Which Gear Do I Use on a Bike?

by Darla Ferrara

Selecting a bike gear that is comfortable for you is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong gear, and you can base the gear you choose on a number of factors. These factors can include the terrain you are traveling over, wind speed and direction and even the model of bike you're riding makes a difference. Understanding a little about the mechanics of bike gears may help with the process.

Anatomy of Bike Gears

Two main components make up the gear setting on a bike: the chain rings and the gear cluster. Near the front of your bike by the pedals are the chain rings. Depending on the style of bike you ride, there may be one to three chain rings. If you move to the back of the bike near the rear wheel you will see the gear cassette, or cluster, on the hub. As with the chain rings, the number of gears your bike has in the cluster may vary. On average, there will be between five and 10 gears in the cassette. It is the combination of the chain ring and gear from the cluster that determines what speed, or gear, your bike is running.

About the Shifters

The number of shifters on your bike is directly related to the gears. Bikes with only three gear speeds will have just one shifter. More speeds add another shifter. The shifter determines where the chain sits on the bike and what gear you are riding in by moving the derailleur. The derailleur then shifts the chain onto the selected gear. In most cases, the right shifter controls the derailleur which moves the chain over the gears on the cassette and the left shifter controls the front derailleur that shifts the chain over the chain rings.

Selecting a Gear

How fast you like to ride the bike is ultimately what determines the best gear for you, but cadence and comfort also comes into play. If you ride at too high a gear, in other words pushing the pedals is hard, shift to an easier gear. Riding with too much tension on the pedals will fatigue you and can cause knee injuries. as you're riding, try to pay attention to cadence, or how many times per minute you make one pedal revolution. Ideally, on a flat surface, you will ride at a cadence around 70 to 90. This creates a comfortable speed for most people and won't cause fatigue. Depending on your fitness level, training goals and riding conditions, you may need a faster or slower cadence.

Making Changes

As you ride, the terrain may change. For example, if you reach a steep hill, what was a comfortable gear may be difficult. Begin by adjusting the rear gears to make pedaling easier. If you're still struggling, shift onto a smaller chain ring. When you reach the top of the hill, return the shifters back to your preferred setting. When shifting, move one lever at a time and let the chain adjust before changing again. Otherwise you may drop the chain.

Photo Credits:

  • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.