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  1. #1
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    Need more instructions in basics - shifting gears

    When I left my LBS last week, I thought it clicked in my head, the gears and when to shift, etc, so I won't break my cadance on inclines. Well, it worked, last week. I really understood and was doing well. My speed didn't drop that much on inclines. In fact, I was actually gaining speed this past week, until this morning. Maybe it's just because I've been riding in the evenings and there were a few differences this morning. I was out at 7:30 AM so I'm not totally awake and my muscles aren't warmed up as much as at the end of the day AND I took different streets with slightly higher inclines. But, dang, it's like starting all over again and I just can't seem to wrap my brain around which way to shift to help maintain some resemblance of cadence. At least I found where I'm most comfortable in riding but I'm sure that will change with time.

    I rode out for breakfast this morning. Dang, that was nice. Not alot of traffic, especially since I had to ride a highly travelled street. That's why I went early. People around here do tend to sleep in until church time. So, I'm good for riding about any street as long as it's before noon, then the traffic picks up. However, I got a little more adventurous and took different streets back. Found out that didn't add any distance, in fact it actually took off distance. But, the inclines are a little steeper than I've been doing. By the time I got back to the house, I rode less distance and my legs are now rebelling. Maybe I need to return to the fitness and center before work in the mornings and do some spinning. I guess I can say that I am progressing some since 2 weeks ago, 1 mile just about did me in (I wasn't sure my legs were even gonna support my body when I got off the bike) and now I'm up to 4, except today. I don't feel as bad as I did when I started, especially this past week. I was progressing nicely.

    So, please explain those dang derailleurs again, 3 on the front, 7 on the back. For flats surfaces I do great at 2 on front and 3 on back. It's the inclines and declines I'm having problems with wrapping my head around the concept. It's the whole reason I gave up biking 11 years ago. I guess my mind needs just a little more explanation than just shift until you are comfortable and when you hear the clicking along the edge, shift your front derailleur.
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

  2. #2
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    So, please explain those dang derailleurs again
    It''s quite simple, really. It's like the gear in a car, when you are in a high gear you can go faster but you can't accelerate or climb a hill as easily. When you are in a low gear you can climb or accelerate but the engine spins up to a high rpm and makes a lot of noise. same with the bike

    Big gear in front or small gear in back - high gear, go fast, no climb.
    Small gear in front or big gear in back - low gear, can climb, no go fast.

    How you get the low or high gear almost doesn't matter. But sometimes a shift in front may be a bigger jump than you wanted, so use the rear where the gears ratios are closer together. And sometimes you want a lower or higher gear but you've run out of gears at the rear or front, so you have to shift the other end, then re-claim some from the opposite end.
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  3. #3
    Saved by Grace lphilpot's Avatar
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    Disclaimer: In my minimal experience so far...

    Find a cadence (pedal RPM) that works for you - Not so fast that you're having difficulty with it, but not so slow that it's causing you to heavily 'mash' on each stroke. It should be relatively easy to pedal, but it will probably be a bit faster than you might at first have anticipated. For me (in my current out-of-shapeness), 80 to 90 works pretty well. 80-sh on the flats, but a bit more (downshifted) going uphill.

    An appropriate cadence will also save your knees over the long run.

    Once you get a feel for that cadence, shift to maintain it and don't worry too much about what speed it is. That way you'll tend to somewhat level out the effort you have to make over varying terrain. Your speed will vary with the terrain, but not your cadence.
    Len Philpot - 2012 Specialized Tricross Sport
    I start out slow and then taper off from there...

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    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    Find a quiet road or MUP and work the gears on the flat to get a feel for the effect of each direction of shift. This will eliminate the minor stress of having to shift when you come to an incline and start building muscle memory. BTW, it's normal to start on an incline in the wrong chain ring (front "gears") and run out of rear derailleur gears; happens to us o the tandem when I misread a hill. Generally, if your starting up and incline better to be in too small (easier) a front chain ring than to wind up struggling up even a small incline and wearing yourself out.
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    [QUOTE=jimmuller;14336346
    How you get the low or high gear almost doesn't matter. But sometimes a shift in front may be a bigger jump than you wanted, so use the rear where the gears ratios are closer together. And sometimes you want a lower or higher gear but you've run out of gears at the rear or front, so you have to shift the other end, then re-claim some from the opposite end.[/QUOTE]

    OK, I can wrap my head around that concept. And, basically, I do ride where I'm comfortable. Speed is not my thing or issue.

