As you take charge of the handlebar of your road bike, you may feel the rush to enjoy speed on the lightweight frame. Whether you are climbing a hill, cycling on a busy street, or going on full speed on a remote road, the bike gears give you the power to go fast, slow, or at a medium speed.
Beginners often ask me ‘how many gears does a road bike have’ and to that my answer is up to 27 gears. A road bike may have a triple, double or compact crankset, referring to the number and size of chainrings. Triple cranksets have 27 gears; while double and compact cranksets have 20 gears each.
The triple crankset is commonly seen on entry-level road bikes that feature 3 chainrings and a 9-speed cassette on the rear wheel. Both the double and compact cranksets come with 2 chainrings, and they are paired with a 10-speed cassette. As the compact crankset has smaller chainrings, they have fewer gears.
In sports and performance level road bikes, you usually find an arrangement of compact crankset that provides a similar range of gears as triple crankset, but the weight is considerably lighter. It also provides a better heel clearance than a triple crankset to prevent the issue of shoe rubbing on pedals.
Getting To Know Gears Better
For the layman, think of gears the same as speed. So, if you have a 21-speed road bike this implies the bike has 21 different gears. Depending on the type of bike, it may have a 1, 3, 18, 21, 24, or 27 speeds or gear to change. Let me add that 10 and 15 gears have become obsolete so you no more find them in new bikes.
The lower number means the gear is at low and likewise, the higher numbers refer to higher gears. So, the first gear is the simplest while the 27 gears are the highest. When you need to increase the speed, you will need to shift the gear by sliding the shifters located on the handlebars.
As you slide, this shifts the chain into a differently sized ring to change the speed. So, downshifting refers to a lower gear while upshifting means a higher gear. It is also often referred to as shift up and shift down. In a 3-speed bike, the gears are located inside the wheel hub hence you can’t see them.
Shifting The Gears On A Road Bike
Shifting gears sound simple in theory, but beginners often find it hard to master on the road. No wonder, this requires a lot of practice. Here’s some useful information that can give you a clearer and better understanding how to shift gears on a road bike.
Downshifting is the term used to refer a change of gear from high to low while upshifting refers to going from lower to higher. It’s okay to also call it simply shifts up and shift down. So, if spinning the pedals appear easy, you can simply shift up and if it seems difficult then you shift down.
For example, let’s say that you have a 3-speed bike and you are riding in second speed. When you start going uphill, you may suddenly realize that your muscles become stiff and all your efforts are not sufficient to move the pedal faster. You just need to downshift to the lower gear to overcome it.
In the first gear, you will be able to move shorter distances with each pedaling, hence it becomes easier to move ahead faster. Now, when you reach the hilltop and the cycle starts rolling downhill, you may realize that you do not have enough control and the resistance is getting low.
The solution is to shift up the gear back to speed two and if you still don’t get enough resistance, shift it to gear 3. Wondering how this works? Well, as you shift the gears up higher, it moves you farther from the pedals. Thus, you need to do more work to spin the pedal, making it harder.
Knowing When to Shift Your Gears
When you are climbing a hill or riding into the strong wind, you will need to shift to a lower gear to make pedaling easier. On the contrary, when the wind is pushing you from behind, you will want to use a more difficult gear to stay in control.
When you are in doubt, we suggest that you shift the gear before a terrain change, such as when you go from a flat surface to hills. Don’t keep waiting for the inclination to start and steepen before you shift the gears. After you shift, you may keep pedaling but be easier on the pedals.
Be careful about pushing too hard or stop pedaling when it gets too easy, because the chain may just fall off or even skip. Beginners who have just started getting comfortable in the bike should only use the rear cogs, the small/ middle front chainring.
In case you are unsure about which gear you are currently in, we would suggest that you look down as this will give you a quick look of the rear end to see whether you are in high or low gear. When you feel comfortable in the gear you are, start playing with the different gears in diverse situations.
Again when you ride uphill or head against the wind, we suggest that you use the small or middle front chainring. When you are riding downhill, it is best for you to use the bigger front chainring and a range of smaller cogs. If you are going on flat terrain, we suggest that you use a middle or big front chainring along with a range of rear cogs.
Use Cadence to Find the Perfect Gear
Cycling has come a long way from what it used to be and advanced gears like cadence on a bike have made it easier to monitor the pedaling rate. It shows you the average number of revolutions per minute. The apps and cycle computers integrated with your bile read and display the cadence.
If you don’t have a cadence on your bike, do it the old school way. You can count for ten seconds and then multiply it by six to get your cadence rate. When you get an understanding of what pace or cadence is most comfortable for you, choose that number to shift gear.
When your average cadence speeds up or drops, you can shift into a gear that puts your cadence back to a more suitable position. This allows you to manage and control how you wish to spend your energy in a more efficient manner.
Tips To Shift Gears Correctly on a Road Bike
- Shifting gears will not harm your new bike in any way so go ahead and shift with a clear conscience.
- Keep in mind that you will need to turn the pedals using your feet simultaneously as you shift the lever
- When you want to shift to a higher gear, always remember to use your left shifter.
- Watch the road ahead of you and anticipate the gear shifts before the time arrive.
- In order to shift the rear gears, you will need to use the right shifter.
- To ensure a smooth-shifting, always pedal lightly instead of back-pedaling while you use the shifter
- When you are pedaling too fast and there is a lack of enough resistance, always shift to a tough gear
- When you pedal slow and it becomes harder to turn the pedals, always shift to an easier gear for efficient riding.
- Always remember that practice makes perfect so make sure you play around with the gears and see how your bike performs in different gears.
- When you get off saddle on a stiff climb or to stretch your legs when going on flats, shift up 1-2 cogs harder gear.
Which types of gears are best avoided
While your bike can work fine in almost any front and rear gear combination, some combinations are best avoided. These include ‘crossing the chain’ that uses a large chainring of higher resistance at the front and a large chainring of least resistance at the back, because this may cause the chainring to slip off. The same also applies to chain crossing – small chainring.
What sets a road bike apart from other bikes
The road bikes comprise of a lighter framework, narrow wheels, and components. Without any front or rear suspension, these bikes are designed for paved surfaces like roads and bike paths), not meant for rough or unpaved areas.
Why some people choose single speed bike
It’s not a compulsion to ride a bike with gears, as there are some who prefer single speed bikes. These one-speed bikes still have a gear that is determined by the size of the rear cog and front chainring. They are popular with commuters living in flat areas due to low maintenance requirement.