3 Shifting Tips for Rookie Cyclists

Below is an excerpt from the book "The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear, and Riding Strong" by Patrick Brady. The 250-page book outlines all aspects of road cycling for beginners, from riding skills to bike gear to the cycling lifestyle. Learn more about the book here.

Knowing when to shift will increase your efficiency. Because most road bikes are equipped with 20-gear drivetrains, the average rider has enough gears to maintain a reasonable cadence from 8-40 miles per hour. Effective shifting capitalizes on your momentum so that you can generate power as smoothly and efficiently as possible. One of the quickest—and surest—ways to rob yourself of momentum is to wait too long to shift gears.

No matter what road bike you are on, the left shifter will always operate the front derailleur, shifting between the two or three chainrings located next to the cranks. The right shifter will always operate the rear derailleur, shifting between as many as 11 cogs on the rear wheel.

More: Be a Gear Guru on Your Bike

The key to shifting is anticipation. If you wait to shift until you feel your cadence slow then you will already have lost momentum. The point behind having a 20-gear drivetrain is to make each shift the smallest possible change in gearing.

The terminology of shifting can get a little confusing. Upshifting is what you do when you want to accelerate. Upshifting is shifting into a smaller cog on your rear wheel, which generates greater speed if you maintain the same cadence. Downshifting is shifting into a larger cog, which means less speed, and less effort, at a given cadence. Downshifting is what you do when you get to the base of a climb.

More: 5 Tweaks for Cycling Speed


Here are some tips to keep in mind when you shift:

  • When upshifting, shift only one cog at a time and wait until you feel spun out of that gear before shifting again. The shifter for the rear derailleur is at your right hand.
  • When downshifting, shift before you experience a noticeable loss in momentum; as soon as you feel an increase in pitch, downshift.
  • Shift chainrings (either up or down) any time there is a significant change in terrain. Reaching the foot of a big hill or beginning a descent are natural times to shift from one chainring to another. The shifter for your front derailleur is at your left hand.

More: Bike Shifting 101

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