One of the most common problems that sets new riders back in riding groups is that they don’t know how to shift gears properly. These new group riders tend to think they need to build strength to take on hills like the rest of their friends, but the truth is, applying a basic shifting strategy would help them immensely… and they’d have more fun on group rides.
Most modern-day road, hybrid, and mountain bikes offer between 21 and 30 unique gear settings that allow riders to take on nearly any level of hill. This broad selection isn’t just excessive luxury. The range of gearing choices a bike offers can make a huge difference in rider comfort and endurance, even on short rides. From top gears that will keep you cruising at nice speed on flat roads to “granny gear” which will make riding up a hill as easy as walking your bike, you have what you need to be comfortable in any situation.
Practice for 15 Minutes at Home
My best advice to new riders is that they practice finding ALL their gears, at home, before they go out on a group ride and get left behind. Big gear in front is for high speed. Small gear up front is for hilly terrain. Small gear in back is for high speed. Big gear in back is for tough hills. Find them all and practice getting to them quickly… at home.
I can’t tell you how many times new riders have thanked me for giving them the 15-minute homework assignment of finding all their gears. When they come back for a group ride they’re more confident, more comfortable, and they expend a lot less energy trying to keep up.
Here are some basic points to remember as you use your shifters out on the road or trail:
- Front gears (the crankset ) are for major changes in terrain. (left shifter) Smooth, flat road ride = large gear. Steep hilly terrain = small gear. Don’t plan on making sudden changes to your front gearing. Adjust the crankset for the general terrain.
- Rear gears (the cassette) are for sudden or fine adjustments. (right shifter) Shifting your rear gears is faster and easier. You have more choices and can use rear shifting to adjust for a perfectly comfortable cadence or a sudden hill.
- Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to shift. Shifting after you’ve started climbing a tough hill is many times harder and can damage your equipment. Anticipate your next shift and make that shift with light forward peddling pressure.
Find Your Own Cadence
Experienced riders know how important maintaining a consistent and comfortable cadence can be. Peddling too fast create aerobic overload. Peddling too slowly in a high gear can overstress your leg muscles. Most riders are comfortable with 60 to 90 rotations per minute. All those choices in gearing will help you get to the perfect cadence in advance of any situation. That will make you more comfortable in the short term; will give you more stamina for longer rides; and will help you avoid stress injuries.
This video offers a great overview of ways to make your shifting strategy work for you.
Keep Your Drive Train Clean
Being sure not to let dirt or rust bog down your gears and chain will make an enormous difference in your ability to shift quickly to adapt to your riding conditions. Find my blog post on Chain Cleaning and get yourself the inexpensive tools shown there. You don’t need to go crazy clean… just eliminate the gunk and don’t ever let rust set in.
Now… this is all stuff you can work on at home, in a few minutes, and without a group. Become familiar with your gear shifters and work on your shifting strategy. You’ll be amazed at how easy it will be to keep up on your group rides. You’ll also love the extra level of comfort and stability you’ll feel when your out on those rides.
If you have any thoughts on shifting strategies, please share them in the comments section below.
And please, share this post with any group where you think it might help some of our newer friends!