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How to ride a 12 speed bike, I need advice!

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How to ride a 12 speed bike, I need advice!

Old 05-30-15, 08:42 PM
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How to ride a 12 speed bike, I need advice!

I am not an experienced cyclist (other than riding bikes in my childhood) and I am in a situation where I will be spending a month in a prime area for leisurely riding - a coastal area with miles of bike paths and no hills.

I am strictly a leisurely (middle-aged) cyclist and I have a vintage Schwinn Traveler 12 speed bike circa late '80's. The problem is I don't really know how to ride a 12 speed. I am baffled by the gears and don't really understand how to use them. I realize that in a flat area going at a slow to moderate speed I probably don't need to shift gears much, but I'd like to know where they should be set for most of my rides. Also, since my gear shift levers aren't numbered, I have no idea what gear I'm on at any given time.

Again, I am totally baffled by the 12 speed and the older style gear levers that aren't intuitive. Any advice would be appreciated so I can get the most out of my month on wheels! Thank you.

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Old 05-30-15, 09:02 PM
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I'm guessing you have friction shifters since they aren't numbered. This guide might help: https://www.rivbike.com/kb_results.asp?ID=53

FWIW, I ride a 1984 Bridgestone 400 12-speed with down-tube friction shifters as my regular road bike. After a little practice, it becomes second nature. Also, in terms of what gear to use when, I suggest simply going by feel.
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Old 05-30-15, 09:21 PM
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Here is (hopefully) an explanation that will be easy to understand.

The rings on the front - the smaller one will be easier to pedal. You will go slower using it, but it will be very helpful if you need to go up a hill. The larger one will help you to go faster, but it will be harder to pedal - not recommended for going up hills.

The rings on the back - smaller is faster and harder to pedal. Larger is slower and easier to pedal.

For riding on flat terrain, try the large ring in the front and one of the middle gears in the back to start. Adjust to larger in the rear if too hard, or smaller in the rear if easy and you want to go faster. As you ride, experiment a bit, and see what suits you. You will get the hang of it pretty quickly.
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Old 05-30-15, 09:32 PM
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If your Traveler was made in or after 1987 it will have indexed a.k.a. Click shifting. One click gets one gear change, up or down - depending on direction you push or pull the shift levers. This assumes that the indexing is working properly. If it isn't the gears will seem to want to change between clicks. Might be good to get the bike to a shop for a tune-up if you're not handy with tools and don't know what trimming a derailleur cable means.

Shifting the left lever changes from small to big to small chainrings up front, where the crankset is. The bigger chainring makes you go faster but is much harder for your legs to turn. Small chainring doesn't drive the bike as fast, but will allow you to climb hills easier.

The right shift lever changes gears across the rear freewheel or cassette cluster. Small-sized gears allow you to go faster, big sized gears allow you easier pedaling and ability to climb hills - progression is opposite that of the front (where big means faster).

You could use all twelve gear combinations but it doesn't work so well in practice. Big/big and small/small combinations place a lot of stress on the chain and gears, due to "cross-chaining" - so when you ride you'll want to avoid those combinations whenever possible.

Good luck & good riding.
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Old 05-30-15, 10:54 PM
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You might find this article helpful:
How to Shift Bicycle Gears | An Article by Atlanta Bike Shop, Intown Bicycles
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Old 05-30-15, 11:06 PM
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The big rings in the front (2) will give you big changes in how hard or easy it is to pedal. Bigger ring = harder, smaller ring = easier. Rings in the back (cogs) are for fine tuning easy/hard pedaling. Little cog = hardest, and large cog = easiest.

Shifting on a bike is not like on a car where you have to go 1, 2, then 3, etc. So forget that. Just ride the bike. Practice shifting the front chainrings from largest & smallest to see what a difference it makes. Then try shifting the rear cogs to see the more subtle differences.

Thats it. Have fun.
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Old 05-31-15, 12:37 AM
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A few pointers:
1. Keep pedaling throughout your shifts with light pedal pressure
2. Shift between cogs (rear) mostly. Shift between chain rings (front) to select a "range" of gearing.
3. Impress friends by using proper cycling jargon to state which gear you are in: "forty-two eighteen" means a combination of 42 tooth chain ring and 18 tooth cog.
4. Pick a gear you can spin easily. Those knees gotta last a month.

You will be an expert shifter in just a few days. Enjoy the biking!
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Old 05-31-15, 01:01 AM
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Also, if you have indexed shifting, it needs to be adjusted so that the gears don't chatter.
With friction shifting (no bumps for each gear), if the gears are chattering, move the lever slightly, one way or the other.

