I’m always surprised to see that often times people are riding multiple speed bikes and are completely clueless about how to use them. Then I realize that not everybody as the sacred knowledge to decipher these gears, shifters and all possible combinations. I can understand that all this can be a complete mystery to many of you, so let’s go ahead and solve it.
First off, I’ll explain what you have to work with, we’ll use the typical 3 gears in the front and 7 in the back to explain how to use your drivetrain effectively. On a multiple speed bike you have generally 3 gears in the front, called chain rings, and 6 to 8 in the back on the rear wheel. The front gears are controlled by the shifter on the left of the handle bar. The first one is the smallest and the easiest, it is often called the “granny gear”. That gear is typically used for climbing steep hills or getting people back on bikes like it did for me 16 years ago. The middle gear is the one that is used the most on flat surfaces while at cruising speed. The biggest and hardest gear is used when you are going downhill with the wind at your back.
Some of you more experienced riders reading this are probably going “what is he talking about?”. Remember that I am addressing the neophyte here and most people who get back on a bike don’t have the same legs as Lance Armstrong. Strong riders with many miles on their leg muscles can ride a bike from a dead stop using only the biggest gear or chainring. A newer or more casual cyclist would bust his/her knees doing this. So to recap, smallest gear = easy, middle gear = normal cruising, biggest gear = hard.
Now the front gears are used with the combination of the ones on the rear wheel that are controlled by the shifter on the right side of the handlebars. In this case, the logic is reversed, the first and biggest gear being the easiest and the last and smallest being the hardest to pedal. I will list some combinations that will make your riding easier and you will see that although you might have a 24 speed bike, in reality you will effectively use about 5 or 6 of them.
Climbing a steep hill
1st or 2nd gear in the rear, first gear in the front.
Riding on a flat surface or slight incline
1st to last gear on the rear, middle or second gear in the front.
Last gear in the rear, 3rd or biggest gear in the front. (If you’re not scared. If so, stay in the middle gear)
If you are a new or recently returning cyclist with dead legs, you can stay on the smallest gear in the front and use all the gears on the rear wheel for all your riding. At some point you will develop more endurance and be able to move on to the middle one. Hardcore cyclists who ride thousands of miles a year will be able to do just about everything with the biggest gear only, but for the mere mortals like you and me, you should stick with the middle one.
One final note, always shift gears ahead of time. If you change gears while applying full power to the pedals, you take a chance of breaking your chain. Plan your shifts ahead of time and you’ll be ok. I hope I managed to explained this properly. Your comments and questions are, as usual, more than welcomed.
Til next time, ride safe and Godspeed.