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Shifting Gears



For the beginners nothing can be as foreboding than choosing a gear. It always seems like someone yells something to you as they fly past you up a big hill. Here is my advice for the flats and the hills; the beginner and the more advanced rider.

I like the terms "smaller" and "larger" to talk about gears. The smallest gear is what you get when you use the small chainring and largest cog. The largest gear is the large chainring and smallest gear.

The Flats

The first thing you want to know about is the pedal stroke. Just think about "spinning" the pedals rather than pushing them, and you've got the pedal stroke down. What you want to do is keep constant pressure on the pedals by "spinning" them. From the top of the stroke, you'll want to push down the pedal way, then pull back (like your scraping mud off your shoes) then pull up, then push forward to return to the top. Try pedaling with only one foot to really get a feel for this. This will be easier on your legs.

When you are on the flats, find a gear you can pedal and maintain at a cadence (rotational speed) of 90-95 RPM.

The Hills

Going up a long hill, you might try slowing down to 60-80 rpm (Although this is really going to depend on you. If you are in great shape, but your legs are not really, really strong, you will want to pedal faster in a easier gear up the hills). Going down hill, you might try pedaling at a higher cadence, 100+ rpm, and try to pedal smoothly without putting a lot of pressure on the pedals. This will help keep your legs fresh, and it's a good way to practice your pedal stroke. Just remember, pedaling more quickly makes your heart work harder, pedaling more slowly makes your legs work harder.

A word about powering up hills - I had a problem on a very hilly ride Thursday. My rear derailleur cable broke! Pushing hard will get you up the hills, but spinning the pedals a little faster will save your knees from arthroscopic surgery!

Another thing that many people find helpful is to use a gear a little easier than they need when going up a hill. That way, by the time you start getting towards the top of the hill, your legs will still have something left.

Where to start

Before you push yourself too hard and injure yourself, you should get about 1000 miles (or less if you're already strong) of riding -- start counting at the beginning of each cycling season. So, the easiest way not to push yourself hard is to keep the chain on the small chainring (with the left shifter) and only use the right shifter to change the cogs. Once you get some good mileage in, feel free to push yourself harder once or twice a week.

Other Hints

As far as what gear to be in -- on a group ride, the best way to do it is to look at some of the good riders. If their feet are moving faster than your feet, shift to a smaller gear (bigger cog in the rear). Or, if their feet are moving more slowly, shift to a bigger gear (smaller cog in the rear).

And, finally, avoid bad chain angles. That is, avoid the large chainring/large cog as well as the small chainring/small cog combination. If you get the chain at too much of an angle, it can put a lot of stress on the chain. Plus, it adds friction, which might slow you down a little. And, worst of all, in the large/large combo, you are putting stress on the rear derailleur, which you really do not want to hurt. And, in the small/small combo, there may be some slack in the chain, which could cause "chain slap" -- the chain will slap your frame's chain stays (the part from the crank to the rear wheel) chipping the paint and scratching up your bike.

Well, now that you know all of that, the best advice I can give you is just to ride with others and copy their pedaling speed.

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