Tips for Learning Gears for the First Time

They’re designed to make riding a whole lot easier, but when it comes to using gears, many people either underutilise this asset or don’t fully understand how they work. When used properly, riding with gears should be an effortless experience that takes a whole lot of “legwork” out of cycling. So here are some tips for learning gears for the first time.

How Gears Work

Geared bikes operate through a series of cogs, or sprockets, with a chain used to shift from gear to gear. The first set of sprockets, usually two or three, are located beneath the pedals, while a further set of sprockets, usually numbering between six and nine, are located next to the rear wheel of the bike.


If you have two front sprockets and six at the rear, your bike is a 12-speed. If you have three front sprockets and six rear sprockets, it’s an 18-speed bike. And if you have three front sprockets and nine at the rear, it’s a 27-speed bike. If you’re new to geared bikes, it’s probably worth seeking some advice from cycling experts, such as 99 Bikes, to find the ideal number of gears to suit your needs.

The gears are operated using levers on each side of the handlebars that have either numbers or gradients marked upon them. The left lever changes your bike chain across the front sprockets, while the right lever alters the rear sprockets. On the front, the number 1 equals the smallest cog and the number 3 the largest. At the front, the rule is the larger the sprocket the harder the gear.

For the rear, the number 1 equals the largest sprocket; the number 8 is the smallest. At the rear, the larger the sprocket the easier the gear.

Therefore, if your left lever is in position 1 and your right is also in position 1, you are in the easiest riding position – one that might be suitable for uphill climbs. Conversely, position 3 and position 9 respectively on a 27-speed bike would result in the most effort required to turn the pedals.


Essentially, the front is for different types of riding – uphill, on the flat, downhill – while the rear is about making minor alterations to suit your riding ease.

Getting Started

In the end, gearing comes down to preference and comfort, but to get started it’s best to go to the middle ground. That means putting your left gear lever in position 2 and your right in position 4 or 5. This provides a nice mid-range experience.

As you are learning, it might be worthwhile to first concentrate on changing your rear gear, using the right lever to work through the gear selections at the back only, to find your comfort zones and then move onto using the front gears as well.

Using gears can really take the hard work out of cycling. All it takes is a little practice, some experimentation, and some experience to discover what works for you. In the end, it will become as intuitive as turning the pedals and using the brakes.

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