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Gear Shifting for Dummies

  • Know your Bicycle
Gear Shifting for Dummies

Most people, who are new to cycling, are easily excited/terrified by the option of having multiple gears on a bicycle. A common misconception is that the higher your gear, the faster you can go. While that is only partially true, there is a lot more to it. WeÌ¢åÛåªre going to break it all down for you.

Gear system Anatomy

Gear systems have 3 parts Ì¢åÛåÒ

The Gears Ì¢åÛåÒ These are the mechanical cogs that the chain rotates in order to get the bicycle moving. The Cassette and Chainwheel are both sets of gears

The Shifters Ì¢åÛåÒ These are the triggers/levers on your handlebar that you use to shift gears.

The Derailleurs Ì¢åÛåÒ The Front and Rear derailleurs are what shift the chain between the gears. As the name suggests, they Ì¢åÛå÷derailÌ¢åÛåª the chain and keeps it in control.

To put it simply, your geared bicycle has a set of gears at the crank where you pedal and a set of gears on the hub of your rear wheel. The chain links the two sets of gears and transfers motion. Different combinations of front and rear gears change the amount of effort you will put into your pedalling.


As mentioned earlier, the Shifters are levers/triggers on your handlebar that help you shift gears. They normally have numbering to indicate which gear the chain is currently moving on. The shifter on your right controls the Rear Derailleur and the shifter on the left controls the Front Derailleur. Each shifter lets you move up and down the gears. A common configuration would be to have 1,2,3 on the left shifter and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 on the right shifter

For example, the Hercules Ryders ACT 110 comes equipped with Shimano Tourney Rear Derailleurs (7 Speed) and Shimano SIS Front Derailleurs (3 Speed). This means you have 21 different combinations of gearing available to you.

Gears and Gear Combinations

The following list is a guide to the best combinations of front and back gears:

It is not recommended to have any combination outside of the above mentioned as this makes the chain cross over at an extreme angle. These "criss-cross" gear combinations are bad for the chain and gears. Especially bad is to combine the inside (small) front gear with the outside (small) rear sprocket. This noisy, inefficient gear causes the chain to wear out and also makes you lose efficiency.

The image below indicates how the chain would look in the various gear combinations. The third image (extreme right) is an example of how your gears shouldnÌ¢åÛåªt be. i.e 3 on the front gears and 1 on the rear gears or vice versa.

The science involved

As far as the technicality behind the working of the gears is concerned, hereÌ¢åÛåªs how it works:

You have 2 types of gears. Your Driving gears (this is your Chainwheel) and your Driven gears (your Cassette). The Chainwheel is part of your Crankset. This is what rotates as you pedal. And the Cassette is whatÌ¢åÛåªs connected to your rear wheel hub.

When youÌ¢åÛåªre on your 1st gear on the Front, since the gear is small, it is easier to rotate and hence the pedalling effort is low. As you go higher on the gears, the size becomes larger as well and therefore the pedalling effort is that much tighter/harder. This is why the pedalling is hardest on the 3rd gear. The Larger your Driving gear the harder it is to rotate.

As far as the Rear gears go, the same logic applies; however, in this case the force is transmitted from the chain to the cassette and to the rear wheel which makes it rotate.

DoÌ¢åÛåªs and DonÌ¢åÛåªts

HereÌ¢åÛåªs a list DoÌ¢åÛåªs and DonÌ¢åÛåªts to keep in mind while shifting gears:

  1. Try to avoid the gear combinations that make the chain connect diagonally
  2. Avoid shifting gears when the rear wheel isnÌ¢åÛåªt moving.
  3. Only shift gears when you are moving forward.

Practice makes perfect

While all this theory might give you a solid understanding of the working and science behind shifting gears, you can only master this with lots of practice. And this is the most fun part.

By Satish Narayanan


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