Ok, so i realize this is probably basis to be made fun of on, but i am new to this and i was wondering if someone could explain to me how to properly shift the gears on my newly flea market acquired Raleigh Sprite 27 with downtube shifters? Please?
Your right lever should operate the rear derailleur - pull it towards you to go to an easier gear (bigger freewheel cog), push it away to go to a harder gear (smaller freewheel cog).
If you have a front derailleur, it'll be on the left side and operate in reverse - away from you will bring you to a smaller chainring (easier gear) while towards you will bring you to a larger chainring (harder gear).
If you have access to a stand or a way to elevate the rear wheel, it wouldn't hurt to practice a bit while off the bike, so you can see just how it operates - if you've got frictions shifters, which I assume you do, the shifting will depend on you to find the gear. If you shift and the chain continues to make noise, you'll need to move the lever slightly to get the derailleur more in line with the freewheel cog.
As I remember the right hand lever controls the rear derailer. "Right is Rear" applies to most bikes for both shift and breaks. Forward on this lever is "high" the smaller gears on the back free wheel. The left hand lever is just the opposite I beleive. The full forward position takes it to the small gear on the forward chain ring which is low. When you move these lever while in motion the the chain moves to a different track. You should only change gears while in motion and pedalling so as not to strain the cables. Further you should momentarily let up on the pedal pressure while continuing to pedal to avoid an abrupt noinsy clunk when it shifts. One should also avoid what is called "crossover". That is when the front derailer is on the small chainring that the rear freewheel is also on its smaller gears for example. I hope you get the idea. Don't hesitate to ask more question and the next time let us know how many gears you have on the front and back.
A trick that helped me while on the bike is to hook your thumb on the top tube when reaching for them, to avoid sticking any fingers into the front wheel(ouch!). If your not comfortable reaching down while moving, practice picking up and setting down water bottles as you ride past them. You should make sure you wear a helmet and do that drill someplace soft.