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  1. #1
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    Help explain shifting to my wife

    My dear wife is having a terrible time understanding how and when she should be shifting. Actually, I take that back... she's shifting alright and she knows to downshift before going uphill, but she doesn't understand the underlying scientific reasonings why she should be selecting different gears. She just doesn't understand torque and how to use it effectively.

    I trace the blame back to her mother teaching her to drive a stick shift. She didn't teach her why gears work, just "go higher to go faster (and make the engine quieter) and start in 1". While I can't disagree with her execution, the logic is entirely incorrect (or at least unfounded). Some are content to go through life without understanding underlying concepts... fair enough until it hurts or hinders you.

    While teaching her shifting basics when we bought her bike, I had her run up and down the rear cog so that she could "feel" the difference. I was told in no uncertain terms that the laws of physics were not applying to her particular bicycle and that it was "more difficult" either direction she shifted. [p.s. Guys: laughing to avoid getting angry is not the correct response in this situation]

    She has a (chemical) science background, but seems to have problems with basic physics concepts (torque, rotational force, amount of work, power output, etc.). She can't wrap her head around the fact that spinning faster (higher cadence) is actually "easier" (from a force standpoint) when it means she's working "harder" (more out of breath vs. muscle fatigue).

    The wikipedia article on Bicycle_gearing was of little help as it dove into details of which cogs to pick before fully explaining the "why".

    Anyone have any simple explanations or analogies that can help us?

  2. #2
    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Good luck. I've been a wrench for almost 20 years, have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and an affinity for teaching others...

    ...I unsucessfully tutored my then Chemistry Major future wife in physics...twice. She never got the concept of 2-dimensional Newtonian motion.

    I have tried on many occasions to explain shifting...I have now been reduced to having to tell her "little lever on the right", or "big lever on the right 2 times".

    If she has to shift the FD I might as well have her stop so I can shift it for her. She is happy with this arrangement and truely does not have any remote desire to try to understand anything even remotely connected with bicycles.

    If you figure out a good method, by all means pass it on...

  3. #3
    works for truffles pigmode's Avatar
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    This is where a good LBS comes in handy.

  4. #4
    Banned. Granny's Avatar
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    Why not just keep it simple and tell her to try to always select a gear that lets her turn the cranks at 90 - 120 rpm (she can learn from experience what that feels like) and lets her do so while working comfortably hard, but not too hard.

  5. #5
    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Granny
    Why not just keep it simple and tell her to try to always select a gear that lets her turn the cranks at 90 - 120 rpm (she can learn from experience what that feels like) and lets her do so while working comfortably hard, but not too hard.
    ...hope she understands the concepts of cranking, cadence, or the definiton of RPM, and/or can read/operate a bike computer. If so you have a much easier journey than I.

  6. #6
    Dances With Cars TRaffic Jammer's Avatar
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    Find a female friend that bikes or a buddy with a wife that rides as well. Invite them over for a BBQ and the other female will explain it in perfect terms for your wife at some point in the evening over a wine spritzer. No brains need explode. Male/female interaction needn't go through such stresses, there's enough already.

  7. #7
    or tarckeemoon, depending marqueemoon's Avatar
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    Some rolling hills ought to help make the point. I'm not trying to be snippy here. Some people will mash a silly gear all day unless they're feeling significant resistance.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Trevor98's Avatar
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    My wife has the same issue, as she rides more she shifts more. I always put her in the granny gear and big cog (when I remember) so she has to shift at least once for each shifter.

    A friend once wished for a remote control shifter for this very issue.
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  9. #9
    Banned. Granny's Avatar
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    With all due respect, at some point, you have to decide that some people are just too stupid to operate any sort of mechanical device. I spent 5 years teaching skydiving. There were always a few students each season that we had to take aside at the end of the first jump class to tell them they simply didn't belong in the air or near aircraft operations and refund their money.

    Quote Originally Posted by Psimet2001
    ...hope she understands the concepts of cranking, cadence, or the definiton of RPM, and/or can read/operate a bike computer. If so you have a much easier journey than I.

  10. #10
    Banned. Granny's Avatar
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    How 'bout a fixie? Better yet, a tandem. We had one back when I was married. My wife loved it - all she had to do was crank.

    "Getting married is like burning down your house to make a piece of toast" - Benny Hill


    Quote Originally Posted by Trevor98
    My wife has the same issue, as she rides more she shifts more. I always put her in the granny gear and big cog (when I remember) so she has to shift at least once for each shifter.

