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Old 02-07-17, 09:19 PM   #1
kbarj
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Teaching how to use the gears

We just upgraded our soon-to-be 9 year old to an 18 speed MTB.
  • We've been through the battle of loosening up the twist shifters until he could shift them.
  • I've spent time explaining the concept of gears with the rear wheel up and us shifting gears and watching the speed difference.
  • We've talked about which gears to use going uphill, and which to use going down.
  • We've practiced shifting through the gears on a relatively flat surface with him learning to keep pedaling through the shift and only shifting up/down one gear at a time.
  • When practicing we stay in the middle chainring up front, but he has experimented with all 3.
  • Finally, we've gone on rides with me staying close behind him and suggesting when to shift and which way.

He seems to be getting it slowly and is liking the options it gives him, but it's still a work in progress. We've only done 2 rides (about 16 miles so far). Before the window of opportunity for teaching closes, am I missing some obvious things I should be doing with him?
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Old 02-07-17, 09:25 PM   #2
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Did you mention cross chaining?

Once you give him the basics, he'll have to eventually figure it out himself.

I've had kids ask me what numbers to put the gears in. I try to come up with an answer, but have always thought it was a silly question.
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Old 02-08-17, 06:36 AM   #3
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Did you mention cross chaining?...

I've had kids ask me what numbers to put the gears in. I try to come up with an answer, but have always thought it was a silly question.
Cross chaining? No, but that's a good idea. Thanks! I didn't think about it because he's staying in the middle chainring. But as he starts experimenting more, it'd be good for him to know to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the chain.

Numbers to put the gears in? As in which combination is really 10th gear? My wife asked me that when I was teaching her, so I told her how she could calculate it after counting the number of teeth on each of the chainrings and gears - she decided it wasn't worth it. I figured to use the same approach with my son.
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Old 02-08-17, 07:16 AM   #4
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Numbers to put the gears in? As in which combination is really 10th gear?
My bikes generally aren't marked.

But, with grip shifters, and a few other shifter types, they're marked 1-3 and 1-7, I think.

So, riding along a flat section the kids would ask what numbers to put the gears in... then when we'd come to a hill, again, what numbers? And, unless I've been tuning the bike recently, I really don't think about it in that way.
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Old 02-08-17, 11:13 AM   #5
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Kids are generally wired to learn by doing. We can tell them how/when/why to shift, but they're really good at figuring things out by getting their hands on things and observing "What does this do?" It sounds like you've given him the basics, so now just encourage him to keep riding and keep shifting. As he learns by doing, add some coaching to help him with the details.

It's kinda like teaching kids to hit a baseball... With the smallest kids, we just want them to "keep their eye on the ball" and swing. As they gain experience, we can start talking about details like knuckle alignment, hip rotation, weight shift, arm extension, etc. If we tried to talk about those things with a t-ball player, we'd overwhelm him and take all the fun out of it.
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Old 02-08-17, 11:15 AM   #6
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My bikes generally aren't marked.

But, with grip shifters, and a few other shifter types, they're marked 1-3 and 1-7, I think.

So, riding along a flat section the kids would ask what numbers to put the gears in... then when we'd come to a hill, again, what numbers? And, unless I've been tuning the bike recently, I really don't think about it in that way.
I got it. Actually I do call out suggestions. He is only using the middle chainring, so the number I call out deals with rear sprockets only. 1 & 2 are for uphills. 3 & 4 are for flats. And 5 & 6 are for downhills. Obviously that's over simplified, but it's a start.
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Old 02-08-17, 04:48 PM   #7
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I remember doing this.. with downtube shifters on my 24" Murray around the mid 80's :-p
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Old 02-08-17, 05:27 PM   #8
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Kids are generally wired to learn by doing. We can tell them how/when/why to shift, but they're really good at figuring things out by getting their hands on things and observing "What does this do?" It sounds like you've given him the basics, so now just encourage him to keep riding and keep shifting. As he learns by doing, add some coaching to help him with the details.

