Regardless of how many gears you need, there are some basic tips that will help save wear on your group-set – and improve your power input-to-output ratio. Here’s some advice for beginners getting used to a wide choice of gears.
Change often and relax
Find yourself a short circuit to practice your gear-shifting. Ideally, you want a circuit that has a few climbs and descents, as well as a variety of soft- and hard-angled corners. Practice shifting gears as often as possible to get yourself used to the amount of power you need to push the cranks.
Eventually, you want to complete each circuit at the same speed but for less effort. Or, you want to complete the circuit faster but with the same effort. To assess your progress, you’ll need to be honest with yourself – or use a decent cycling computer that assesses your power output relative to your heart rate.
Shift gears early and spin
If you see a corner or an incline coming up, shift to a lower gear just before you get there. This is true of all geared vehicles, whether an F1 car, an articulated lorry, or your hybrid 10-speed on the commute. The sharper the corner or incline, the lower you should drop your gear.
This allows you to reapply power as soon as you hit the apex of the corner, or inertia starts to kick in on the hill. A lower gear means greater leverage of power from your legs to the tarmac, and reduces the load-stress on the mechanics of your drive-chain and group-set.
On both the rear cassette and front cranks, the highest gears are furthest away from the frame and the lowest nearest. Shift the crank-set to its highest gear and the rear cassette to the lowest gear and you’ll notice the chain is stretched diagonally as per this video:
This “cross-chaining” forces the links between the chains to rub more than they usually would and the result is friction, which you should avoid for two reasons. First, energy that generates heat isn’t making you faster. Second, cross-chaining is filing down the teeth on your rear cassette and chain-set sprockets. This is both an inefficiency of watts and poor financial acumen.
Cross-chaining shifts your rear derailleur to its most extreme forward and rear positions and wears the links in your chain causing “stretch”. You’ll spend more money replacing your drive chain– as well as reducing your power-efficiency.
Clean gears, clean ride
Having a range of gears is something of a responsibility. More gears should make your rides faster and more efficient – but the payoff is that you’ll need to spend more time looking after them. So, give your drive-chain a quick clean when the black muck starts to build up.
Not only will this make your shifting smoother and consistent, it will mean less trips to the bike shop to replace worn-out parts. And while we all love visiting our bike shop, isn’t it more exciting to spend your money upgrading your bike rather than replacing worn parts?