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Road Bike Gear Shifting 101

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Road Bike Gear Shifting 101

Old 04-11-04, 10:48 PM
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Road Bike Gear Shifting 101

I am a beginner cyclist and was wodering if anyone can break down gear shifting on a road cycle. In other words when do you shift, what gear for what circumstances and most of all how do you know what gear your in if it's not marked?? Please forgive my ignorance.
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Old 04-11-04, 11:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclist7
I am a beginner cyclist and was wodering if anyone can break down gear shifting on a road cycle. In other words when do you shift, what gear for what circumstances and most of all how do you know what gear your in if it's not marked?? Please forgive my ignorance.
I usually try and stay in my 53T ring as long as possible while keeping the cadence above 90. However, I avoid my 25T and 23T cogs since the shorter chainstays on my bike cause a little bit of rub. I'd find a cadence you're comfortable at and shift according to that. No sense in grinding away if you prefer spinning lower gears. As to figuring out what gear I'm in, I usually just take a peek at the rear and check. I suppose you could opt for those dura ace gear indicator things that run in line with your shift cable, or use a FlightDeck (provided you use Shimano).



Off subject question from myself: I just got ultegra and it seems to have half clicks in the front derailuer that my sora didn't have. When in the 39T ring I can just barely tap the big shift lever to move the cage right, but when in the 53T ring and pushing in the small plastic lever I often overdo it and shift into the 39T ring (causing some crazy spinning). Does this eventually get better as it wears in, or is there a technique to doing this?
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Old 04-11-04, 11:02 PM
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I'm not prepared to write a thesis on the subject, so all I'll just say that most beginers usually ride gears that are far too big for any given circumstance. I suppose they think that to be getting a hard workout they must push a hard gear. You should be pedalling at LEAST 80rpms.

After a while you get to know your bike, and therefore get a fair idea of what gear you're in, but i still find myself looking down at the cogs to make sure after all these years.
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Old 04-11-04, 11:20 PM
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I'll second what 531Aussie said, I'm still a beginner in most persons view, including mine, but when I first started ridding would be working way too hard and spinning really slow. I've since learned that it is better to keep the cadence up.
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Old 04-11-04, 11:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclist7
I am a beginner cyclist and was wodering if anyone can break down gear shifting on a road cycle. In other words when do you shift, what gear for what circumstances and most of all how do you know what gear your in if it's not marked?? Please forgive my ignorance.
if youre pedalling too fast shift to a taller/higher gear. if you find it difficult to pedal (have to stand up, etc) then shift to lower/shorter gear. its quite simple

if you want to get technical and quantitive then some recommend spinning around 90-95rpm... i usually find myself comfortable at around 80-85 RPM

i dont see a need to know the actual gearing that you are in... as long as it keeps you riding then its kosher
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Old 04-12-04, 08:57 AM
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Before I used the cadence feature on my cyclocomputer, I was "mashing" more than I should, which also meant my shifts were often late. Then I paid much closer attention and definitely spun more (and mashed less) while monitoring cadence. Now, I have a "feel" for it, and can usually shift smoothly without being a slave to cadence - and I'm much more efficient on the bike, as a result.

Keep the rpm between 80-95, and you're probably within your sweet spot - above or below that, you should almost certainly be shifting for greater ease or efficiency.
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Old 04-12-04, 09:21 AM
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All this is good dtuff, but no one mentioned think ahead. If you see a big hill coming up down shift so you can keep spinning. Although if it's a lillt hill sometimes it's fun to just mash over it.

Joe
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Old 04-12-04, 09:43 AM
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If your cadence gets to high or too low, you shift. Simple.

And you don't need to know what gear you're in. I can't remember ever once looking back at my rear cog to see what ring I was on. Why would you?
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Old 04-12-04, 10:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Laggard
And you don't need to know what gear you're in. I can't remember ever once looking back at my rear cog to see what ring I was on. Why would you?
I hate looking but I do for the fact that I don't like extreme gearing combinations that potentially stress the chain. Like 53/27-25 or 39/13-12. A simple in-line gear indicator would be helpful but I haven't gotten around to installing one yet.

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Old 04-12-04, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Cyclist7
I am a beginner cyclist and was wodering if anyone can break down gear shifting on a road cycle. In other words when do you shift, what gear for what circumstances and most of all how do you know what gear your in if it's not marked?? Please forgive my ignorance.