It's kinda like teaching kids to hit a baseball... With the smallest kids, we just want them to "keep their eye on the ball" and swing. As they gain experience, we can start talking about details like knuckle alignment, hip rotation, weight shift, arm extension, etc. If we tried to talk about those things with a t-ball player, we'd overwhelm him and take all the fun out of it.
I'm thinking you're right. It's time to let him just ride. When John started t-ball, I gave him a tennis ball and bat, and told him to throw the ball up on the roof of the garage. When it came down, I said to hit it with the bat as hard as he could. He would spend hours doing that while I would do chores/yard work, etc. In t-ball he was our best hitter. In two baseball seasons, he has yet to strike out. He always puts the ball in play. Never really coached him on hitting.
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Old 02-09-17, 02:51 PM   #9
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It looks like you are doing things right. He is using the gears. I can't begin to count the number of kids I have ridden with on cycling merit badge rides who refuse to use the gears even though I might be riding right behind them reminding them to shift up or down. Sometimes it is like talking to a wall. The ones who never learned rarely completed the badge because it required a 50 mile ride in 8 hours or less. The kids who wouldn't shift would get tired and drop off long before the end of the ride.
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Old 02-09-17, 03:24 PM   #10
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If possible put the bike on a workstand or similar, and pedal & shift by hand.
That will allow him to actually see the derailleurs & chain move and get a better understanding of what's going on.
(Edit... Looks like you already did that)

Assuming the terrain is fairly flat, staying in the middle ring is probably a good idea for now.

Just as important is learning to "read" the road and surroundings. That will allow planning & shifting ahead of time. Such as downshifting before stopping so he's in an easier gear when starting again. And downshifting just before a hill to avoid bogging down and panic shifting at the last minute.
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Old 02-09-17, 05:00 PM   #11
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It looks like you are doing things right. He is using the gears. I can't begin to count the number of kids I have ridden with on cycling merit badge rides who refuse to use the gears even though I might be riding right behind them reminding them to shift up or down. Sometimes it is like talking to a wall. The ones who never learned rarely completed the badge because it required a 50 mile ride in 8 hours or less. The kids who wouldn't shift would get tired and drop off long before the end of the ride.
I think I'm going to have to get the Cycling Merit Badge book and sign up as a counselor. I've never done this merit badge, but we're already going through Cub Scouts now - and I'll get involved again. I think this one would be fun. But I'm done with the Scoutmaster role. Ten years was enough.
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Old 02-09-17, 05:06 PM   #12
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If possible put the bike on a workstand or similar, and pedal & shift by hand.
That will allow him to actually see the derailleurs & chain move and get a better understanding of what's going on.
(Edit... Looks like you already did that)

Assuming the terrain is fairly flat, staying in the middle ring is probably a good idea for now.

Just as important is learning to "read" the road and surroundings. That will allow planning & shifting ahead of time. Such as downshifting before stopping so he's in an easier gear when starting again. And downshifting just before a hill to avoid bogging down and panic shifting at the last minute.
Thanks for the affirmation. You guys seem to be on the same page as me and that makes me feel better....although I'll admit to not thinking about the downshifting before stopping. But I did catch the shift before hills (both up and down).
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Old 02-10-17, 02:12 PM   #13
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He seems to be getting it slowly and is liking the options it gives him, but it's still a work in progress. We've only done 2 rides (about 16 miles so far). Before the window of opportunity for teaching closes, am I missing some obvious things I should be doing with him?
Why would the window for teaching him close? It takes a long time for kids to understand shifting and how complex gearing and pullys affect speed and effort.
Once they understand shifting while riding, then you start all over with reminding them to shift before coming to a stop so its easy to get started again.

I ride with 20-50 kids multiple times a week for 5 months of the year. These are 12-17 year olds and it takes them probably 50mi of riding to understand shifting. This is actual road riding with hills. Even then, they dont understand the intricacies of shifting, they just know to get the chain close to the bike for hills and away from the bike for flat.

A lot of adults on paths dont have shifting down.