    A friend once wished for a remote control shifter for this very issue.

  11. #11
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    Must be a girl thing - I'm not that keen on physics myself but my husband on the other hand, is right into it. Chemistry, I can handle in my sleep (well almost)

    Why does she need to understand the physics behind it to ride properly, anyway? How many 10 year olds do you think know about power and torque etc, etc. yet they still manage to ride their bikes ok.

    Have you tried the old "trial and error" method? Just let her play with the gears and work out what feels best for her. Just explain the correct technique for actually changing gears and forget about the science behind it all.

    Another way of explaining when to change up or down would be how fast the pedals are spinning and how much resistance she is feeling. If her legs are spinning really fast and there is no pedal pressure, she needs to change up and if she is pushing on the pedals really hard, she needs to change down.

    When I sat on a bike for the first time in my life in January this year, I had no idea what to do. What I did have, however, was a cycle computer with a cadence function and my husband basically suggested I should try and keep my cadence around 80 (which felt ridiculously fast initially) - that's how I learnt to change gears. When my cadence went down, I changed down, when my cadence went up, I changed up. Might be worth trying that approach.

    Failing that, maybe a women's cycling class, if there is one nearby.

    Edit: try this link, might help http://womenscycling.com.au/inform.php?a=4&b=22&c=124
    Last edited by matagi; 07-11-06 at 05:22 PM.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    First forget that there is more than one gear on the front. Perhaps count the teeth on the chainrings. But then to make it simple say that the front has 48 and the smallest on the back has 12 and the biggest has 24. The chain locks things in so that if you are in the smallest gear on the back then every time your feet make one revolution the rear wheel makes 4. But on the smallest gear in the back for every time your feet make one the back makes only 2. That means you have to push twice as hard but only half as fast if the chain is on the 12 tooth gear in back compared to the 24 tooth. The idea is to balance how hard you have to push with how fast you have to spin to stay where you are comfortable.

    Perhaps turn the bike upside down and tie a ribbon on the rear wheel and then do one revolution of the pedals and show how the rear wheel goes diffferent amounts of revolutions. If she gets it then point out how a smaller front gear changes things. Finally at that point you can go into gear inches if you want to, just pointing out that the final number is just a measure of how various gearing combinations compare. The bigger the harder and faster.

    Or try somethnig else. In things like this I've found you have to know the person or at least read their feedback. That si something none of use can do for you. However the idea of simplifying things really helps. If yuo try to explain the whole thing at once, with t rings in front and 7-10 in back where almost none of the numbers come out even it is small surprise that many people get confused. (Heck some people seem to want to throw in the 700cm vrs 26" part). Startsimple and add more as she understands.

    Also many get confused because a higher gear is also called a bigger gear, but the chain that gets changed the most is the back and for that the smaller the gear the higher. Save the terminology for the end.

  13. #13
    Elite Fred mollusk's Avatar
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    Does your wife like baseball? If she does and she really understands the rules on dropped third strikes and the infield fly then teaching her how to shift will be child's play.
    I'm the world's forgotten boy. The one who's searchin', searchin' to destroy.

  14. #14
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    If she knows when to shift, then why does she need to understand all the rest?
    Is that her idea or yours?

    Don't bother teaching her
    why just teach her how to shift at the right time. That's probably all she needs. Unless she is asking for more info. ?

    Keep it simple. Shift one way if the pedals are too hard to push, Shift the other way if you have to pedal too fast. Right hand makes small changes, left hand makes big changes. The pedals have to be moving to shift but don't pedal hard when you shift. Repeat as needed.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  15. #15
    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Too funny.....when Shimano finally debuts a 105 level electronic dirvetrain I will be spluging for the remote shift option.

  16. #16
    Perpetually dropped Usetacould's Avatar
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    Well, I would have to say that the trickiness in getting into gear on a car that is on an incline is much the same as being overgeared on a bike on a hill. ??? It sounded better in my head.

    I'm trying to think of changing gears going up a hill as it relates to her understanding of car shifting. Since one of the staples of teaching manual shifting is putting the poor teenager on a hill making them get the car into first...well you can see where I'm going, but I'm not sure how to get there.

    Her legs will show her the way!

  17. #17
    Senior Member dstrong's Avatar
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    My wife and I went to the Veloway here in Austin yesterday. She has ridden maybe a dozen times over the last year and she has a 21-speed "comfort" bike with twist shifters. She started out and had both hands twisting in no time, trying to find the "right" gear. I mean her wrists were twisting those shifters like mad, chain slipping all over the place...it was a mess. Finally I said..."leave the front in the middle and do all your shifting with the rear". That seemed to settle things down although part of the problem was that her drivetrain needed some tuning, which I did after we got home.

