How To Change Bike Gears The Right Way

How To Change Bike Gears The Right Way

If you ride anything but a fixed-gear or single-speed bike, you need to know how to properly change gears when riding.

Multi-speed bikes have different speeds for a reason, so you’ll want to learn how to do it the right way, so that you not only get the most efficiency with your riding, you also save strain on your chain and gear system.

Although experienced riders are already quite familiar with the shifting process, novice riders sometimes get started without knowing how to shift right, later developing bad habits that can lead to everything from slipped chains, to aching knees.

With that said, here’s a quick explanation on changing bike gears in the right fashion.


Bike gears work in a simple way.  A combination of cog sizes on the front and back creating varying levels of chain tension and placement, which in turn provides varying degrees of resistance, and in turn, pedal power and efficiency.

Front cogs have anywhere from 2-3 sizes, while the rear cassettes of cogs can have anywhere from 5 to 7 speeds more often than not. So, when you see that a bike has “21 speeds,” that means it has 3 front chainrings, and 7 in the back, for a total of 21 gearing combinations.

The gears are operated by the shifters on the handle bars. The left shifter controls the front cog speeds, while the right shifter controls the rear cogs. In order to shift, you need to be pedaling forwards to provide the tension for the gears to change.

  • Note: It’s important to remember to not be placing heavy strain on the pedals when shifting. Change gears whenever you are pedaling in a controlled fashion, not when you’re pounding a hard climb, or getting started in a harder gear from a standstill


Lower gears provide lower resistance, and are better for slower speeds, or when making climbs at a normal pace. The lower gear on the back is the bigger cog, while the lower gear on the front it the smaller cog.


Higher gears are better for when you're trying to maintain a faster speed, usually during flatter portions of the ride. To do this, shift up to get your chain on the biggest cog in the front, and the smallest cog on the back.


Try to not shift in rapid fire succession all the time, unless you absolutely have to. Try to time and anticipate your gear changes by paying attention to what’s ahead. Sometimes shifting too quickly can cause the chain to come off, while also stressing your chain’s links.

When you know you’re coming to a stop, gear down before stopping so you can start off in a lower gear once you get going again.

Shifting Bike Gears

Another mistake to steer clear of is stretching your chain by using odd gearing combinations. For instance, having your chain on the biggest front cog, and the biggest rear cog, causing it to stretch diagonally across the gears. If you’re using the large bag cogs, don’t go beyond the first or middle front cog, and vice versa.


Once you get the hang of proper gear shifting, you’ll notice your riding becoming a lot more fluid and efficient, while also being easier on your bike and body. If you are going to practice shifting, always be sure to use a flat portion of the road until you are ready for inclines and other variables. Good luck!

This post was last updated on June 5th, 2018 at 02:11 pm

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

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