Just sayin- an 8 year old has a lot of time to learn how to use gears.
Oh, and swapping twist shift for trigger shifters is huge. twist shifters are the devil for little hands.
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Old 02-11-17, 08:09 AM   #14
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Why would the window for teaching him close? It takes a long time for kids to understand shifting and how complex gearing and pullys affect speed and effort.
Once they understand shifting while riding, then you start all over with reminding them to shift before coming to a stop so its easy to get started again.

I ride with 20-50 kids multiple times a week for 5 months of the year. These are 12-17 year olds and it takes them probably 50mi of riding to understand shifting. This is actual road riding with hills. Even then, they dont understand the intricacies of shifting, they just know to get the chain close to the bike for hills and away from the bike for flat.

A lot of adults on paths dont have shifting down.

Just sayin- an 8 year old has a lot of time to learn how to use gears.
Oh, and swapping twist shift for trigger shifters is huge. twist shifters are the devil for little hands.
Fair enough. I guess I was thinking about getting him off to a good start while he was so enthusiastic about having gears. I know you're right concerning time to truly understand shifting. My wife, who has been riding for years, admitted that she was learning from what I was teaching our son.

Right now we've got the twist shifter working, but I like the idea of the trigger shifters. As I replied on the other thread, I am trying to figure out compatibility. On the bike he has, it just says "Power" on the grips and "Power Index System" on the derailleurs.
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Old 03-01-17, 08:47 AM   #15
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My wife learned how to ride her bike for the first time last year. Till this day she still don't touch the gears. I don't miss with mine to much because I had the chain came off on me once while gear change. I'm still learning the difference and the proper way to change gears between the front and rear sprocket.
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Old 03-02-17, 07:44 PM   #16
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My wife learned how to ride her bike for the first time last year. Till this day she still don't touch the gears. I don't miss with mine to much because I had the chain came off on me once while gear change. I'm still learning the difference and the proper way to change gears between the front and rear sprocket.
I think you're missing out on some opportunity for easier riding. I hadn't thought to look on Youtube until I read your post. Here's a pretty good youtube video made by PBS for kids. It really simplifies gears without getting into the actual gear ratios.

There are some others that get into a lot more detail.
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Old 03-04-17, 02:31 PM   #17
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IGH like 3 speed hub gears are simpler..
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Old 03-05-17, 04:08 PM   #18
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We've found thatkids generally don't get the idea of how to use gears until 9 - 12 years old. Those who ride a lot off road, either mtb or cyclo-cross, learn to use them pretty well out of sheer necessity. Our Islabikes (yeah, I know, I'm beating the drum - again) come with one chainring as standard, since kids can cope with that better than 2/3 front rings.

Depending on the terrain you take him on, sticking to the middle ring will probably be fine, unless he's defeated by the steepness of local hills - you might think of swapping the triple for a single. Otherwise, block of the small and big rings using the adjuster screws.

However, the off-road gear choices don't always translate on to the road. One of our natural girl riders (multiple regional schools champion in most disciplines) had a day when the red mist came down in the time trial champs. The 3-mile event for the U10s (IIRC) was on a half-mile circuit with a slight climb for about a third of it and she would...not...change...down..from...top. She lost to a girl she would normally beat, even tho' I and her mum were screaming at her to do so - she never heard us (grrr).

One suggestion: try him on a couple of local climbs and wait for him to fail because he's unwilling to change down.
Then take him back to the bottom, change down for him, one gear at a time, until he can manage what he's not been able to do before. If there's a difference between the gradient of two hills, do the same with both so that he can get some idea that different slopes need different gears.

One day, it will click (pun unintentional) and he will beat you to the top. Then, grasshopper, face the inevitable with good grace.
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Old 03-05-17, 04:43 PM   #19
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When you ride with him talk a lot and explain what/why you are doing ("before we stop I think I'll shift down so it will be easier to start up after the stop", "in this flat stretch I can use a higher gear so I don't have to pedal so fast", etc.).

I think it's less stressful than directing him to "do this and do that" - let him mimic you (which he's likely to do) or let him choose to experiment and do his own thing (and discover why you did what you did).

