Understand the shifting mechanism. Knowing which gears get changed by each shifter is one of the fundamental steps in being able to change gears correctly on your mountain bike. The gear shifter on the right side of the handlebars controls the gears on the back wheel and the one on the left side of the handlebars operates the front gears, next to the pedals. This is important information because some situations will require you to change the chain position on the front gears, while others will require the modification to be done on the rear.
Know what your gear positions are. This may vary from one bike brand to another, or also depend on if your bike is a 3-speed, 10-speed, 12-speed and so forth. Each gear shifter will be able to move one click for each gear that it controls. The best way to know what position sets each gear is to refer to the manual that came with your mountain bike. If you purchased your bike used and do not have a manual, you should go for a test ride and conduct experimental gear changes to see which shifter position relates to each sprocket.
Consider the times when you will need to change gears. The more frequently you change your gears, the sooner the gears and chain will wear out. You don't need to change gears constantly during normal riding. In most cases, you can stay in the same gear for a period of time before the need to change arises. The change is usually required when you are planning to go up a hill, preparing to go down a hill or when leaving a hill and entering a flat stretch of terrain. Knowing when a change is required and only changing during those times can greatly expand the life of your mountain bike.
Think about what gear you will need to change into for the upcoming change in terrain. You will generally connect your chain to the smaller, high gears if you are going uphill or pulling a heavy load. The larger sprockets are the low gears and these are normally used on flat terrain and when pedaling down hill. You should never cross match your sprockets, such as having high gear in the back and low gear in the front. This creates abnormal tension on the chain and can damage your mountain bike.
Make your shift as smooth a transition as possible. Although you will need to be moving when you change gears, you should relax your pedaling during the change to make it easier for your gear changer to switch to another sprocket. You should change gears before you reach a hill to prevent your chain from slipping off track during the change, which is a common occurrence when shifting on an incline. If your chain should come off of the track, try changing back to the previous gear. Sometimes this action will put the chain back on track, but usually only if you are on flat terrain.
Article Written By Wirnani Garner
Wirnani was born in the Philippines, where she had constant access to a rural jungle environment. In addition to exploring the island jungles, Wirnani spent much of her youth interacting with local wildlife, swimming in the Philippine Sea and rafting on the Davao River. She also routinely went on backpacking trips along the trails of Mount Apo, the highest peak of the Philippine Islands. Wirnani currently lives near the Ozark Mountains of Northern Arkansas. The location provides an abundance of hiking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and fishing opportunities. When she's not spending time outdoors, Wirnani enjoys studying biology and human health sciences.