Biking or cycling has always been a favourite for people in search of some hunger for thrill & adventure. However, not all are meant to achieve it through mountain biking. But, that doesn’t mean that one should stop having hopes for a good cycling experience. There’s always a way out & ‘Road Bikes’ are you saviour to it where you can catch the thrill of biking up close. As most people often would ask, do road bikes have gear mechanism? As a matter of fact, yes, all road bikes have gear mechanism, & then the basic question creeps up – ‘how to shift gears on a road bike?’
Let us take you through a stroll on shifting gears on a road bike.
What is a road bike?
It is first important to know what a road bike is when we talk about shifting gears as, without an idea of it, jumping to the next part will be more of a hitting around the bush kind of a situation. Let’s start.
Road bicycle is defined as a bicycle which is built for traveling at high speeds on, as the name indicates, paved roads of the cities & anywhere else as long as it is tarmac. It is however debatable as some individuals consider road bikes as racing bikes while others minus it from the racing bicycles category owing to the fact that they have certain features & design of racing bikes, but, are built for more endurance based usage. The difference lies in the number of gear combinations & fewer hi-tech racing features apart from geometric differences (which don’t seem visible externally unless you are an expert). However, given this debate, some of the bicycles have been coined as ‘sportive’ bicycles so as to differentiate them from racing bicycles.
Now, coming to the main differences between road bikes or bicycles & the basic cycles, &, have been listed as under:
- The tires of road bikes are narrow & carry high-pressure (>= 689 kPa or 100 psi). They are also smooth so as to bring down the rolling resistance.
- The handlebars are bent (“dropped”) & feature three different types of grips which have been explained further in the blog. Such a handle design enables the rider to position himself/herself leaning forward & downward. This enables in a more aerodynamic friendly posture thus enabling better speed during cycling as it reduces the air resistance to a great extent.
- Road bikes usually sport derailleur gears. This is a setup system where the chain moves sideways based on the rider’s command.
- The bicycle is of a lightweight construction with use of lightweight materials.
Understanding gears & gear controls
Coming to the details of shifting gears, it is essential to understand the gear system in the road bikes. Also, we shall provide you a good idea on the gears from where we shall take it forward in the next section of how to use it.
On road bikes, there are gear systems on two sides of the bike due to which they are called – front & rear gears. If you want to find it out, find the front one near the paddle. You’ll see metal rings towards the centre of the pedals with teeth on the outer boundary of it. One of these will have the chain fitting onto it. This is called the chainring. Road bikes will have one to three chainrings & based on this, a bike is called one-by, two-by & three-by chainring. Coming to the rear side, it will be seen that the chain from the chain will run up to the centre of the rear wheel. There will be around seven to eleven such metal rings with teeth outside which are referred to as cassettes or sprockets.
Now, a smart lad would now have a slight idea of what ‘speed bike’ refers to as is heard quite often. Speed bike refers to the number of gears a bike has & that’s why road bikes are called as 7-speed, 11-speed, 21-speed, 22-speed. This figure is achieved by multiplying the number of gears at the cassette & the chainring. However, to clarify confusion, more number of gears doesn’t mean increased speed. It just means better control & efficiency based on the requirements & the type of road the cyclist is riding on.
How to shift gears?
Since we have done our research on the cassettes & the chainrings, it is pretty much time to come to the main question on changing the gears. One last formality before knowing this would be to have an idea of the gear system since, on any road bike, you’ll see gear controls present on both sides of the handle. On bikes with horizontal handlebars, the gears lie in the form of paddles that are pressed through thumbs & gear changes are done or through dials rotating whom the desired rise or fall in the gear system can be achieved.
However, for bikes with drop handlebars, the gear is the same lever which is used for brakes. In brakes we press the lever while for shifting gears, we push them sideways till the click sound or the chain changing its cogs can be heard. But since they are on both sides, let us go with bullets:
- Left hand:
It is the control centre for the front gears or derailleurs. It moves the up & down the chain rings. These levers are used when sudden changes in terrain come your way & cause big jumps in gears.
- Right hand:
It is the zone for the rear gears/derailleur where the chains of the cassette go up & down. These levers, as opposed to the front derailleurs, are for small adjustments to the gears when there are slight changes in the pathway.
- Big lever:
There are two shifters, one serves as the brake plus the gear raiser & the other is a small lever (explained further). This is the larger of the two shifter levers & moveS the chain into larger rings. Hence the name big lever.Shifting into the larger rings with the RIGHT hand makes make pedaling efforts EASIER, however there’s not much of a speed. Shifting with the LEFT hand will make it HARDER to paddle but gives better speed.
- Small lever:
The smaller of the two shifter levers moves the chain into smaller rings. Hence, it’s called so. Shifting into smaller rings with the RIGHT hand makes pedaling HARDER. Shifting into the smaller gears with the LEFT hand renders pedaling EASIER.
With this being said, there might be some bikes where there are no big levers. Under such cases, there is a small lever behind the brakes. While a long push produces double-click sound & shifts to the larger chainring & cassette based on both sides, a shorter push gives single-click sound & fall to the lower sides.
Shifting gears is a technical thing. It is not too tough but that doesn’t mean it is too easy either. Often people put too much effort while pedaling during an uphill climb whilst switching to the big chainring. Also, their legs can be seen swinging abruptly & haphazardly while descending since the rear-gears are on the lower rings. Thus, our goal should be to maintain a cadence (the number of pedal rotations per minute) which is as consistent & comfortable as possible.
While pedaling, if one wants easier pedaling, it can be achieved in two ways. But, there is lesser speed here:
- By shifting rear gears to bigger gears.
- By shifting front gears to smaller gears.
However, if one wants a pedaling that leads to good acceleration, it will need a bit of muscle power & gearing combination can be as below:
- Rear gears to be in smaller cassettes.
- Front gears to be in larger chainring.
Tips for effective gear shifting can be put as under:
- Shifting should be done during pedaling as during pedaling the chain changes its position from gear to gear.
- Pedal pressure must not be too harshly applied. Since pedals & chainrings are related & the chain shifts sideways, more pressure can falter the sideway shifting process.
- Watching the road ahead is needed. If the road ahead seems like having the need for gear change, one should pedal quickly & cruise so that during the gear changing point, the pedal flow is smooth & there’s no pressure to be applied for shifting gears.
Pedal your heart out
It is imperative to work on these points before getting your gear shifting going. If this isn’t done as a homework, you’re sure to bonk up ahead. Having a good knowledge on gear shifting is necessary because it might give rise to cross chaining which can damage a bike well enough. This situation refers to the point where the gear combinations make the chain go to wrong angles at both gear sides such as Big-Big (the largest cassette & the largest chain ring)
Small-Small (the smallest cassette & the smallest chain ring) come together. The chain in such positions gets stretched at an angle that can cause considerable damage to the drivetrain & the chain might slip too. So shift nicely & wisely as you bike.