Understanding Bike Gears

Understanding Bike Gears
Learning to shift bike gears is a challenge for beginning cyclists. With a basic understanding of how bike gears work, you'll be able to practice with more confidence.

Front Shifter

Your front shifter is located on the left side of your handlebars and controls your front derailleur. Some shifters have number indicators that tell you which gear you are using.

Rear Shifter

Your rear shifter is located on the right side of your handlebars and controls your rear derailleur.


Derailleurs control how far your chain moves with each click of the shifter. They also limit how far your chain can travel in each direction to prevent your chain from falling off.

Front Gears

When you shift your front gears, or chainrings, you make big changes to your pedal resistance. Most recreational bikes come with three chainrings. The smallest chainring makes it easiest to pedal, the middle works well for flats, and the largest gives you the most pedal resistance.

Rear Gears

Most rear gears come together on a cassette made of eight to 10 sprockets. Shifting these gears makes small changes to the pedal resistance. The larger the sprocket, the easier it will be to pedal.

Cross Chaining

Do not use an extreme front and rear gear combination. For example, do not pair the easiest chainring with the hardest rear gear. Cross chaining your gears like this puts too much stress on your chain.

Article Written By Kathrine Cole

Kathrine Cole is a professional outdoor educator. She teaches rock climbing, backpacking, cycling, and bike maintenance classes. She is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School, a Wilderness First Responder, and a Leave No Trace Trainer.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.