Get to Grips with Gear Changes

A little know-how and a gentle touch will guarantee smooth gear changes


Posted: 24 November 2009

Once you’ve worked out which lever on your bike shifts to a harder gear and which makes pedalling easier, you should know how to change gear, right? Perhaps, but it takes practice to avoid that grinding mis-shift, says mountain bike Olympian Andreas Hestler, who’s also raced on the road. Know what you’re doing, and you’ll ride faster. Here are his top tips:

Cross-chaining

"The conventional wisdom is that cross-chaining - riding in a combination of the big chain ring and the big cog, or the small ring and the small cog - is bad, but all triathletes set their bikes up to handle it," Hestler says. The reality is that it can provide the ideal gear, though it can lead to clumsy shifts. If you're on the inner-chain ring at the front and the small cog at the back, beware of the chain falling off if you shift to the big chain ring. Conversely, shifting from the big/big is often slow.

Don't get caught

"The key to proper shifting is thinking ahead," says Hestler. "Anticipate what gear you need, and anticipate when to accelerate." Changing gear after the terrain changes slows you down and robs you of energy. The same holds true when approaching traffic on the road. Look ahead and be in the right gear before you arrive.

Think on your feet

When you want to overtake another rider during a race, don't telegraph your attack with noisy gear changes. Instead drift just out of their draft zone so they can't hear your subtle gear change. Done correctly this decreases your wattage for just a moment so you can quietly shift into your attacking gear
and then pounce.

Remember the chain

If your chain is worn out, gear changes suffer. "Change the chain more frequently and you won't have to replace your cogs and rings as often," says Hestler. He often changes his chain after riding in wet or changeable weather because constant wet-dry riding can weaken the chain. If your chain is in good condition, and you feel that a cable adjustment doesn't fix your shifting issues, inspect your chain ring and cassette for any burrs and nicks.

Be kind

If the bike leg of your triathlon is a lapped course where you can walk back to transition if something goes wrong, you can be tough with your bike but the best way to finish is to be a bit more gentle. "I don't want to break something and throw away a good finish, or worse," says Hestler. If you love your bike - and what triathlete doesn't? - it will love you, especially if you shift gears lightly and carefully.


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