The Basic Biking Skills – Gears on Your Mountain Bike

“Replenish before you are completely drained.”

This simple guideline has to be strictly followed if you wish to sustain your performance during riding through any kind of tracks. If you neglect this truth for being too simple, be prepared to drag yourself until your energy levels are restored after getting completely exhausted.

In the two-wheel biking arena, there is another very simple rule that requires strict adherence. You must shift before you are forced to shift, and regardless of the track or riding, this rule applies with the same force if you desire to sustain your performance. Shifting at the right moments during your touring, joyriding, racing or training is also very important for maintaining your bike.

Understand the Mechanism

English: A simple diagram of a road bicycle dr...

Road bicycle drivetrain, derailleurs, right crank, and outline of the frame. I’ve traced a photo of my road bike, with a mostly Shimano parts: a 600 rear derailleur, 8 speed cassette, 105 octalink double crank, and 105 front derailleur. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gears are probably the most complicated mechanism in your bike. Properly shifting gears at the right moments are far more difficult than learning to balance your two-wheeler or teaching the kids to ride their bicycle. You have to understand the mechanism of gear levers in order to learn when and how to shift gears.

So, try to understand what process set in motion below the handlebars to gear leavers when you shift gears. Closely examine the drive train from the chain rings [the chain sprockets on the base of the frame] to freewheel at the rear wheel that connects to the chain sprockets through the chain and drives the wheel.  Clean old grease or dried mud if they hide metal surfaces or gear mechanism and try to work out the processes when your shift while racing along the tracks.

When and How to Shift

The simple rule of riding requires you to shift “before you are forced to shift” and thus answers the first part “when” to shift gears. Obviously, you will be forced to shift gears when the current gears no longer support the riding track. Either the gears are too hard for you to keep pedaling, or it becomes so easy that you just keep on pedaling without causing any acceleration. Your drive train attains a short existence in complete disharmony with existing track, and you have to shift.

You can sustain your speed and performance by anticipating right gears according to the surface and terrain of your trail. The surface and terrain of your tracks are very important in deciding the right gears as sands across the flat surface will prove to be more difficult than slightly raised tracks on hard terrain. Shifting gears when you are forced due to unsustainable load cause wear and tear of components and exhausts your muscles. You can avoid such forced shifting by selecting the right gear while you are still descending or riding easily on flat surfaces.

Soft Pedaling

It may not be possible to correctly judge the right gears under all circumstances and sometimes we all fail or misjudge the required gears during our ride. Soft pedaling is the best approach to shift right gears under the load when you fail to anticipate the need to change gear. You have to push the pedals really hard or powerhouse one stroke and get required momentum for soft pedaling during the next stroke. The momentum gained through the powerhouse stroke will allow you to ease tension on the chains by soft pedaling. You can easily move the derailleur during the soft pedaling and change the gears.

Other considerations:

  • Derailleur adjustment: A good rider is supposed to understand the bike mechanism, particularly the derailleur of your bike. Consider buying a book on bike mechanics and learn how to adjust derailleur. You can also visit any good bike shop and request 10-minute  lesson for derailleur adjustment procedures. Don’t forget to compensate for the adjustment as time and money is important in any business.
  • Listen to your bike: Your bike communicates with you by making metal-on-metal noises, chain chatter and other sounds. You should learn to understand what your bike is trying to tell you. You will notice completely different noises when components get misaligned. Listening to your bike will allow timely adjustment without causing unexpected wearing of derailleur cages, cassette cogs of freewheel and the chain rings.
  • Don’t cross-chain: The severe angle between the chain ring and freewheel creates friction, increasing the wear and tear of the chain. So avoid using the combination with smallest or largest gears of both the front chain ring and freewheel to cross the chain.
  • Make sure that your chain and derailleurs are properly cleaned and lubed.


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