You can often glance at your feet to see which chainring you are in, or look back to see which rear sprocket. With some practice, you'll get the feel for where in the gears you are based on the lever position.

If your bike hasn't been ridden for 20 or 30 years, it might not hurt to do a full lube and tune-up including packing bearings and lubing your rear derailleur. Tires? It may be ok for a few trips around the block, but if you're planing on doing a lot of riding, take care of the bike first.
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Old 05-31-15, 01:27 AM
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Just go ride the thing up a hill, you'll figure it out quick
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Old 05-31-15, 07:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty
Just go ride the thing up a hill, you'll figure it out quick
Did you read my post? I am in a coastal area - no hills AT ALL.
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Old 05-31-15, 07:33 AM
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This is the kind of gear shifters I have. No numbers on them. No "click" when shifting. That is why it is hard for me to know where I'm at. This is the gear combination I have been riding mostly, but I have no idea what it is!

I actually did replace the inner tubes - I did it myself. I also cleaned and oiled/lubed the chain and gears. The tires are fine. I had a bike shop look it over and they said it was in good condition. I bought it for $100 on Craigslist just to have a sturdy, ride-around bike while I'm at the coast. I don't know what year it is, but probably mid-late 80's I guess. I love all things vintage, so I picked this rather than a new $100 Wal Mart bike.
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Old 05-31-15, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by USAZorro
Here is (hopefully) an explanation that will be easy to understand.

The rings on the front - the smaller one will be easier to pedal. You will go slower using it, but it will be very helpful if you need to go up a hill. The larger one will help you to go faster, but it will be harder to pedal - not recommended for going up hills.

The rings on the back - smaller is faster and harder to pedal. Larger is slower and easier to pedal.

For riding on flat terrain, try the large ring in the front and one of the middle gears in the back to start. Adjust to larger in the rear if too hard, or smaller in the rear if easy and you want to go faster. As you ride, experiment a bit, and see what suits you. You will get the hang of it pretty quickly.

This is great advice. Very clear & simple.

I will add a comment about tire air pressure- 50 psi should be comfortable to support your weight on the bike, yet not too hard a ride.

You were wise in your purchase & changing the tubes yourself (it is a good idea to spread talcum powder around the inner tire when you mount new tubes, helps them to seat properly); also in having a bike shop mechanic check things over.

Riding is excellent exercise, you usually feel good after a ride, except your bottom may take a couple days to get accustomed to the saddle, but that problem goes away soon enough. Have fun!
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Old 05-31-15, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by lisalu910


This is the kind of gear shifters I have. No numbers on them. No "click" when shifting. That is why it is hard for me to know where I'm at. This is the gear combination I have been riding mostly, but I have no idea what it is!

I actually did replace the inner tubes - I did it myself. I also cleaned and oiled/lubed the chain and gears. The tires are fine. I had a bike shop look it over and they said it was in good condition. I bought it for $100 on Craigslist just to have a sturdy, ride-around bike while I'm at the coast. I don't know what year it is, but probably mid-late 80's I guess. I love all things vintage, so I picked this rather than a new $100 Wal Mart bike.

Ok, you've got stem shifters that are friction instead of index. With the left shift lever that controls the front derailleur, it's the same operation. Pull the lever down to go to the big chainring, flip it back up to go to the small. To shift with the right lever, pull it down to go into the lower gears (bigger cogs), and push it up to go to the higher gears (smaller cogs). With friction shifters, part of learning what gear you're in is just muscle memory. What I would do is pull the right shift lever all the way down so that you're in the lowest gear, ride around a bit and push the lever up a tiny bit at a time and move from gear to gear. Keep at it, and eventually it'll become second nature to figure out what gear you're in. If you're getting a bunch of noise from the chain, you'll have to trim (adjust) the shift lever, just move it up or down a tiny bit until the noise stops. From the picture, it looks like you're riding in the small chainring and smallest cog. I'd avoid doing that--that's called cross-chaining, and it can wreak havoc over time on your drivetrain components. Generally, you should avoid extreme gear combinations like small chainring to small cog, and big chainring to big cog. Other than that, get out there and ride! You'll get the hang of it.
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Old 05-31-15, 08:28 AM
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Thanks, everyone, for the advice.

Okay, I understand I should shift the front to the larger gear for most of my flat terrain riding and then adjust the rear gears for my comfortable place.

