How to Shift Gears on a Road Bike? Proper Gear Shifting Guide!

Learning to balance on a bike and pedal to get moving is pretty straightforward. The learning curve, however, tends to get steeper when it’s time to master how the use of the gearing system effectively. It takes a while to grasp the concept of how to shift gears on a road bike.

A good number of beginner cyclists choose to avoid using the speeds altogether because they have no clue how many gears are fitted in their bikes, how many they need, and how to use them properly.

If you want to enjoy your road biking experience, you must use your gears to enhance your pedaling efficiency on different terrain.

This will eliminate unpleasant clunks at the most inconvenient of moments and perhaps save you from wasting your muscle power when you don’t need to. Here is all you ought to know about shifting gears on a bike.

How to Shift Gears on a Road Bike

Bike Gearing Lingo

To de-mystify gear shifting and make it less complicated for a cycling beginner, we will first help you understand common bicycle gearing lingo.


Your bike’s drivetrain system has a mechanism that converts speed to torque through gear ratios.

In layman’s terms, the components of this system help to transmit power from the crank to the rear wheel. They aid in pushing or pulling your bike to motion.


Road bikes have front and rear derailleurs that do all the heavy lifting to move the chain from one sprocket/ chainring) to the next.


This stands to the number of gears fitted at the front of your bike where the pedals are attached to the crank.

Bikes have different chainring designs, and while some are fitted with a large and small chainring, certain models feature three chainrings — large, medium, and small. Then again, newer bike models may have only one chainring.


Your bike has a cassette on its rear wheel. This is a stack or collection of cogs (gears). Again, bikes are created differently, and they vary in terms of the number of cogs on a cassette. A decent number of new road bike models have up to 12 cogs.


This could also be termed as your pedaling speed. It is expressed in RPM, revolutions per minute, and is measured by considering the number of revolutions the crank makes each minute.

Related Guide: Comparison of Touring Bike and Road Bike

Shifting 101

Your bike’s gearing system is designed to enable you to get the most out of your muscle power. Think about choosing a gear similar to deciding the effort level you want to put into each pedal stroke.
Sounds simple, right?

There is no need to freak out. With time, you will grasp how to make your gearing system work for you whenever you want to ride faster or further.

Your bike’s gearing system is designed to enable you to get the most out of your muscle power. Think about choosing a gear similar to deciding the effort level you want to put into each pedal stroke.
Sounds simple, right?

There is no need to freak out. With time, you will grasp how to make your gearing system work for you whenever you want to ride faster or further.

Number of Gears

Number of Gears

First things first, you ought to understand the number of gears equipped on your bike. Well, you can do this by multiplying the front chainrings by the cogs on the cassette.

For instance, a bike with 11 cogs on the cassette and 3 chainrings has 33 gears. Do note that whether to have a larger or more limited range of gears is a very personal matter.

Limiting your range of gearing to one or two can reduce the overall weight of your bike. On the other hand, you may choose a larger variety of gears and sacrifice weight for better gearing precision.

High Gear

Shifting to a higher gear will make pedaling harder. A high gear combines a larger chainring on the front with a smaller cog on the cassette located in the back.

Typically, the highest and hardest gears are only used when riding downhill or when you want to make high-speed sprints over short distances.

Low Gear

When you shift to the lowest gear, pedaling becomes much easier. A low gear combines a smaller chainring on the front with a larger cog on the cassette located in the back.

The lowest gear is often used when you want to spin easily when recovering from high-intensity road bike exercises or a long, steep climb.

Steps for Shifting Gears on a Road Bike

Steps for Shifting Gears on a Road Bike

You understand the bike gearing lingo, you can count the number of gears on your bike, and you also know when high or low speed is most useful.
So, how do you shift from one gear to another?

Bikes with drop handlebars, including road bikes, have shifters on the same levers used for applying your brakes. When shifting gears, you simply need to push the lever sideways until a click sound is produced.

The majority of bikes with flat handlebars, including a decent number of hybrid and mountain bikes, feature hand-operated paddles for shifting gears.

You can also find bikes with grip shifters that require you to rotate the dial backward or forward to shift gears.

If you want to shift lower or higher gears on your road bike, you need to find the shifting levers fitted right behind your brakes. Let’s dive into the details of what the right and left shift levers control.

Left Lever

To shift to a higher gear on Shimano shifters, you need to move both the shifting and brake levers on your left simultaneously.

Your chain will shift from the small chainring to the large one to cause greater pedaling resistance.

If you want to make it a tad easier to pedal, move only your left shifting lever. This will move the chain from a larger to a smaller chainring.

Right Lever

If you want to change to low gear for easier pedaling, you need to engage the right lever.

On Shimano shifters, move both the shifting and brake levers on your right at the same time to move the chain to a larger cog. This is also referred to as downshifting.

In case you want to make pedaling a little harder, move only your right shifting lever. This is known as upshifting. By doing so, you will be upshifting the chain to move it from a smaller to a larger chain.

Shifting Tips to Remember

Let’s be honest; all this seems like too much information to remember. The good thing is that you cannot “unknow” how to ride a bike.

In the same principle, some practice can help you develop muscle memory that will make shifting gears your second nature. Below are some basic shifting tips to commit to memory.

Shift Frequently

Beginners can get a little tempted to use one gear over long durations. However, it is best to get comfortable with your gearing techniques by trying out different gear ratios to discover which one works best on specific terrain.

Keep in mind that gears should help you save your energy and reduce the risk of leg fatigue.

When you want to make minimal changes, stick to using the right shifting lever. Use the left shifting lever to make more significant changes to your riding speed.

Maintain a Steady Cadence

It remains imperative to keep an eye on your cadence. The idea is to identify the gear that offers the most comfortable rides and shift to maintain a specific pace.

For instance, if you are comfortable riding at 90 RPM within zone A, shift if the RPM drops or rises once you enter zone B.

Avoid Cross Chaining

Certain gear combinations are best avoided. They tend to stretch the chain, causing it to slip or rub on the frame or derailleur.

Cross-chaining is a concern that often arises when big chainrings are used on the front with the largest cogs on the cassettes.

It could also occur when the small chainring on the front is used with the smallest cog on the cassette. To protect your drivetrain from damage, you must avoid such gearing combinations.

Shift to the Correct Gear Ahead of Time

I hate it when something kills my riding momentum. A trick that works for most people is to get into the right gear just before you need it.

Waiting until you’re at the foot of a climb to shift gears will make you lose noticeable speed.

Lighten Your Pedal Stroke

Does your bike chain keep coming off? Here’s the deal; any time you apply excessive torque through the pedals when trying a shift, you risk dropping the chain.

Before shifting from a small to a larger chainring or the other way around, increase your speed for a short while then lighten your pedal stroke.

Decreasing the tension on the chain ensures the derailleur is not subjected to too much pressure. This also makes shifting more comfortable and eliminates the risk of chain drops.

Final Words

We have covered all ground to give you an in-depth understanding of how to shift gears on a road bike. All the same, keep in mind that a perfect gear shift does not exist. Your sole focus should be on maintaining a comfortable cadence.

It’s as simple as choosing between increasing your power output and shifting. Anytime you feel as though your muscle power is limited, shift to improve your riding efficiency. Happy Shifting!

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