I was in this situation 4 years ago... My advice is to start cycling and you will figure it out.. We are lazy creatures by nature and our brains are programmed to find the easiest way to do a given task. You'll be surprised how quick you figure out the gears once you hit some hills.. Once you find yourself shifting without thinking, then I suggest you talk to some experienced cyclists and get some training tips which will help you get better at speed, distance, and climbing..
good luck!
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Old 04-12-04, 10:24 AM
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The first time I had my wife on a geared bike, she had absolutely no idea what gear to be in. Regardless of terrain, I basically told her that if her legs were tired or if pedalling was too hard, just go down to a lower gear until she was comfortable...... no matter what her cadence or speed were.... She got the hang of it after a couple of months..... All this might sound too simplistic but a lot of people do not understand the concept of gear ratios in general... and for those who never 'get it', there's autobike......
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Old 04-12-04, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by 55/Rad
I hate looking but I do for the fact that I don't like extreme gearing combinations that potentially stress the chain. Like 53/27-25 or 39/13-12. A simple in-line gear indicator would be helpful but I haven't gotten around to installing one yet.
You're the first person to mention this. I think chainline management is very important. This is one of the things the FlightDeck and ErgoBrain with their fancy little gear bubbles are good for... visualising the chainline. With today's short chainstays, if you end up in a big-big combo and try to dump to the middle or inner ring while there's that much tension and deflection in the chain then most likely you will throw the chain. You might need to straighten out the chainline first by upshifting the rear (as much as it will hurt) before downshifting the front. Of course it's better to not get into such a situation in the first place. Try and downshift the front halfway through the rear cogs if you think you'll be wanting that upper half of the cassette.
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Old 04-12-04, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by The Fixer
All this might sound too simplistic but a lot of people do not understand the concept of gear ratios in general...
And it's even more difficult to get them to understand the concept of ratio overlap. My wife and I know many beginning riders think that everything is linear when you go from inner to outer chainring and then larger to smaller cog... in that order.
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Old 04-12-04, 12:45 PM
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A lot of good advice has been given here. However, you may not know what chainline is and much about cadence so I will try to help.

First of all cadence. This is how many times you spin the cranks per minute. It is generally more effecient to spin pretty fast. The exact number varies a bit from person to person. The present "trend" is to be between 90 - 105 RPM. Some people go higher and some lower. You will probably spin on the low side to start with, and increase as your legs get used to it. Basically, this keeps your system running in a mode that your muscles can maintain for long periods(like picking up a light weight a lot of times). If your cadence goes down, you burn your muscles up (like picking up a heavy weight). So, try to spin as fast as you can do it SMOOTHLY. If you start to bounce in the saddle, shift up, you have past your limit.

Chainline is a little easier. It is better for effeciency and the life of your drivetrain if the chain is in a perfectly straight line from the chainring to the cog that you are in. The further you go from this perfect example, the less efficiency your drivetrain has and the more wear is caused. You basically don't want the extremes. Big chainring and big cogs is the most extreme. As is the small chainring and the small cog. These combinations should be avoided. You can see this really quickly if you get behind your bike and look along the chain towards the front. You will see that the chain comes off of the chainring and "kinks" to the side.
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Old 04-12-04, 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by 55/Rad
I hate looking but I do for the fact that I don't like extreme gearing combinations that potentially stress the chain. Like 53/27-25 or 39/13-12. A simple in-line gear indicator would be helpful but I haven't gotten around to installing one yet.

55/Rad
My shift levers function as an indicator of what gear i'm in. Then again, I use old thumbshifters, barcons, and downtube shifters, not those wacky brake/shifter thingies that the kids seem to love these days..
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Old 04-12-04, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by jim-bob
My shift levers function as an indicator of what gear i'm in. Then again, I use old thumbshifters, barcons, and downtube shifters, not those wacky brake/shifter thingies that the kids seem to love these days..
You've just opened the door for the singlespeed, fixed gear and flip-flop hub crowd to chime in.
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Old 04-12-04, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by khuon
You've just opened the door for the singlespeed, fixed gear and flip-flop hub crowd to chime in.
Oh, I dunno about that. I suppose the flip-flop hub crowd could chime in, but anything else isn't really relevant to the topic..
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Old 04-12-04, 02:23 PM
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Yes, lot's of good advice here.

Here's a simple concept: whenever posible, keep the chain on a gear that is near the middle of the rear cassette. Sometimes, this will mean switching form the large front ring to the small one and shifting two gears in the back. The resistance will feel the same, but you'll now have room to shift up or down to maintain a decent cadence. Golden rule: NEVER ride with the chain on the small chainring and the smallest rear cog, and NEVER ride with your chain on the large chainring aand the largest rear cog. Either of these will wreak havok on your drivetrain.

If you really want to learn about all this stuff, buy the book "serious cycling". It has everything you need to know about this subject, and just about everything else you'll need to know - pedalling technique, diet, training, avoiding injuries, riding position, climbing, the works.

A little knowledge goes a long way.