But one other question - and I know this is dumb - but which way does the gear lever go for larger/smaller gears? There is nothing on the lever to tell me that. I'm not experienced enough to see at a glance where my rear gears are. Just knowing which way I should go would help a lot!

Also, to the person who linked me to the article from the Atlanta bike shop - cool! I am from Atlanta! But he talked about some stupid guy who wasn't downshifting when he came to a stop sign and of course I don't do that either, because I don't know how. I don't know offhand which direction to "downshift" and "upshift" so I just don't do it. (That is why I came here to get advice!)

BTW, I drive a 6-speed manual transmission car so you'd think I'd be comfortable with gears on a bike ... go figure.

ETA: The last post explaining the direction of upshift/downshift showed up right when I posted my question. Thank you!
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Old 05-31-15, 08:31 AM
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My guess is that, living where you do and riding paths, you'll use two or three of the middle cogs in back and rarely, if ever, shift to the big front ring. If you start riding on the road and want to go faster, you may want to shift to the big ring up front and smaller cogs in back, but that kind of speed may not be comfortable or even prudent on unpaved coastal paths, especially if you can't see well ahead and there are others walking or biking on them. Start with the small ring in front and a middle ring in back and have fun riding!
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Old 05-31-15, 08:38 AM
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I live in a flat area where you can ride 10 miles in one direction with no change in elevation and always stay on the big ring up front, YMMV. Pick the gear your legs feel most comfortable with cadence wise, and small movements of the lever will eliminate any rubbing sounds as you pedal.
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Old 05-31-15, 09:00 AM
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Originally Posted by lisalu910
Thanks, everyone, for the advice.

Okay, I understand I should shift the front to the larger gear for most of my flat terrain riding and then adjust the rear gears for my comfortable place.

But one other question - and I know this is dumb - but which way does the gear lever go for larger/smaller gears? There is nothing on the lever to tell me that. I'm not experienced enough to see at a glance where my rear gears are. Just knowing which way I should go would help a lot!

Also, to the person who linked me to the article from the Atlanta bike shop - cool! I am from Atlanta! But he talked about some stupid guy who wasn't downshifting when he came to a stop sign and of course I don't do that either, because I don't know how. I don't know offhand which direction to "downshift" and "upshift" so I just don't do it. (That is why I came here to get advice!)

BTW, I drive a 6-speed manual transmission car so you'd think I'd be comfortable with gears on a bike ... go figure.

ETA: The last post explaining the direction of upshift/downshift showed up right when I posted my question. Thank you!
By larger gears I assume you mean a gear that is harder to pedal but goes faster, and conversely lower means easier to pedal but slower.

There isn't a standard direction for both levers for this. Pulling on the left lever will shift you up to the larger chainring, which goes faster but is harder to pedal. Pulling on the right lever will shift you to bigger sprockets physically on the rear freewheel, but these are smaller gears in the sense that they are easier to pedal, but the bike goes more slowly.

So 1st gear for your bike would be left lever all the way forward, as shown, and right lever all the way back. 12th gear would be left lever back, and right lever all the way forward.

This is because of mechanical advantage of the derailleurs. Since they are sprung, releasing cable tension will cause the spring to move the derailleur. To go from a physically smaller sprocket to a physically larger one, pulling the cable is used as it has greater mechanical advantage than the spring can provide. The spring tension is used to move from a larger sprocket back to a smaller one.
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Old 05-31-15, 09:07 AM
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First gear on the rear is the biggest cog. The shift lever needs to be pulled all of the way back to get to first gear. That is the easy gear. When your shift lever is pushed all of the way forward you are in the smallest gear on the back. So pull to get easy, push forward to get harder.
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Old 05-31-15, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty
Just go ride the thing up a hill, you'll figure it out quick
This first came to mind, but since it can be dangerous to look down while riding, the best way to learn the bike's shifting maners is to put the bike on some kind of stand, so that one can pedal with their hand and watch/hear what happens when the levers are moved with the other hand.

At the same time, one can look at the adjustment screws on each derailer, to see what they do as each derailer reaches it's limit of travel in each direction.

Hopefully the bike's gear ratios will allow you to do most of your riding using one chainring or the other (chainrings are the crank sprockets), since you don't want to have to make a front derailer shift in the middle of your most frequently-used range of gear choices. Sprocket sizes can be altered so as to achieve a more easily-shifted range of gear ratios within which the front derailer need not be used during your most-used range of road speed.

