How to Shift Gears Correctly on Your Bicycle

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As we noticed some cyclists making a mess out of chain positioning on chainrings and sprockets, so we wrote an article about how to correctly use the bicycle’s gears. It’s true, when you buy a new cassette or a new crankset, you get them with instructions telling you how do it right, but just to make sure, we came up with our own drawing in this article. Keep in mind that chainrings are attached to the right crank arm, while the sprockets can be found installed on the rear hub.

The next advice should be quite easy to follow: never use the small chainring together with the smallest sprocket and never use the big chainring with the biggest sprocket. This ratio can be obtained by using the medium or middle chainring and, more than this, it’s a good way of wearing your entire transmission, chain, chainrings and sprockets. As you can see above, by utilizing this combination, the chain will be positioned in the form of the letter X, or the Cross Over effect.

A few pieces of advice regarding gear shifting

Observe the terrain you’re riding, and select the appropriate gear in time. Thus, if you’re heading towards a hill, connect your chain to the smallest chainring and to one of the lower sprockets (1-4). If you don’t do this at the right time, you will have to change gears while you’re already pedaling up the hill, under heavy load, wearing and tearing your transmission system and even risking a broken chain. You may have experienced situations when you shifted gears while pedaling hard and you could hear terrifying noises coming from the transmission.

Also, it doesn’t hurt helping the chain to move on chainrings and sprockets. When you change gears, try to relax your pedaling and avoid applying a great force on the pedal.

Make sure your derailleurs are perfectly set so they work at their best capacity. Also, shift gears one by one because if you do it too fast your pedaling might just idle until the chain connects to the desired sprocket and this can cause a serious fall.

If the chain drops from the chainrings/sprockets you can still help it recover by shifting gears in reverse to its direction of falling: if the chain drops towards the exterior shift in a lower gear, it falls towards the interior, shift in a higher gear. Be careful with this maneuver, gently pull the shifter lever as the chain may get stuck between frame and chainrings/sprockets and spokes, and don’t pedal too hard.

 What is gear ratio?

One can determine a gear ratio by dividing the number of teeth in the chainring to the sprocket number of teeth. You can find a figure marked on any chainring, so let’s assume it is 46 in our case. As you can find a figure marked on any sprocket, we will take as an example, the smallest sprocket, having 11 teeth. Then, the gear ratio becomes 46:11=4.18 and you might have seen figures like this when reading about the features of various transmission systems.  So, what does the result of our arithmetic mean? It represents the precise number of rotations performed by the wheel for a complete rotation of the foot.

15 COMMENTS

  1. As long as you aren’t planning on any hardcore mountain biking or road cycling, a single speed bicycle is the better choice for the average cyclist. I happily got rid of both of my complicated multi-geared bikes and now ride only single speed. Cycling is MUCH more enjoyable than it used to be and I am NEVER concerned about shifting, gears or derailleurs anymore. Now when I ride my bike I am totally focused on the sheer joy of riding. You should try it, I’ll never go back. Also, since I can’t use a derailleur to CHEAT with, my legs have gotten much stronger. I’m sold on single speed.

  2. thanks for this info. simple but very effective. i also shared it to my biking friends. God bless you, even on other great insights on other articles.

  3. I have a 9 speed shimano acera 44-32-22 crank set with shimano 11-34 cassette… the crankset comes also in 48-36-26 something I would prefer to have on my bike…my question is can I change my chainrings to a more lightweight better quality ones? (If yes suggestions plz) second, can I put on a 2x crankset? Of course all the above can be done without changing the cassette or I will have to change it too? I would like to change my chainrings with aluminium ones to 48-36-26 size but I don’t know if this is possible plz help me and few suggestions as example are more than welcome. .

    • Changing size of chainrings (44 to 48 max) will likely need a new chain unless your first chain was longer than ideal. On my 27.5 I went up to 48-36-26 and I don’t really use the 11T and 13T cassette cogs. Alivio is a little up on the Shimano scale and I bought cranks that were too long so my cadence is wrong. GMBN have a video on calculating crank length. I came out with 166 – 170mm. I bought 175 and this makes me spin too slow. My next cassette may be 13 – 34T as my deore rear deraileur can’t take 36T. If you go bigger on chainring make sure your front deraileur can take it. It can get expensive swapping out chainrings to oval or aluminium (CNC) ones. If I was going to buy a new crankset I’d go at least deore and stay clear from Octalink in favour of HollowTech 2. If you add 2x cranket you may need a new bottom bracket to the correct chainline. I went to higher chain ring to get more speed, I wish I had just left things alone as the Q Factor on the Alivio made the front chain rings flex too much and it initially causes some chain rub due to 4 – 5 mm sideways movement. Aluminium on deore cranks and having outboard bearings like on hollowtech, I suspect would have reduced this issue.

  4. You can change the chainrings only if you can remove them. As far as i know, only the Deore, SLX, XT, XTR chainrings can be removed. Of course, you can mount a 2x crankset but you will need a new shifter. For a 2x crankset i recomend you a 11-36 casette.

  5. I checked and I can remove the chain rings in my shimano acera I also found a good chain rings set from Race Face under £70 but is same size.. but that’s ok… is the Turbine s chaining set.. Will I see any noticeable changes if I decide to replace my existing chain rings?

  6. Way too much jargon for the average cyclist. Simple English needs to be used. Most of us are NOT professionals nor bike mechanics.

    • What jargon? I don’t see how this article could have been any clearer. It’s very well written in simple terms that anyone with even basic cycling experience should understand.

  7. Sometimes we have to use the terms that are not part of everyday language. On the other hand, this isn’t a scientifical paper by any means, and you always will have the comments sections for disambiguation. Thanks!

  8. On gear ratios, or just “gear”. As a CTC club member in the 60’s, we calculated what gear we were in as:
    (Chain ring teeth)/(rear sprocket teeth) X (rear wheel diameter in inches).

    So a 49 chain ring and a rear sprocket of 21, with a 27″ wheel, gives a gear of 63 inches. From memory, this is what I rode fixed wheel in the winter, touring in Scotland. Obviously, the bigger the wheel, the harder it is to turn the pedals. For a Moulton or Brompton with tiny wheels, this is the figure that makes much more sense than just the cog ratios.

    This is related to the distance travelled with one turn of the pedals. And, surprise, surprise, it’s equal to the equivalent size of a penny farthing wheel. There’s an interesting bit of history for you.

  9. So please do an article or simply respond to this as an email but your article only shows 3 chain rings. What if your bike only has 2 chain rings like my Specialized bike does?

  10. When i use 2 gear in a front and 4 on the back even to climb a low inclined road my bike cannot go smoother,but produce a crakling sound n slip the chain. Plz suggest me what happen n what to do??

  11. To: bikash. Sounds like your chain is dry and “stretched”, and is sitting nearer the outside of the chain ring. In time, this will cause the chain ring notches to wear on one side – creating a shallower angle which causes the chain to jump out to the next notch. In other words, the chain will slip. You can check for this by holding the crank to tension the chain – then use your fingers to try to pull a chain link away from the chain ring, at the front. Any play indicates a stretched chain
    Get a new chain and keep it lubricated – you may need a new chain ring as well.

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