    I know if I go to lower numbers, the pedaling is easier. If I go to higher numbers, the pedaling is harder. The LBS owner did a wonderful job in explaining how to tell if you ran out of gears in the back so you need to shift the front. So, if I'm understanding correctly, if I'm inclining, I would want to shift to a lower number and declining, I want to shift to a higher number? Dang, I don't need to go fast my just don't want to struggle to a total crawl on climbs. I will never make up those VA mountain trails next spring, if I chose to take bike with me for the week.
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

  6. #6
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Think of your bike as having 3 gear ranges corresponding to the front chainrings. One for uphill, one for the flats and one for downhills.

    Within those ranges use the rear shifter to fine tune your cadence. If your legs seem to be spinning too fast, shifter into a harder gear. If you're having to push too hard, shift into the next easier gear.

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nuttygrandma View Post
    I know if I go to lower numbers, the pedaling is easier. If I go to higher numbers, the pedaling is harder.
    So, that's it, isn't it? That's all you need to know. Going up hills you want low numbers to make it easier, going down hills you need higher numbers to go faster. Just keep doing it and within a few days it will be second nature.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lphilpot View Post
    Disclaimer: In my minimal experience so far...

    Find a cadence (pedal RPM) that works for you - Not so fast that you're having difficulty with it, but not so slow that it's causing you to heavily 'mash' on each stroke. It should be relatively easy to pedal, but it will probably be a bit faster than you might at first have anticipated. For me (in my current out-of-shapeness), 80 to 90 works pretty well. 80-sh on the flats, but a bit more (downshifted) going uphill.

    An appropriate cadence will also save your knees over the long run.

    Once you get a feel for that cadence, shift to maintain it and don't worry too much about what speed it is. That way you'll tend to somewhat level out the effort you have to make over varying terrain. Your speed will vary with the terrain, but not your cadence.
    I found my cadence last week and I was shifting to maintain and it was nice. I'm not really worried about speed but I'm not finding my direction to shift on even the slightest decline. That's what's been confusing me since I switched from a 7 speed to a 21 speed. Today, I'm not finding my cadence even on inclines which means to me, I don't have my head wrapped around shifting this week at all. Dang, those 21 years in MI really did turn me into a "flat-lander".

    I have noticed as I'm building muscle memory, I am riding in a different gear. Maybe I'm starting out too high to begin with but when I was fitted for this bike, the LBS owner said I was right where I would be riding most of the time and that was on flat land.
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

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    Quote Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
    So, that's it, isn't it? That's all you need to know. Going up hills you want low numbers to make it easier, going down hills you need higher numbers to go faster. Just keep doing it and within a few days it will be second nature.
    OK, that I can wrap my head around. I've been doing it backwards!!!! I'm shifting the wrong direction!!!

    Now, maybe I'll try another ride this evening. My street is pretty quiet with not much traffic but definitely has inclines and declines.
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch View Post
    Think of your bike as having 3 gear ranges corresponding to the front chainrings. One for uphill, one for the flats and one for downhills.

    Within those ranges use the rear shifter to fine tune your cadence. If your legs seem to be spinning too fast, shifter into a harder gear. If you're having to push too hard, shift into the next easier gear.
    I can wrap my head around this concept, too. Now, which one for uphill, which one for flats (think I have that one figured out) and which one for downhills?
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

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    Forget the numbers. Most shifting devices do not have any numbers - generally only grip shifts do. You will feel the gearing as you get used to it. As someone suggested, try thins out on the flats for a bit.
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    One thing to remember NG, try to make your shift a little in advance of getting on the incline and you are pushing harder on the pedals. Most RD do not like making a shift with the drive train under "pressure" from the pedaling. Just a nuisance most of the time but you can get frustrated when you stall out and have to dismount. And, walking up a steep hill is not a bad thing. All of us have to at some time.

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  13. #13
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nuttygrandma View Post
    I can wrap my head around this concept, too. Now, which one for uphill, which one for flats (think I have that one figured out) and which one for downhills?
    Little in front for uphill, big in front for downhill. If you get it wrong you'll know right away.

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    Way too much thinking here. You never, ever need to think, "I'm in the 2-3" or "I'll shift to the 1-7." If you move a lever and things get worse, move it the other way. You'll get the hang of it in a few rides.
    As an exercise, put the chain on the middle ring in front (small ring if it's a double) and go for a ride shifting only the rear. Forget the front exists. When you master the rear, in about six minutes, then you can fool with the front. Those numbers are useless, though.
    Last edited by Velo Dog; 06-10-12 at 09:48 AM.