I figured the derailer system out by myself when I was 11 years old, just by fiddling with the levers and picking up the back wheel so I could turn the cranks and actually watch how it all works. The rest I just figured out while riding, and by stopping to pick up the rear wheel maybe a few more times to verify what I thought was going on that made all the different noises.

Hopefully you can soon look back at the fun you had learning how the ingenious derailer system is supposed to work!

And when you want to achieve really smooth shifting, modern chain can take shifting smoothness to the next level for very little money.

Post a photo of your bike when you get the chance! Edit; I see you have already done so.

Good bike for many years of riding imo.
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Old 05-31-15, 10:06 AM
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Okay, slowly but surely I think I'm getting it. I peddled around the neighborhood and practiced shifting. I ended up with the front on the smaller gear and the back on the 4th largest gear. That seemed easy and comfortable.

I do have to stop now and then to cross an intersection, so at the point for "downshifting" what is the best way to do that? Do I switch to the larger front gear, or leave the front alone and shift to a smaller back gear? (I think the front is easier)

I really appreciate all the responses. I feel like such a dummy because I don't know how to ride a 12 speed bike. I am not a confident cyclist so I ride only on safe, easy routes but hopefully I'll get better skills after mastering this bike. Thanks!
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Old 05-31-15, 10:21 AM
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Originally Posted by lisalu910
Thanks, everyone, for the advice.

Okay, I understand I should shift the front to the larger gear for most of my flat terrain riding and then adjust the rear gears for my comfortable place.

But one other question - and I know this is dumb - but which way does the gear lever go for larger/smaller gears? There is nothing on the lever to tell me that. I'm not experienced enough to see at a glance where my rear gears are. Just knowing which way I should go would help a lot!

Also, to the person who linked me to the article from the Atlanta bike shop - cool! I am from Atlanta! But he talked about some stupid guy who wasn't downshifting when he came to a stop sign and of course I don't do that either, because I don't know how. I don't know offhand which direction to "downshift" and "upshift" so I just don't do it. (That is why I came here to get advice!)

BTW, I drive a 6-speed manual transmission car so you'd think I'd be comfortable with gears on a bike ... go figure.

ETA: The last post explaining the direction of upshift/downshift showed up right when I posted my question. Thank you!
Another point about shifting this bike that is different from a stick shift car: Keep pedaling before, during, and after the shift. The motion of the toothed wheels front and rear (the sprockets) is what pulls the chain from one gear position to another. In the car you use the clutch to make sure the transmission is not "connected" while you are shifting. For your nice new vintage Schwinn you just keep the feet going.

There's also the idea of "higher" gears. In the car you have one control to set the gear. On the bike you have two. In the front the bigger gear is "higher," where in the rear the smaller gears are "higher."
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Old 05-31-15, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by lisalu910
Okay, slowly but surely I think I'm getting it. I peddled around the neighborhood and practiced shifting. I ended up with the front on the smaller gear and the back on the 4th largest gear. That seemed easy and comfortable.

I do have to stop now and then to cross an intersection, so at the point for "downshifting" what is the best way to do that? Do I switch to the larger front gear, or leave the front alone and shift to a smaller back gear? (I think the front is easier)

I really appreciate all the responses. I feel like such a dummy because I don't know how to ride a 12 speed bike. I am not a confident cyclist so I ride only on safe, easy routes but hopefully I'll get better skills after mastering this bike. Thanks!
What you are doing is fine with switching the front derailleur. What coastal community are you headed to?
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Old 05-31-15, 10:32 AM
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I still just shift around until it's a good pedal resistance. If it's too hard to pedal at the speed I want, I shift it to an easier gear. If it's too easy to pedal I shift it to a harder gear. If I want to speed up, I can pedal faster then shift to a harder gear. If I need the pedals to be easier to pedal (hill) I shift until it's right.
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Old 05-31-15, 10:38 AM
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Mid-80s vintage with SunTour mechs, Maillard hubs and at least 4130 tubing - might even be butted. That's a hell of a nice bike you have - one of the best made Mixte bikes ever.

If the seat becomes irritating you can always mount a Brooks B17s or B67s and it will look perfectly appropriate.
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Old 05-31-15, 10:41 AM
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Seriously, that difficult to figure out? I push the youngster grandkids off on multi-speed bikes with the only instructions to move a lever while pedaling. I let them figure it out from there. Flat lander? Adjust the levers to a gear for your comfortable cadence and speed. Take the bike back to the shop, have them strip it down and convert to a single speed.
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