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
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 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 ½ 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.
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
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.
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
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