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nuttygrandma View Post
    I can wrap my head around this concept, too. Now, which one for uphill, which one for flats (think I have that one figured out) and which one for downhills?
    We've dealt with that already. Small ring = low number (1) = uphill.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

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    Find the little gear ring up front and the large gear in the rear. This is your lowest gear the bail out gear. Now practice shifting to this gear while riding on the flats. On the flats and in the lowest gear you may not be able to pedal fast enough to provide any thrust into your bike but you can take a quick look to see that you are in the gear. Now shift up until you can pedal at the speed that you like for a minute or two and then shift back to the lowest gear. Once you have this shifting memorized all you need to do is to shift to the bail out gear for the hills and then let the cadence fall where it may. In my bail out gear, I can't maintain a high cadence on the tough hills. Even in bail out gear mashing is required for some hills.

  17. #17
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    Here's another way of looking at it: The closer the chain is to the bike frame, the easier it is to pedal. When it's on the inside cogs closest to the frame, it's in the easiest gears. When it's on the outside cogs farthest from the frame, it's in the hardest gear.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velo Dog View Post
    Way too much thinking here. You never, ever need to think, "I'm in the 2-3" or "I'll shift to the 1-7." If you move a lever and things get worse, move it the other way. You'll get the hang of it in a few rides.
    As an exercise, put the chain on the middle ring in front (small ring if it's a double) and go for a ride shifting only the rear. Forget the front exists. When you master the rear, in about six minutes, then you can fool with the front. Those numbers are useless, though.
    That's it in a nutshell.
    Craig in Indy

  19. #19
    Starting over CraigB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CbadRider View Post
    Here's another way of looking at it: The closer the chain is to the bike frame, the easier it is to pedal. When it's on the inside cogs closest to the frame, it's in the easiest gears. When it's on the outside cogs farthest from the frame, it's in the hardest gear.
    This. And if it needs to be said for clarity, that applies to both the front and the rear.
    Craig in Indy

  20. #20
    Senior Member CommuteCommando's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch View Post
    Think of your bike as having 3 gear ranges corresponding to the front chainrings. One for uphill, one for the flats and one for downhills.
    +1

    My commuter has a triple on front, and I do most, if not all, of my riding during my pretty flat commute in the middle chainring. I usually start in 3rd gear (cassette). I may have to mash slightly at the start, but I am up to a comfortable cadence pretty quickly. As I go faster, I shift up into 4th and 5th to keep the cadence from getting too "spiny". An occasional tailwind will get me to 6th. Cross chaining is kept to a minimum. On hills, I'll get down to 2nd, then drop to the small chain ring and shift up on the cassette to 3rd or 4th, then continue to shift down on the cassette as my cadence drops. This is because there is some overlap in the ratios.

    Ratios.JPG

    Heading down hill, I'll get to 6th, then hit the big chain ring and then stay in 6th, or shift up or down one depending on how steep the decent.

    This is what works for me. Your results may vary.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CommuteCommando View Post
    +1

    My commuter has a triple on front, and I do most, if not all, of my riding during my pretty flat commute in the middle chainring. I usually start in 3rd gear (cassette). I may have to mash slightly at the start, but I am up to a comfortable cadence pretty quickly. As I go faster, I shift up into 4th and 5th to keep the cadence from getting too "spiny". An occasional tailwind will get me to 6th. Cross chaining is kept to a minimum. On hills, I'll get down to 2nd, then drop to the small chain ring and shift up on the cassette to 3rd or 4th, then continue to shift down on the cassette as my cadence drops. This is because there is some overlap in the ratios.

    Ratios.JPG

    Heading down hill, I'll get to 6th, then hit the big chain ring and then stay in 6th, or shift up or down one depending on how steep the decent.

    This is what works for me. Your results may vary.
    This so far has been the explanation I can relate to. I'm still shifting in the wrong direction. I have never shifted out of 2 on the front. I'll try some different things when I go out again but it won't be until it starts to cool down alittle. Guess I was using my head this morning when I headed out at 7:30 AM. The temps were only 81 at that time. We are now in the 90's and I've got some more things to accomplish on my "to do" list for the weekend.

