Proper Shifting Techniques

Does your bike take a few pedal strokes to shift to the next gear?? The problem may be shifting technique. One of the most common shifting problems encountered in the service dept. is lazy shifting. When your bicycle is brand new it will shift under most any condition. However as it breaks in the chain has more side play and the shift ramps get less sharp. All this means that less than perfect technique will not allow for those once lightning quick shifts.

Timing and Cadence

There are a few key aspects to proper shifting. One aspect is timing. Most people wait too long before shifting into the next gear. When climbing a hill it is necessary to shift before you need it. If you wait until you can no longer push the harder gear then the load in the chain will be too high to let it disengage from the gear it is in. When the service guys hear ”When I shift it all it does is make rubbing noise” their first question is usually ”were you climbing a hill? To allow the chain to move from gear to gear easily it is necessary to take the entire load off the chain. This is achieved by backing off the pedal pressure (like putting in the clutch on a car) such that you are not quite keeping with the speed of the wheels. At this moment the chain is load free and will shift smoothly.

Another aspect is Cadence (remember the article in the last newsletter?). If you are pedaling slowly (less than 80-90rpm) it is likely that the load on the chain is too high for it to shift. This is usually the problem when it is hard to get the chain onto the big chainring in the front. On most bicycles shifting into the big ring at less than 15-mph will not make for a smooth shift. Pedaling faster will make your cardio better and make for smoother shifting.

Cross Chaining




The last shifting technique worth discussing here is cross chaining. There are so many different gear combinations on modern bikes it is no wonder it gets confusing!! There are usually three ranges of gears in the front of the bike. In the rear there are 7-10 separate gears that are possible to be in in all three ranges. Just because there are 21-30 different combinations it does not mean that you should use them all!!!! When you are in the small ring in front (granny gear) you should have the chain in the inner 3rd of the cassette (gears in the rear). This will make for a straight chain, which is optimal for shifting performance and drive train life. When the chain is in the middle ring in the front it is generally allowable for the chain to be in all the gears of the cassette. When the chain is on the largest ring in the front it is best to be in the middle to the outside of the cassette.
Just to quickly recap, do not shift under load, shift before you need to and try to keep the chain as straight as possible while enjoying your bicycle.

Note: If your bicycle has been tough to shift if is possible that it does in fact need service. The fall is a quiet time for the service department. Perfect for chasing down those pesky shifting problems. As a last ditch effort they will even go for a ride with you to ferret out the problem!!!

Proper shifting with your front derauiller is a learned skill. What makes front shifting difficult is the large difference in the size of the rings and the situation that we shift under. Shifting happens differently when we are downshifting (to easier to pedal gears) and upshifting (to harder to pedal gears), which, upshifting is the most troublesome. There are three or four set spots (shift ramps/shift gates) on the chainrings to make it shift. The chain (while moving forward) needs to contact these ramps to be pulled up onto or down over to the next chainring. It is very important to hold the shift (do not release the lever) until the chain comes into contact with a shift ramp. When the chain is under load (there is force on the pedals) this is the only spot where the chain will shift. Ideally shifting should be done with little load on the chain. When the chain is under load the derauiller will just flex and laugh at you instead of making the shift happen. When there is no load on the chain the derauiller will be able to move it.

Trim Positions

When shifting road bikes and some high-end hybrids, that are equipped with three rings, there is one more step to take into consideration. There is a trim position for the middle ring. When you shift from the small ring to the middle you need to feel two clicks to make the shift happen. The second click allows for enough derauiller movement for the chain to ride up completely on the second ring and get a good purchase on the teeth. Once the chain is on the second ring it is necessary to trim the derauiller back (so there is no noise coming from the chain rubbing the front derauiller) by giving the small STI lever (on road bikes) or index finger lever (on hybrids) a half click. This half click gives the derauiller enough movement to stop the chain from rubbing but not enough to drop it to the small ring. On the higher-level road equipment there are trim spots for the large ring also. They are there to allow for more extreme chainlines that might be had in a performance situation.

So, to shift the front of your bike, do it while pedaling without tension on the chain. Hold the shift lever until the shift occurs, then pedal away in your new better to pedal gear. This style of shifting will allow for many miles of trouble free service from the front derauiller.