Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shifting: A Lost Art. part 2

First a couple of fundamentals; number one: the purpose of gears is to make the bike easier to pedal up hills and enable you to pedal down them. The idea is to maintain a constant pace on the pedals and change your gears according to the wind and terrain conditions. Once you find your pace, that rhythm, you can ride all the way to California if you want to.

Fundamental number two: you must be pedaling when you change gears. That's because the chain has to be moving in order for the derailleurs to "de-rail" the chain from sprocket to sprocket. That's also why it's best not to click the shifters when you’re sitting still. Besides stretching the gear cables, the bike immediately changes gears when you start off again, usually with some very disconcerting noises. Shifting your gears while sitting still is like fingernails on a chalkboard to your bike mechanic.

Now back to the gear shifting tips.

Tip one: Pedal at a brisk pace. It’s better to pedal at a brisk pace using the easier to pedal gears than to muscle the harder gears more slowly. This technique will increase your stamina over a longer ride and will enable you to accelerate more quickly if you need to "jump". I promise you’ll still get a good leg workout. A brisk pace on the pedals also improves the shifting.

Tip two: And this is hugely important. Lighten the pressure on the pedals when you shift. Keep them turning, but don't be muscling down on them while you shift. Lightening the pressure on the pedals significantly smoothes the gear change, reduces those grinding noises when you shift, and lengthens the life of your drive train. You’ll have to anticipate your shifts a bit as you approach the hills, but it only takes a beat to change your gears on a hill once you get your timing down.

Tip three: Use your low numbered gears on the left with your low numbered gears on the right; and use your high numbered ones with the high ones. Thus, if you're in gear number one on the left, you should use it with gear numbers one through four on the right. Likewise, if you're in number three on the left, you should use it with gear numbers five and above on the right.

This tip has to do with chain line. Although no real damage is done using the wrong gears together, avoiding them prevents those rattles and rubs you sometimes hear. With the number of gears that come on today’s bikes, you can avoid "mixing your highs and your lows" and still find a comfortable gear in which to ride.

On road bikes, where you have to look down to see what sprockets the chain is on to determine what gear your in, avoid running the large sprockets on the front with the large ones in the back, and similarly, avoid using the small ones in the front with the small ones in the back. Another way to say the same thing is, when you’re chain is on the inboard ring on the front, it should be on the inboard cogs in the back. Similarly, when you’re chain is on the outboard ring on the front, it should be on the outboard cogs in the back.

Tip Four: Remember to shift back to a low gear before you stop so that you’ll be in an easy gear for starting out again.

When to change gears will be pretty obvious. You’ll want to shift to an easier pedaling gear (i.e. down shift to a lower number) when the bike gets hard to pedal up hills, and then shift to a higher gear (higher number) so your pedals can catch up when you go down one. Thus, we have come full circle on our gear shifting discussion. Gears make it easier to go up hills and let you pedal down them.