Get to know your gears for an easier ride

Chain and gears on a mountain bikeEasy rider: get your gears working to reduce your effort. This bike is set for comfortable cruising. Photo: Helen Cronin

One Sunday morning, we passed a woman valiantly pushing up a hill in her top gear. But she was working needlessly hard.

Gears are designed to even out the terrain so it’s not such hard work. Up hill in low gear should be almost as comfortable as on the flat with a ripper tail wind.

Sadly, how to make the most of gears remains a mystery to many people.

Let’s start with what “high” and “low” gear actually means. Gearing is all about ratios and how far each pedal stroke takes you. But you needn’t worry about numbers.

Just remember that the smaller the size difference between your front chain ring and rear sprocket, the smaller the distance you’ll travel with each pedal stroke and the easier it will be to push. That’s “low” gear.

Conversely, the bigger the size difference between your chain ring and sprocket, the further you’ll travel with each pedal stroke and the harder it will be to push. That’s “high” gear.

So which gear do you use when?

When you start off from the traffic lights you want to be in a low gear so it’s easy to get moving. If you have three chain rings at the front, you’ll probably be in the middle ring and one of bigger sprockets at the back.

When you’re going up a long steep hill, you’ll want your small chain ring and maybe the biggest sprocket you have at the back.

And when you’re flying down the other size, you could need your big chain ring and a small sprocket so you can keep turning those pedals at a comfortable speed.

Now how do you know which gear you’re in?

Hybrid and mountain bike generally have “rapid fire shifters”. One side, generally the left, looks after the chain rings. The other, generally the right side, looks after the rear sprockets.

They both have two levers-a big one operated by your thumb, and a smaller operated by your index finger. Conveniently the “big” lever corresponds to selecting the “big” gears.

Spinning those pedals too fast? Get your right index finger to work and you’ll be running along in high gear.

Getting a bit hard to push? Give that right thumb a couple of flicks and you’ll be much more comfortable in a low gear.

Keep an even leg speed tempo and let your effort be your guide to gear selection.

See you on the road soon, God willing.

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