Shifting 101 - The Bike Shifting Guide (2023)

Shifting gears on a bike can be a daunting task at first, with lots of numbers and two derailleurs to keep track of. In addition to braking, the shifting of a bicycle is one of the basic mechanical functions of a bicycle. Learning how to effectively shift gears is an essential skill that continues to develop and improve even for experienced riders. Proper gear shifting increases speed, reduces rider fatigue and improves endurance.

quick course

Well, here's the most important thing to remember when cycling: there is no such thing as perfect gear! transfer!

We often see people put too much power on the pedals when climbing a steep hill in a large chainring, or their legs wobble when they're riding a gear that's too easy for a downhill spin. Your goal when riding should be to maintain as consistent a cadence (speed as one revolution of the pedals) as possible! To do this, one of two things is required: a shift or increased power output. The thing about power output is that unless you're Wonder Woman, your supply is limited. We recommend changing gears frequently while riding to improve efficiency.

climb while shifting

Liv's tip: Start shifting into easier gears with your right hand early to maintain a steady rhythm. Remember, your right hand is used for small changes in terrain. If you find your pedaling slows down drastically, you may want to use the front derailleur (your left hand) to make the gearing easier on the big climbs up front. However, if you've climbed hills and put a lot of power on the pedals, you may have noticed that your front derailleur doesn't want to work! You'll move, hear harsh noises, but nothing will happen, and you'll most likely stop in the middle of the hill.

Instead of grinding those gears, you put more power into the pedal stroke before changing gears, and then lighten the pedal stroke when changing gears. With less stress on the chain, it will be easier for your derailleur to pop the chain off the big ring and into the smaller ring!

- Liv rides

Shifting 101 - The Bike Shifting Guide (1)


Is your bike ready? Maintaining and cleaning your bike is essential to keep everything running smoothly, including shifting. With the right equipment, bike maintenance is a breeze. From multi-tools and degreasers to professional workbenches, grab the tools you need to get the job done right. Take care of your drive system, dial up your brakes, and give it your all this season!

bicycle gear

The terminology surrounding bike gear is half the difficulty when it comes to getting used to how bike gear works. Terms such as low, high, big, small, easy, hard, fast, slow, front, back, one-on-one, two-pair, three-pair can create confusion and make it difficult to understand what is going on. Let's break it down.


Low range is "easy" and is used primarily when climbing hills. The low gear is the smallest chainring in the front and the largest gear on the rear cassette. In this position, pedaling will be easiest and the effort required to push the pedals is minimal. Changing from a high gear to a low gear is called "downshifting".

high gear

High gear is the "hard" gear and is mainly used on descents and sprints. The top gear is the largest chainring at the front and the smallest cog on the cassette at the rear. This enables the most difficult pedaling position and requires the most force to push the pedals. Changing from a low gear to a high gear is called an "upshift".


The number of chainrings on the front of your bike determines the type of drivetrain you have. Abbreviated as "one ratio", "two ratios" and "three ratios". As the cycling industry has grown, the trend has shifted from three rides being the norm, to two rides on most road bikes and pair rides on mountain bikes. This is accomplished by increasing the size and reach of the rear cassette, allowing for a wider range of gears without the need for an additional chainring. By eliminating the chainrings, the bike becomes more efficient and has less room for mechanical error under load.

___-speed bike

7, 18, 21 speed, etc. We've all bragged about how many speeds a bike has. When a bike is considered "21 speed", what exactly does that number refer to? This number is determined by multiplying the number of cogs on the rear cassette by the number of front chainrings. For example, if a bike has two chainrings in the front and 11 cogs in the cassette, you have a 21-speed bike. Due to the popularity of 2-by and 1-by drivetrains, it's become less common to refer to bikes this way, as more gears are sometimes not always a better setup in all cases.

how to change gears

With a basic understanding of how drivetrains and gears work, it's time to dig into how to accurately shift from one gear to the next. The action of changing the chain from one chainring or cog to the next is accomplished by pulling a trigger that is connected to the derailleur by a cable. Depending on the type of bike you have, your shifter can be designed as a flat or curved bar. With dropped handlebars, the shifter is the same as the one used for braking, and to change gear you need to push the shifter sideways until you hear a click. On mountain and hybrid bikes with flat bars, you can shift gears with a thumb trigger, completely separate from the braking system. Many children's bikes and comfort bikes are equipped with grip shifting, where the rider turns a dial integrated into the handlebar to shift gears forward or backward.

The cables that connect the shifter to the brakes are housed in the protective case. When you pull the trigger on the shifter, the cable tightens or loosens, allowing the derailleur to move the chain up and down the chainring or cassette.

left shift device

The left shifter controls the front derailleur and swaps chains between the front chainrings. This type of shifting is suitable for large jumps in the transmission when terrain and gradients change suddenly.

right shifter

The right shifter controls the rear derailleur and swaps the chain between the cogs on the rear cassette. This type of shifting is used to make small adjustments to the transmission for minor changes in terrain and grades.

big leverage

The larger of the two shifters will move the chain into the larger ring. Swapping into a larger ring with your right hand will make pedaling easier, while shifting into a larger ring with your left hand will make pedaling harder. Remember: Big = Big / Right = Easier / Left = Harder

small leverage

The smaller of the two shifters will move the chain into the smaller ring. Swapping into a smaller ring with your right hand will make pedaling harder, while shifting into a smaller ring with your left hand will make pedaling easier. Remember: small = smaller / right = harder / left = easier

Certain shifting systems have unique features, including SRAM's "double-tap" system and old-school grip shifting setups. For exact drivetrain specifications, refer to specific manufacturer's instructions.

Shifting 101 - The Bike Shifting Guide (2)

cross link

Cross-linking is a term used to describe when your drivetrain is in one of the following undesirable and inefficient positions.


The largest cog (easiest gear) and largest chainring (hardest gear) in the cassette.

small / small

The smallest cog in the cassette (hardest cog) and the smallest chainring (easiest cog).

While in these positions, the chain stretches at an angle, which over time can cause damage to the drivetrain and increase the chances of the chain slipping or rubbing against the derailleur.

Drivetrain with a "cosmetic function"

Some road bikes are equipped with a cosmetic feature that allows micro-shifting of the derailleur to eliminate cross-chaining and increase gear efficiency. If you're in the largest chainring and you're approaching a larger cog on the cassette, you can nudge the front derailleur to allow more room and remove friction in the area of ​​potential cross-chains.

Shifting 101 - The Bike Shifting Guide (3)

How to change shifts efficiently?

We often see cyclists putting maximum power on the pedals when climbing hills. Or rotate, with your legs swinging as you descend. The goal when riding in gear is to maintain a consistent cadence and maximize power output. We do run out of energy, and by maintaining a smooth cadence and effective gear changes, you'll not only ride faster, but go further!

Changing gears often is a great way to stay active and efficient on the bike. Remember that developing a relationship with your bike's drivetrain takes time, and start with the basics. Thank you for reading our article on how to shift gears on your bike, we hope this has given you the knowledge and confidence to chase your next KOM.

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Shifting 101 - The Bike Shifting Guide (4)

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