For anyone cycling frequently on rough, hilly terrain, gears are your best friends. Likewise, for anyone riding on a long, rolling stretch of road, multiple gears provide a great source of speeds and resistance for your cycling journey. However, not everybody is totally aware of how bike gears work and how efficiently they assist you on your saddle, with a lot of people just sticking to what they know and not what’s best. We’re here to tell you the basic knowledge about bike gears, simple enough that anyone with no knowledge will be able to take something away from this today.
First of all, it is obvious that not every bike even has different gears. Single-speed bikes are popular among commuters living in flat areas, where such one-speed function is enough to travel everywhere by bike. However, there are so many people having to commute on hilly terrain or long-distance roads regularly that the efficient use of gears on such situations is indisputable.
What are bike gears?
Simply, you can think of gears as the same thing as ‘speed’. Actually, bike brands including ourselves have been using the word ‘speed’ instead of ‘gear’ in the products’ names. For example, a Ladies Classic bike with 7 gears is called ‘Ladies Classic 7-speed’. The higher the gear number is, the higher resistance on the cogs, meaning that cycling in a higher gear is a lot more difficult (with higher resistance) than a lower gear. Cyclists ‘shift’ gears to change from one gear to another. You ‘downshift’ to go to the lower speed and ‘upshift’ to the higher.
Normally, if a bike has less than 10 speeds, there is one shifter to change gear. The shifter is placed on the right-hand side of the handlebar with two levers to upshift and downshift easily. Whereas, when a bike has more than 10 speeds, it has two shifters on two sides of the handlebar. Say a bike has 21 speeds, in this case, a shifter on the left is labelled 1-2-3 and the one on the right is labelled from 1 to 7. This means that each number on the left can combine with 7 different speeds on the right, which makes up a total of 21 speeds. Notably, with some modern designs nowadays, it’s not immediately obvious where the shift levers are. Regardless, there’s a conventional rule that right-hand levers control the rear derailleur, and left-hand levers the front, the one where your pedals are.
Why do you need gears?
As abovementioned, cyclists commuting on hilly terrain or long-distance roads would find bike gears incredibly helpful. In a nutshell, gears enable us to pedal in comfortable speeds no matter what terrain we are tackling. In specific, a high gear, sometimes referred by cyclists as a ‘big gear’, is optimum when descending or riding at high speeds. In a high gear, you’re travelling a longer distance with one pedal stroke, which is extremely helpful for a long journey because you don’t want to waste your energy pedalling on an easier gear but move inconsiderable miles. On the other hand, lower gears assist you to keep the pedals spinning while climbing up hills. You’ll move slowly yet steadily until you can reach the top. Or simply, bikes benefit from a low gear to accelerate from a standstill easily. When you change gears, you’re basically trying to negate the incline or decline of the hill. You will have an optimum riding speed that you find most comfortable and by changing gears, you can make sure that this comfortable speed is kept, no matter what the incline or decline.
Now, you should understand why bike gears are useful for your cycling journey. However, be aware that a high number of gears on a bike means that the ‘overlapping’ gears are unavoidable. In other words, several gear combinations will result in a similar ratio as others. This is not some kind of trick from the manufacturers; it’s simply the nature of the beast. On the plus side, if you’re really into gears, you have a variety of choices for your preference.
When to shift gears
Basically, you change gears when approaching a different type of terrain, such as starting to go uphill, sliding down a slope or riding into the wind even on flats. Advisably, shift before the terrain changes, especially on hills. Don’t wait until you can feel the incline kick in; downshift in anticipation of that sloppy terrain. As you’re cycling up a climb, the resistance is so strong that you even can barely turn the pedals. It’s the bad time to shift because it is highly likely that pushing hard or stopping pedalling suddenly while shifting gears may cause the chain to skip or fall off.
On the other hand, you may want to upshift the gear when descending or riding on flats with the wind blowing from behind to have enough resistance and feel more stable and balanced on two wheels to be fair. More significantly, you’ll also go faster with a harder gear.
Notably, during the shifting process, whether you upshift or downshift, keep pedalling but ease up on the pedals. Don’t back-pedal. The point is to make the shifting process as smooth as possible and unless you have an internal hub (like our Deluxe 3-speed), you need to be pedalling to change gears.
The best way to learn which gear is suitable for your commute and particularly for your purpose on riding a bike is to find a nice quiet road and practice riding at different speeds. Try experimenting gears on climbs, descents and flats as it will help your cycling efficiency. To summarise, use a higher gear when you want to go quickly but expect the strong resistance that can cause fatigue; use a low gear to climb or for endurance so that you won’t get exhausted fast. No matter what, you can always twiddle amongst different speeds on different terrains throughout your journey for the optimum cycling efficiency.
At Reid, we speak to commuters, nature-lovers, bike enthusiasts, socialites, athletes to name just a few. Each and every one of these people could know more about how their cycling lifestyle — whatever form that takes — affects the world around them, the people that live in it, and the way their involvement and investment can change things for the better. Which is precisely why we educate them, through our blogs for all-thing bikes with the hope that everyone can choose a right bike for themselves and ready to join the cycling community.
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