Cheers
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Old 04-12-04, 06:11 PM
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Originally Posted by BigFloppyLlama
Off subject question from myself: I just got ultegra and it seems to have half clicks in the front derailuer that my sora didn't have. When in the 39T ring I can just barely tap the big shift lever to move the cage right, but when in the 53T ring and pushing in the small plastic lever I often overdo it and shift into the 39T ring (causing some crazy spinning). Does this eventually get better as it wears in, or is there a technique to doing this?
You might want to do some fine adjustments to your front derailleur. The half clicks should be there - they prevent chan rub when you work through the rear gears. I had to adjust the amount of travel on the front derailleur to ensure that a small "downshift" when in the 53T ring didn't mean a complete downshift. There are still some times when I over do it though and I almost bounce out of the saddle!
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Old 04-12-04, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Avalanche325
First of all cadence. This is how many times you spin the cranks per minute. It is generally more effecient to spin pretty fast. The exact number varies a bit from person to person. The present "trend" is to be between 90 - 105 RPM. Some people go higher and some lower. You will probably spin on the low side to start with, and increase as your legs get used to it. Basically, this keeps your system running in a mode that your muscles can maintain for long periods(like picking up a light weight a lot of times). If your cadence goes down, you burn your muscles up (like picking up a heavy weight). So, try to spin as fast as you can do it SMOOTHLY. If you start to bounce in the saddle, shift up, you have past your limit.
mashers are people too. could be you're programmed, biologically/physiologically speaking to mash a bit more (think jan ullrich) than you are to spin (think lance armstrong). neither is "right." yes, it's an unsatisfactory answer, but you have to do what you think feels best. experiment. my cadence now is higher than when i started, because i realized i could go faster farther by increasing my cadence in a slightly smaller gear. but i still love to mash really big gears from time to time. it's all about what makes you happy, and what gets you down the road in the manner in which you choose to get down the road.
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Old 04-21-04, 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by khuon
You're the first person to mention this. I think chainline management is very important. This is one of the things the FlightDeck and ErgoBrain with their fancy little gear bubbles are good for... visualising the chainline. With today's short chainstays, if you end up in a big-big combo and try to dump to the middle or inner ring while there's that much tension and deflection in the chain then most likely you will throw the chain. You might need to straighten out the chainline first by upshifting the rear (as much as it will hurt) before downshifting the front. Of course it's better to not get into such a situation in the first place. Try and downshift the front halfway through the rear cogs if you think you'll be wanting that upper half of the cassette.

I know I'm about a week late on this post here, but wanted to chime in.

Excellent point here. When I first started cycling I would make this mistake all the time and try and shift from big/big to little/big while in the middle of a climb. I ended up throwing the chain fairly often. You have to take some tension off the chain in these situations or it will pop like a rubber band and miss the little ring on the inside. Beginners usually want to think that there's something wrong with the front derailer when it's really just improper usage.

As far as the original question, when to shift gears, the answer is simple: whenever you can't maintain your desired cadence in a particular gear at a particular speed you should shift into a gear where you can. If you are peddling too quickly you should shift up and if you are peddling too slowly you should shift down. Speed, torque, climbing, descending, etc etc are all relative to cadence.

Somene here said that riding hills will very quickly educate a rider on the proper use of gears and I think that's good advice. Don't be afraid to be constantly shifting during a ride.
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Old 04-21-04, 10:02 AM
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Originally Posted by BigFloppyLlama

Off subject question from myself: I just got ultegra and it seems to have half clicks in the front derailuer that my sora didn't have. When in the 39T ring I can just barely tap the big shift lever to move the cage right, but when in the 53T ring and pushing in the small plastic lever I often overdo it and shift into the 39T ring (causing some crazy spinning). Does this eventually get better as it wears in, or is there a technique to doing this?
Those 'half clicks' are your trim adjustment. My 1998 105 did not have this, whihc gave up on me this year. So I replaced them with 2003 105s and they have this trim adjustment. It allows you to move the front cage slightly to avoid rubbing.

Your problem may just be a matter of getting use to how much you can push the lever to engage the trim only. I had this problem for a couple of shifts but got use to it.

If it persists or you just can't get use to it I'm not sure what I can suggest. Maybe a cable problem?

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Old 04-21-04, 11:49 AM
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If you want to understand gearing, then work out the gear ratios, in "gear inches" of every cog combination you have.
You should have 3 series of figures, representing your 3 rings, which overlap. You will be able to see a progression of gears and work out which combinations will give you a gradual change, whilst limiting extreme chain-lines.
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Old 04-22-04, 05:25 AM
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I'll provide another second on what 531 Aussie said.

From personal experience, for almost my first year I used way to big of a gear almost all of the time. I gave "pedal masher" a whole new dimension. I then read an article in CycleSport, I think it was, about the differences between Jan Ullrich's mashign style versus the benefits of Lance Armstrong's high cadence. So I gave it a try, and darned if my performance didn't improve greatly. Now, while I still have a tendency to mash, I make a conscious effort to shift to a larger cog and increase cadence.

One sign you need to upshift is when you start pogoing. That is, you are pedaling so fast that your body starts "pogoing" up and down, wasting energy that could be propelling you forward.

You can't learn shifting overnight. It took me well over a year to get the basics, and after nearly two years, I am still learning little nuances.
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Old 04-22-04, 09:07 AM
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i also find that many spin too quickly and tire themselves out needlessly. use all the gears and find your comfort gear. remember: challenge yourself a bit. cycling this early in your career will be full of trial and error and depend largely upon your goals and time spent on your newly (re-) found exercise.
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