Shifting gears when it’s needed, deciding when to use the bigger chainring whil pedaling – these are no easy task and require a little practice. Using the adequate sprocket and chainring combination is essential in order to make the most of your bike, making it easier to cycle and extend the life of the bike’s components that make up the drivetrain of the bike.
To learn how to use your gears correctly, you must first of all know the basic components that make them up.
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Sprockets and chainrings, the basic components for shifting gears
These two components, when combined together, make it easier to ride a bike comfortably. Keep reading and you’ll find a little summary of their functions, an insight on how they work when you’re on your bike.
The ensemble of sprockets can be arranged in the shape of a freewheel or a cassette, placed on the rear wheel of the bike. Sprockets are arranged from the bigger to the smaller as we are further and further away from the rim. Depending on which sprocket you choose, traction on the rear wheel will increase or decrease. As a rule of thumb, the biggest sprocket will always be number 1.
The number of sprockets will vary on each bicycle model, as well as their function. A cassette can be made up of 3–12 sprockets, and will be the most important part of the bike’s drivetrain, as it will give the most options when shifting gears, due to its higher number of teeth.
The aim of a cassette is completely different from that of the chainrings. The smaller the sprocket, the harder you’ll have to pedal. In contrast, the bigger the sprocket, the more relaxed and less tired you’ll be. Thus, it’s better to use a smaller cog when you’re riding downhill, in order to go faster. The middle sprockets will be helpful on flat, regular ground, and the bigger one will prove useful where there’s a light or steep slope.
Bike chainrings are another structure made up by a set of teeth. A set of 1–3 chainrings is used on every bike, depending on its brand and model. Chainrings are placed next to the bottom bracket and are mounted differently than sprockets – the smaller chainring will be the nearest to the frame.
Thanks to chainrings, you can get to advance more or less, depending on your immediate needs. The more teeth a chainring has, the harder it will be to advance. Thus, select the bigger chainring when you’re riding downhill or on an easy, flat stretch, and you’ll keep advancing easily. On the other hand, if you’re riding uphill or on more demanding ground, use the smaller chainring. Your pedaling will be more agile and will let you advance more easily.
Common mistakes made when shifting gears
Before telling you how to shift gears correctly, we’d like to go over some of the most common mistakes cyclists make when shifting gears. Take into account that these mistakes can affect the proper working order of the cassette or the chain, and they must be considered if you don’t want to damage your bike’s drivetrain.
Shifting gears too harshly
A very common mistake from inexperienced cyclists is to shift gears while you’re pedaling. This will have a negative impact on the chain, and could wear down or even brake a component on the shifter or on the cassette/freewheel, as a teeth or the chain itself. Take into account that, before shifting gears, it’s important to lift up the pressure on the pedals, in order to change smoothly and accurately.
A crooked chainline can easily appear when you shift gears, and can badly damage and shorten the lifespan of your components. It’s not always advisable to use all the different cogs a bike has. For instance, when using the smallest/biggest chainring and sprocket at the same time, you’ll experience cross-chaining. Your bike’s chain will be stretched diagonally, which will make it subjected to such a high tension that it may even break. It’s possible that it starts hitting the front derailleur, making a very unpleasant noise.
Basic advice to shifting gears correctly
Keep reading to find basic advice for when the moment of shifting gears arrives. Take into account that nobody’s born knowing – shifting gears requres practice and experience.
Pay attention when doing it
While you pedal, you are making an effort. How much effort you’re making is a sign worth considering, as it will let you know when you should shift gears. Having to put a lot of effort on each pedal strike is a sign that you must go up by a sprocket, in order that your legs can feel more relaxed and agile. It may even be necessary to change the selected chainring and go for a smaller one if you need it. On the other hand, if you are pedaling with ease but not moving forward, you should pedal harder, select a smaller sprocket or even use the biggest chainring, in order to pedal correctly and effectively.
Pedal with ease
Keep a pedaling pace that is comfortable but that feels effortly at the same time. The applied effort will depend on each cyclist, and how hard they want to pedal. Knowing your pace will help you know if you’re using the right chainring-sprocket combination.
It’s essential to plan ahead depending on the ground, in order that you shift gears efficiently. This means that, if you see a steep slope ahead, start shifting gears before getting to it, in order that they will be the right ones when you start going up. It may happen that the slope will eventually get harder, but don’t worry. You’ll be able to change while ascending, easing the pressure on the pedals in order that the change can be smooth and accurate.
Keep your bike and all of its components in good condition, grease up your chain when needed, clean your sprockets and chainrings correctly and thus you’ll be ensuring they work properly and extending your bike’s useful life.
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