Shifting (also called changing gears) is the secret to riding comfortably and efficiently whether you're climbing and descending, sailing along flat stretches with a glorious tailwind, pedaling for pleasure or going for glory. And today bicycles are easier, more efficient and more fun to shift than ever thanks to easy-to-operate and convenient shift levers integrated into the brake levers (or right next to them), and improved shifting components, too. These amazing shifting systems let you change gears almost as fast as the thought crosses your mind. And you never even need to remove your hands from the handlebars!
We get lots of questions on how to shift so we've put together this illustrated guide that demonstrates how to shift Shimano STI shifting systems, which are found on many 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 operate the shifters 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 shift.
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 levers, the main lever and the lever behind it, the inset lever. You move these levers separately and in only one direction, pushing them inward toward the center of the bike as follows:
When you're just riding along, your hand can rest on the top of the lever (called the "brake hood") or on the lower part of the handlebars. In both positions it's easy to reach and operate the 2 shift levers built into the right lever.
When you feel like it's too hard to pedal and want to shift into an easier gear, you push inward on the main lever. 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 push the inset lever inward. It clicks with each push and this moves the rear derailleur, which in turn shifts the chain onto the next smaller rear cog making it harder to pedal. You can repeat as needed.
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 levers, the main lever and the lever behind it, the inset lever. You move these levers separately and in only one direction, pushing them inward toward the center of the bike as follows:
The left lever operates like the right lever, with 2 levers, a main one and an inset one. Because there are only 2 or 3 chainrings, and they vary in size so much, the levers must be pushed a little further than the right lever to complete a shift. Like the right lever, you can shift with your hand resting on the top of the lever and when you're on the lower part of the bars, too.
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 inward on the large lever to shift the chain onto a larger chainring making it a good bit harder to pedal. You can do this in a single long sweep of the lever, or two shorter motions.
When you need to make it a lot easier to pedal (as you will
when you come to uphills), pushing the inset lever inward shifts the front derailleur in the opposite direction and moves the chain onto a smaller chainring with each click of the lever, which makes it a lot easier to pedal the bike.
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!