    Thanks, everyone.
    2013 End of Summer Goal: Return to NC's Dismal Swamp State Park trail

  22. #22
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    your legs will tell when it's get too tough . . or too easy. Shift accordingly to make things better.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by nuttygrandma View Post
    I'm still shifting in the wrong direction.
    A word of advice. Learn to anticipate changes in grade. Inotherwords, shift a bit early. If you shift the wrong way just undo it and go the other way.
    Real cyclists use toe clips.
    jimmuller

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    You mentioned your legs were hurting now that you tried a steeper hill. That's to be expected. Your best bet there is to take this route often, practice what was said above about shifting but it will take a few climbs before it feels easier. Eventually you may find hills that hurt no matter how many times you ride them, that is when you know it's either time to start posting in the race training thread or just back off and stay away from those.
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    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    What kind of shifters do you have? There are lots. I could use more specific language (e. g. pull, twist, thumb push, finger pull, etc.) if I knew.

    Try this: Look down at your chain and gears while riding. Do it in a safe place at first - you don't want to run into a truck or off the road while you're looking down. But if you can safely look down you'll notice that the big gear in back is nearest to the frame, while it's the opposite in front - the smallest gear (chainring) is nearest the frame. There's kind of an opposite relationship between the front and back. In front your lever pulls on the shifter cable to go higher. In back you pull to go lower.

    Okay, ignore that last bit for a second; come back to it later. If you pull on the right hand shifter cable (back) all the way, and ease tension on the left (front), your chain should move so that it's closest to the frame in both front and back. This is your lowest gear. Use it for climbing the steepest hills, or taking it a little easier on less-steep hills.

    Now pull on the left (front) shifter and ease tension on the right (rear.) When the chain moves until it's as far as possible in both front and back you're in your highest gear. Use this for pedaling on level ground with a good tailwind, or down a slight incline, or down a steeper incline until you can't pedal any faster.

    As you shift in general cycling, think of where the chain is. If you want a lower gear, move it closer to the frame, and move it away from the frame for higher gears. You usually don't move it all the way at once. You usually move it a step at a time. Sometimes you move the front derailleur; sometimes the back.

    If you have it closest to the frame in front and furthest away in back, or vice versa, this is called "cross-chaining". It usually causes some clicking because the chain doesn't line up with the derailleur cage in front as well and there's some rubbing. I've heard that this causes things to wear out faster and is to be avoided. Personally, I think it will take a long time to add any significant wear. I think the reason to avoid cross-chaining is to avoid the annoying noise. I confess that after decades of familiarity with shifting I still occasionally space out, then look down and find out I'm cross-chained (usually when I'm listening to music and can't hear the noise.)

    I've taught both my kids to shift. When they were learning they seemed to avoid shifting and try and stay in one gear as long as possible. I tried yelling, "Shifting" every time I shifted. They were amazed at how often I changed gears. You may be like them? In order to have the most efficient cadence and torque load on your legs you need to be in the right gear. Every time the incline of the road changes, even the tiniest bit, or the wind changes, it could necessitate a change. I'd guess I shift on average every 10-20 seconds? (Just a wild guess, but I shift a lot. Sometimes I won't be sure if I'm in the right gear so I'll shift, discover the prior gear was better, and shift back.)

    When I was young I tended to favor a higher gear. Maybe it's a young-man trait, because my 21-year-old son does the same thing. I liked to push the higher gear and feel the burn in my legs. Now I'm old and have to worry about my knees, so a higher cadence with less torque makes sense. Plus, I discovered that I rode faster with a higher cadence.

    There are two factors I use to determine what gear feels right - cadence and torque (the amount of force I have to exert to push the pedals and turn the crank.) Like I say, I've found that I go faster with a higher cadence, but there's a point where you start feeling like a hamster in a wheel and you actually get more tired from spinning so fast. So I find a fast cadence that I can maintain. The amount of torque I can apply depends on what kind of shape I'm in. I've been riding some of the same training routes for years. I know what gears I typically choose for each section - particularly the hills. After I've gotten myself in pretty good shape I find myself able to choose a gear or two higher for the same hills. However, I still avoid overtorquing my knees. Knee troubles are a big problem.

    On my bikes, shifting the front (left hand) has more effect than shifting the rear. Sometimes when I shift the front it's too big of a jump, so I have to shift the back the opposite way to counteract the large jump and make it less. This is easy because of the opposite relationship. If you pull on the front to go higher you also pull on the back, but to go lower. They're opposite, remember?

    I hope this helps. Feel free to ask for clarification. Shifting can be arcane, especially if you try and use numbers. 1st gear, 2nd gear, etc. doesn't make sense. You can try and say something like "6th in the back and 2nd in front" but that's clunky. Try looking down at the chain and seeing what it's doing. It will help understand what's going on - you have to pull the shifter to get to a bigger gear, and release some tension to go to a smaller.

    Good luck! Having a wide range of gears available makes cycling so much easier, if you understand how they work. Have fun!

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