    So I started thinking about how to describe gearing and shifting, and to me, it all comes down to "instead of thinking about 21 speeds, think about having 3 ranges of 7 speeds, low range, medium range and high range". Select the range you need based on terrain and fitness and then stick with it until you need to change ranges.

    I used the gear ratio calculator on Sheldon Browns site, transferred the ratios into Excel and created a table that illustrates the ranges and overlaps. I haven't had a chance to show it to her yet but should the opportunity arise to demystify shifting, this should help.
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  18. #18
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Psimet2001
    Too funny.....when Shimano finally debuts a 105 level electronic dirvetrain I will be spluging for the remote shift option.
    Shimano has had an automatic electronic shifting system on the market for years. It has some nice features.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  19. #19
    Senior Member jazzy_cyclist's Avatar
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    My wife got me into biking originally as she wanted to do triathalons but thought it would be good to have me accompany her (I have never been able to keep up with her running). It's amazing when I think back to that - she started out saying "oh, I just won't bother with shifting, it's too complicated". She "gets it" now. I don't think that I helped much (although I tried). One "eureka" moment that I recall - I got her a compact crank for her birthday which she understood perfectly after reading an article on spinning/mashing as "slow twitch/fast twitch" since she was a runner.

    Just be glad you don't have to explain to her how a bike steers

  20. #20
    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2manybikes
    If she knows when to shift, then why does she need to understand all the rest?
    Is that her idea or yours?

    Don't bother teaching her
    why just teach her how to shift at the right time. That's probably all she needs. Unless she is asking for more info. ?

    Keep it simple. Shift one way if the pedals are too hard to push, Shift the other way if you have to pedal too fast. Right hand makes small changes, left hand makes big changes. The pedals have to be moving to shift but don't pedal hard when you shift. Repeat as needed.
    That's what I did with my sister.

    legs hurt more = downshift
    lungs hurt more = upshift

    big change = left hand
    small change = right hand

    Then once she's confidently running up and down the gears as needed, you can introduce the concept of prefering a certain range of cadences, or of upshifting when standing (on a climb), or other ideas to help fine tune the gear selection.
    If you notice this notice then you will notice that this notice is not worth noticing.

  21. #21
    Senior Member bschoen's Avatar
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    You Guys Amaze Me

    You guys.....c'mon.

    Thumbnails of spreadsheets showing shifting indexes, lengthy explanations of physics, tying ribbons to bikes upside down and couting revolutions. Get real.

    I've been married 27 years. Tell her to think about how the gears would feel if they were abused by working so hard. Tell he rto imagine how they'd rather have someone consider their feelings and let them work a bit less in order to make their lives easier. Tell her to make the gears feel like she cares about them.

    Problem solved!

  22. #22
    Senior Member bschoen's Avatar
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    You Guys Amaze Me

    You guys.....c'mon.

    Thumbnails of spreadsheets showing shifting indexes, lengthy explanations of physics, tying ribbons to bikes upside down and couting revolutions. Get real.

    I've been married 27 years. Tell her to think about how the gears would feel if they were abused by working so hard. Tell her to imagine how they'd rather have someone consider their feelings and let them work a bit less in order to make their lives easier. Tell her to make the gears feel like she cares about them.

    Problem solved!

  23. #23
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    I never know at what pace to attempt to explain gearing. Agree , keep it simple. Her bike does have indexed shifters with numbers indicating the gear in use.
    Sometimes use number combinations to indicate what gear might work on certain types of terrain.
    So, to not confuse her and to my consternation did not tell her about cross shifting and it's effect upon chain wear for a week or two. When she discovered what cross shifting is, she was ticked off that i did not tell her sooner; because under these conditions- the gears "sounded different."

  24. #24
    Giving you the business. Cypress's Avatar
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    One thing a lot of people leave out of explaining how to shift:

    Lighten up on the pedals. It does wonders for the smoothness of the shift and extends drivetrain life.
    Quote Originally Posted by Moderator
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    You have received an infraction at Bike Forums.

  25. #25
    Senior Member awunder's Avatar
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    Interesting. I've found that people with a science proficiency in chemical/bio sciences have a tough time with physics. By contrast, I have a physics proficiency, but can't make hide nor hair of chemistry or biology.

    Just give her the conservation of momentum lecture... or let her shift the way she wants to.

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