Get In Gear: Understanding Your Bike’s Gears

  • By Scott Fliegelman
  • Published Aug 22, 2012
  • Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 11:31 AM UTC
Photo: Aaron Hersh

How to Shift

Now that you have the proper bike setup for your local terrain and riding style, here’s how to maximize its performance.

Front shifting (the chainrings) Spend most of your riding time in one chainring, while enjoying finer gearing adjustments courtesy of the cassette in the back. When the time comes to shift to the other ring due to an approaching hill, you may hear an annoying sound as the chain rubs against the front derailleur cage. This is a cue to make a macro shift with your left hand. First take a few hard pedal strokes, then back off a bit to take the load off your chain to make a clean shift.

Rear shifting (the cassette) You should rear shift (with your right hand) much more frequently than you front shift, especially on flatter courses. Aim for a gear that allows for a cadence of 85–95 RPMs. When the road tilts up and cadence begins to slow, shift with your right hand to an easier gear in the back, one with more teeth, closer to the hub. As speed begins to build and your cadence reaches 100 RPMs or more, shift with your right hand to a harder gear (one with fewer teeth, further from the hub) and allow your cadence to settle back into the 85–95 range. Aim to use the right hand micro shifting exclusively until you are almost out of cogs in the back or you start to hear that rubbing sound, then it is time to make a macro shift with your left hand.

RELATED: 7 Skills To Controlling Your Bike With Confidence

Scott Fliegelman is the owner and head coach of FastForward Sports ( in Boulder, Colo.

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