Bike Basics: Gears


Excuse: “I don’t understand the point of gears…and my chain keeps falling off.”

If you ask a cyclist about gears, you can easily end up in a conversation involving multiple references to chain rings, cogs, and derailleurs. This information might be helpful someday, but if you’re just looking to understand what bike gears are all about, it may be little overwhelming.

Here’s the very basic background of what you need to know:


– Low Gears: The lower the gear number, the easier it is to pedal. For example, when you are stopped a stop sign, you’ll want to be in a low gear so that when you take off it’s easier to pedal. Low gears are also good for going up hills or towing heavy cargo.

– High Gears: The higher the gear, the harder it is to pedal – and the more you’ll get out of each pedal stroke. High gears are great for open, level terrain. If you find that you’re pedaling hard/rapidly and still not going very fast, you likely need to increase to a higher gear.

– Shifting Gears: Some bikes are conveniently designed to shift gears even when stopped, however, most are not. Shift gears when pedaling so that they can do so smoothly and the chain is less likely to fall off.

How many gears do you need? If you live in a flat area and aren’t looking to race, you could likely get away with one gear (I did for two years). However, gears can be helpful and make a big difference regarding comfort. If you’re just looking to bike within three miles, you could easily do with 3 to 8 gears. There are bikes with plenty more gears, and as you gain experience, you might find them helpful, especially if you’re looking into doing long rides. However, no need go over board with the gears – if you’re just getting started, you’ll be fine in the 3-8 range.

Don't worry, after our derailleur tuning session, we are friends once again.

Don’t worry, after our derailleur tuning session, we are friends once again.

Having problems shifting? Chain falling off? My Boda Boda has 8 gears. After years with a fixie (a single-speed bike), I gladly welcomed the additional options. However, this week I found that whenever I changed gears, I would be met with horrible sounds and odd skipping. If I shifted out of the middle two gears, my chain fell off. After a heart to heart with my bike and Google, I learned that this is common with new bikes, as the derailleur needs to be “tuned”. Bicycling Magazine conveniently had posted this very easy to follow video about tuning derailleurs on Twitter the day I went to fix it and legitimately saved the day.


One thought on “Bike Basics: Gears

  1. Pingback: Bike Basics: Gears (pt 2) | Why Bike

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