How To Shift Gears On A Bike

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Knowing how to shift gears on your bike will not only make your biking experience more functional but also more enjoyable. It will also improve on your speed and boost your endurance levels on longer rides.

Shifting, though basic, is hard to master. The complexity of gear shifting is not always a straightforward and simple task.

However, with a little practice and commitment, shifting gears on a bike can be as intuitive as pedaling.

Here’s a comprehensive breakdown on everything you need to know about gear shifting on bikes.

But first, let’s learn some of the basic terms associated with bike gearing and what they mean.

Watch the video below explaining how to change gears on a bicycle 

A Quick Cheat Sheet on How Bike Gears Work

Low Gear

In the low gear position, the smallest chainring is at the front and the largest cog on the cassette or rather the rear gear.

In this position, pedaling is easier and suitable for pedaling uphill.

Getting to the low gear position is known as downshifting.

Middle gear 

The middle gear strikes a balance between low and high gear.

The middle gear has the middle ring on the front as well as at the back.

Middle gear requires medium effort and is ideal for tackling flats.

High gear

The “high” gear position has the smallest cog on the cassette and the largest chainring at the front.

The high gear position, pedaling is hardest, and you're only able to accelerate when traveling downhill.

Getting to the high gear is known as upshifting.

How To Change Gears on a Bike - Suitable for beginners

The actual process of changing gears on a bike is relatively simple and straightforward.

Typically, the front gears are controlled by the left-hand shifter. The rear gears, on the other hand, are controlled with the shifter next to the right-hand grip.

If you get flustered during cycling, remember the mnemonic; "right equals rear." Or simply remember that Rear and Right both start with an R.

The 1Xs/ one-by or bikes with a single chainring in the front have only a right-handed shifter.

Bikes are different, and so are the gears. The physical changing of the gears on a bike entirely depends on the type of shifter a bike has.

However, we shall cover the three basic types of shifters:

Grip shifters- Grip shifters are changed by turning your wrist

Rapid-fire shifter- The rapid-fire shifters are small levers, located below the handlers. To change these shifters, you simply need to move them with your thumbs.

Levers integrated into brake levers- These shifters are commonly associated with road bikes. When you push the shifter to one direction, it changes and gears upwards and vice versa.

Generally, the bike controllers function in opposite ways. For instance, if you're using the grip shifters, twisting the lever with the right-hand makes pedaling easier. On the other hand, twisting the lever with the left-hand makes the process harder.

It's, therefore, necessary that you practice changing gears before you hit the streets. With time, the reflexes will come naturally, even without you having to think a lot.

While it might be frustratingly confusing at first, most of the premium bike, the controllers will indicate which gear you’re in.

Tips for Changing Gears on a Bicycle

Only change Gears when pedaling forward

You should only change your gears when in motion because the whole idea of gear changing is to move the position of the chains, and it can only happen when the chain is in motion.

Ideally, the pedals should be rotating.

However, you should minimize the pedaling pressure to avoid stretching the chain taut at the top.

A taut chain makes it harder to move the chain sideways.

Don’t Change Gears Uphill or when Standing on the pedals

It’s recommended that you change your gears before you actually get to a hill.

This is because doing it while on the hill, will only but grind the pedals.

As a result, the chain might slip off its rings, and you might fall onto the crossbar and hurt yourself.

How to change gears for uphill climbing- Youtube video 

Anticipate Shifts

It’s challenging to change your gears when pushing too hard.

Compare bike shifting to car gearing. If a car takes off at gear 4, it will crackle and groan. The same case applies to a bike.

It’s really important that you get into the habit of downshifting into an easier or low gear when you’re coming to a stop or approaching a hill.

Don’t Shift when you’re stopped

While it’s recommended that you slow your pedaling when shifting, do not come to a total stop.

Most of the bikes with traditional gearing are designed to be shifted on when the pedals and chains are moving.

You'll, therefore, need to anticipate each stop, make the shift and you'll you can start pedaling again.

Avoid cross-chaining

Cross-chaining exerts pressure on your chain as well as your sprockets.

To prevent cross-chaining, simply shift to the next chainring, and this will allow you to stay within the middle gears of the cassette.

Things you Must Always Take Care of Proper Efficient Bike Shifting

Keep your Chain Clean

Keeping your chain clean is vital to efficient gearing and keeping your bike running smoothly and efficiently.

Lubrication of Components

To reduce friction between components, lubrication is necessary. This allows the free movement of components without any hindrances.


Changing bike gears has never been challenging.

We hope that by following our comprehensive guide on how to change bike gears, you’re now more familiar with the entire process.

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