Remember: fun is priority #1.
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Old 03-06-17, 04:55 AM   #20
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I think you're missing out on some opportunity for easier riding. I hadn't thought to look on Youtube until I read your post. Here's a pretty good youtube video made by PBS for kids. It really simplifies gears without getting into the actual gear ratios. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oauDyIu_swM

There are some others that get into a lot more detail.
Thanks for the video posted. When I get some time I take a look at the video.
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Old 03-08-17, 05:11 AM   #21
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That's really good idea to teach your soon at the early age. I appreciate but don't forget to make it more easier for him.
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Old 03-19-17, 04:07 AM   #22
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We've found thatkids generally don't get the idea of how to use gears until 9 - 12 years old. Those who ride a lot off road, either mtb or cyclo-cross, learn to use them pretty well out of sheer necessity. Our Islabikes (yeah, I know, I'm beating the drum - again) come with one chainring as standard, since kids can cope with that better than 2/3 front rings.

Depending on the terrain you take him on, sticking to the middle ring will probably be fine, unless he's defeated by the steepness of local hills - you might think of swapping the triple for a single. Otherwise, block of the small and big rings using the adjuster screws.
Just wondering if that wouldn't work better the other way around. I'm not much a shifter myself and feel like 18 gears is way to many, but they're on my hybrid so I have to deal with it. After a while of too much shifting I started to use the front chainrings as the main gear selection, and the rear gears around the centre as an option to fine tune the ratio if after a couple of 100 yards if I felt that was needed. I'm an adult but for me that was much more relaxed than picking the right gear out of 18 at once.
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Old 03-19-17, 03:35 PM   #23
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Just wondering if that wouldn't work better the other way around. I'm not much a shifter myself and feel like 18 gears is way to many, but they're on my hybrid so I have to deal with it. After a while of too much shifting I started to use the front chainrings as the main gear selection, and the rear gears around the centre as an option to fine tune the ratio if after a couple of 100 yards if I felt that was needed. I'm an adult but for me that was much more relaxed than picking the right gear out of 18 at once.
The difficulty with that is that the jumps will be too much for young legs. Our youngsters race road circuits, 'cross and mtb and the difference between rear cogs is much smaller than front rings. For example, the latest BNeinn 242 wheeled flat barred bike has 8 SRAM rear sprockets (I think our older stock are 7-speed).

Altho' the total range is very good and will deal with almost any terrain they're likely to ride on, the gap between each sprocket is close enough that they won't experience the kind of sudden jump that they would experience dropping from the middle to the granny ring or vice versa. (I can't tell you what the actual ratios are because they've recently changed their website)

It also means that they won't be tempted to put it in the big ring because that's the "fastest" one and they finish up not being able to turn the pedals and grind to a halt.

To give you some idea of what gears are regarded as suitable for each age group, the British Schools cycling Association maximum distances per single pedal revolution are:
School Years
Age Group Max Gear 1 U7 Born on or after 01/09/2009 5.10m
2 U7 Born on or after 01/09/2009 5.10m
3 U9 Born 01/9/2007 – 31/8/2009 5.40m
4 U9 Born 01/9/2007– 31/8/2009 5.40m
5 U11 Born 01/09/2005-31/08/2007 6.05m
6 U11 Born 01/09/2005-31/08/2007 6.05m
7 U13 Born 01/09/2003-31/08/2005 6.45m
8 U13 Born 01/09/2003-31/08/2005 6.45m
9 U15 Born 01/09/2001-31/08/2003 6.93m
10 U15 Born 01/09/2001-31/08/2003 6.93m
11 O15 Born 01/09/1997-31/08/2001 7.93m

These are designed to prevent children with growing bones damaging their knees by pushing too high a gear.
If you need any further explanation, don't hesitate to reply to this
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Old 03-21-17, 07:02 PM   #24
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My 6yo (at 5 last summer) was doing pretty good with a 3 speed Nexus - easy, medium and fast. Took a while to get the twist shift down though. I'm hoping the concept sticks with him when we move to derailleurs and more gears.

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Old 06-19-17, 11:12 AM   #25
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Ive lots of kids and there is just no replacement to sitting behind them and telling them easier/harder. Eventually it becomes second nature.
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