at a time. But if you like to switch from multiple gears in a few seconds, then it’s a good idea to use a Grip Shift.

The shifter works together with the grips located on your bars. To change gears up and down, twist the shifter as you turn the throttle on a motorbike.

Timing & Approximation Role in Gears of A Bike

The correct timing is all that matters when changing gears on a bike. A low gear would be apt when climbing high.

This will make peddling much easier, whereas high or harder gear can opt for cycling along a flat plane. You might even end up covering board distance. The largest front chain ring is paired with the smallest sprocket (or rear cog) to achieve the biggest or highest gears in your bike.

Similarly, suppose you combine the smallest changing size with the largest sprocket size.

In that case, you will encounter the lowest available gear, which is usually helpful to keep the pedals running smoothly even when the journey shows signs of speeding up.

The best advice regarding proper shifting is to move one wheel at the top. You may hear a grinding noise if the shift happens when the pedal is too tight. 

Gear One/ Single Speed Bike Explained

The gear on a bike can be referred to as lower gear, which is the essential gear that helps to cycle slowly, which is vital on challenging roads. Singles speed bikes require less maintenance as compared to a bike with multiple gears.

7-Speed Bike Gears Explained 

As we discussed earlier, 7-speed bike gear results from a combination of one chainring at the front multiplied by seven rear cogs. A 7-speed cassette is ideal for city, hybrid, and even children’s bikes because they are straightforward.

The Primary difference between 1-Speed & 7-speed Bike

If you’re trying to decide between a 1-speed and a 7-speed bike, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

A 1-speed bike has only one cog and one chainring, which means it’s much simpler to use and maintain. You won’t have to worry about shifting gears, and you can pedal as you want. However, this also means that big climbs will be impossible.

On the other hand, a 7-speed bike is much more versatile. It’s perfect for commuters who want to save time, money, and energy. However, a 7-speed bike requires more maintenance than a 1-speed bike.

So if you’re looking for simplicity, a 1-speed bike is the way to go. But if you need a more versatile bike, a 7-speed is the better option.

Conclusion — Bicycle Gears

A major focus of this article was to provide a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know when you purchase a new bike or are just starting out on a bike and need an introduction to gears.

Clearly, everyone uses a bike for different reasons, and with all the information we’ve provided, we hope to eliminate any fears or doubts that might prevent you from enjoying the bicycle gears.

If you have any suggestions or doubts, feel free to drop us a comment below. We will be more than happy to assist you with your query. Please like, share, and follow our Facebook Page for more guides like this.

Have fun riding!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many gears do I need in a bike?

You will have an idea based on your requirements, environment, and bike experience.

The place where you ride the bike, and your fitness level can also influence the number of gears in a bike. Hilly areas demand a good range of gear with a low gear ratio. In flatter areas, a single speed will be enough if you are an experienced biker with a good physique.

What gear bike should I use on a flat Road?

Both 3-speed and 7-speed bikes make room for comfortable pedaling and provide enough speed on flat terrain or for a road bike. A choice between the two shall be based on your preference.

How to use a Shimano 7-Speed shifter to change gears?

To incorporate a Shimano 7-speed shifter to change gears, press your finger on the main shifter when you ride forward. This works whenever you want to change to a lower gear. Another smaller shifter lets you shift into a higher gear by pressing the fingers.

Should I, as a beginner cyclist, ride road bikes with gears?

Bike gears must be practiced slowly as you begin your journey as a cyclist. You will be riding nowhere for long without gears in the bike. Gears will prevent you from pushing hard; thus, every pedal stroke is under your control. With a bit of hard work, changing gears will be as intuitive as routine. 



I am a passionate, adventurous cyclist and my biking philosophy is to have fun, I felt the need to share my knowledge and learn more about bikes. I always ensure I adhere to all road rules. I hope that you will give biking a try. It’s a great way to get fit and have fun.

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