Cycling Clinic

Q Why have I got so many gears on my bike?

I have been given a bike, and took it to a shop to be checked over. They told me how to use the gear lever on the right hand side of my handlebars to select the 5 gears but told me to ignore the similar lever on the left side.

A Gears make it easier on your legs to ride a bike, but it is hard to remember which gears to use !

The early bikes (like the Penny Farthing) had no gears and the rider had to be very fit to get up hills at all.

The lever by your right hand chooses a gear ratio ranging from 1 (low) to 5 (High, or top) in your case. Some bikes have 6, 7, 9 or more gears, (the Cassette in the picture) all in gentle steps to help your legs to keep going at the same speed (called a cadence) whatever the gradient, the wind-speed or load you may be carrying.

The bike shop is right, in a way. That's enough information to get to grips with to begin with, and if you are only doing short trips on fairly level ground locally it may be all you need.

If you want to go a bit further afield, however, you will come across much harder hills and find yourself getting off and walking. This is where the left hand comes in!

The left hand operates a set of gears just by the pedals. Typically there are three 'Chain-rings' at the bottom of the bike, shown in the picture.

These three gears are also 1, 2, 3 (low to high) but are in much bigger steps. The middle gear (2) is probably good for local riding, as the shop said, but to get up some of the hills you need to move the lever to 1, or low, and then adjust the other lever to get the most comfortable pace for your legs. As the road gets steeper or less steep you can alter this as you go along.

Going downhill you may find that your legs are spinning round and nothing happens. The means that you probably need to move the left lever to 3 (high) and again 'fine tune' the Right hand gears.

There is no substitute for practice, and I cannot ride beside you telling you which levers to move, so I suggest that you find a quiet piece of road, or an empty car park. Put the right hand lever in the middle position and just try riding by changing the left hand gears.

Feel the difference and then try out all the right hand gears in each of the left hand selection.

You will gradually get to understand which is best for you and which to choose when the road goes UP !

Note: Not all bikes have levers to change gear. Some have a twist grip, others have different arrangements of levers and releases, but they all use the same principle.

Mike Skiffins, Portsmouth CTC
Posted on Wed, 23/08/2017 - 13:34