Shifting (also called changing gears) is the secret to riding comfortably and efficiently whether you're climbing and descending, sailing along fireroads with glorious tailwinds, pedaling for pleasure or going for glory. And today bicycles are easier, more efficient and more fun to shift than ever
thanks to modern shifting systems that let you change gears almost as fast as
the thought crosses your mind. And you never even need to move your hands from
We get lots of questions on how to shift so we've put
together this illustrated guide that demonstrates how to shift Shimano
Rapidfire Plus shifting systems, which are found on many flat-bar and off-road
bicycles. We're always happy to demonstrate in person, too, whenever you'd like
to swing by.
We're assuming that at some point you've ridden a
multi-speed bicycle like a 10-speed that was equipped with derailleurs and shift
levers, and you're familiar with the basics of how to shift. In case it's been
awhile, here are a few helpful tips and the basic terminology:
There's no "right" or "wrong" gear to be in. You shift according to feel. As the terrain changes you move the levers to make it easier or harder to pedal depending on what feels right to you. Also, bikes aren't like cars. In other words, there's no need to start off in first, shift into second as you pick up speed, then third, etc. On a bicycle, you find the best gear for where you're riding by shifting until it feels right to you. With experience this gets easy and becomes almost second nature.
You have to be pedaling in order to shift, however, it's important to ease the pressure off the pedals when you shift. This is easy when you're heading downhill or rolling along the flats, however, approaching an uphill you'll need to anticipate the need to shift, pedal a few times so you build up a little speed, and you can then ease off the pedal pressure and shift into an easier gear.
In general, you operate one shift lever at a time, and shift across
one cog or chainring at a time (some shifting systems let you shift across
multiple cogs if needed). Move the right shifter to make small adjustments in
how easy and hard it is to pedal. It controls shifts across the cogs on the rear
wheel and there are usually 8, 9 or 10 cogs meaning relatively small steps and
changes in effort with each shift. Conversely, you operate the left shifter to
make large adjustments in how easy/hard it is to pedal. It shifts across the 2
or 3 chainrings on the crankset (what the pedals are attached to), which vary
significantly in size and make a large difference in pedaling effort with each
It's best to avoid shifting into what's known as the "crossover gears." These are when the chain is on the smallest cog and the smallest chainring and when it's on the largest/largest combination. In these positions an extreme angle is set up, which can lead to noise and accelerated wear. While nothing will break if you shift into these extreme gears, it's best to
avoid them as much as possible.
Unless you ride where it's flat and you don't need to shift very
much, you should shift a lot to keep yourself pedaling easily and comfortably no
matter what the terrain's like. Think of yourself as the bike's engine and try
to maintain a steady pedaling speed with your legs and change gears anytime your
legs feel like they're being slowed down or spinning too rapidly. Good cyclists
are always shifting to keep their effort steady and easy and you should, too.
And remember that you can't hurt the bike by shifting it! If you have any
questions about all of this, just let us know and we'll explain on the phone or
demonstrate here in the shop. Shifting is fun!
Shifting the right lever (see the 6 illustrations below) controls the rear derailleur and moves the chain onto the different cogs in the rear. Notice that there are 2 shift levers, the main lever and the lever behind it, the
inset lever. You move these levers separately,
pushing the main lever with your thumb and pushing or pulling the inset lever with your thumb or
index finger as follows:
When you're just riding along, your hand rests on the handlebar
grip with the shift levers within easy reach, right at your fingertips.
When you feel like it's too hard to pedal and want to shift into an
easier gear, you push down on the main lever with your thumb. It clicks with
each push and this moves the rear derailleur, which in turn shifts the chain
onto the next larger rear cog making it easier to pedal. You can click the lever
again to shift into an easier gear, and so on.
When you feel like it's too easy to pedal and you'd like a harder
gear, you pull the inset lever with your index finger or, if you prefer, push on it with your thumb. It clicks with
each pull or push and this moves the rear derailleur, which in turn shifts the chain
onto the next smaller rear cog making it harder to pedal. Repeat as
Shifting the left lever (see the 6 illustrations below) controls the front derailleur and moves the chain onto the different chainrings. Notice that there are 2 shift levers, the main lever and the lever behind it, the inset lever. You move these levers separately,
pushing the main lever with your thumb, and pushing or pulling the inset lever with your
index finger as follows:
The left lever operates like the right lever, with 2 levers, a main one and an inset one. Because the chainrings vary so much in size, the main lever must be pushed a little further with your thumb to complete a shift. Both levers are within easy reach at all times.
When you need to make it a lot easier to pedal (as you will
when you come to uphills), pushing the inset lever with your thumb, or if you prefer, pulling it with your index finger, shifts the front derailleur inward moving the chain
onto a smaller chainring with each click of the lever, which makes it a lot
easier to pedal the bike.
When you need to make it a lot harder to pedal (as you will when
you crest a hill and start going a lot faster down the other side), you push down on the main lever with your thumb, which moves the front derailleur outward shifting the chain onto a
larger chainring making the bike a good bit harder to pedal.
That's all there is to it! Now, with a little practice you'll be shifting up a
storm and having more fun than ever. Remember, if you have any questions about
shifting or anything else cycling, just drop by. We're always happy to help!
And, please keep in mind, that if your derailleurs are out of adjustment and
your bicycle isn't shifting properly any more we're happy to help you with the
problem and get your bike shifting like a champ again. Just let us know. Thanks!