So many department store bikes are sold with a description of the number of “SPEEDS” the bike has. In biking more gears (AKA speeds) isn’t necessarily a better thing.
That’s why you’ve found this article to get a fast definition of the speeds of a bike.
When a bike advertises a “SPEED” it is referring to the total number of gear combinations. For example, if your bike has 3 chainrings (the front gears) and 7 gears on the rear cassette it would be a 21-speed bike. 3 x 7 = 21 speeds.
This article discusses bike gears related to the speed you’re riding along with the conditions. If you are planning to upgrade your bike but are still determining the best speed, read on, as we will also cover this topic.
The “SPEED” of a bike is more of a marketing phrase, it plays on our desire for thinking more is better. The important factor in gears and speeds of a bike is having the gearing range to tackle the challenges of the trail or road conditions.
Knowing how many bike speeds are ideal can be complicated. Such is especially true if you still decide what riding style you want to pursue. There are recommended bike speeds for uphill, downhill, and slow bike rides. You will even encounter single-speed bikes, which we will tackle later.
A single-speed bike is ideal if you get a bike for slow journeys and adventures around the neighborhood. You can also use such a bike if you are biking to exercise and stay fit.
Below are the best speeds for different bike types:
Mountain biking involves a lot of rough paths, climbing, and descending. For this reason, your mountain bike needs multiple speeds that match the terrain you are conquering. The more gear an MTB has, the less pedaling power you need to exert when climbing uphill.
If you are into riding on terrains, the ideal number of speeds for a mountain bike is 21. However, your preference depends on the number of gears you need. You can use a mountain bike with fewer or more gears as long as you are comfortable riding it.
When choosing the number of gears your mountain bike should have, your riding style is worth considering. If you like biking on uphill terrains, choosing a bike with fewer gears is ideal. This way, pedaling uphill will be easier as the gears have less resistance.
On the other hand, descends require more bike speeds. This way, you can choose the highest gear on your bike, increasing your speed while still controlling the descent.
Road bikes do not pass over bumps, climbs, and descends like mountain bikes. For this reason, they do not require that many speeds. Seven speeds may be enough if you prefer riding your road bike slowly. However, you can increase the number of speeds your road bike has to how fast you want it to be.
Similar to a mountain bike’s gear number, a road bike’s speeds depend on your needs and requirements.
Bikes need to increase their speed to make pedaling easier when climbing uphill. However, road bikes usually pass through the flat and cemented ground. For this reason, they do not need a significant increase in speed required to pass through hills and rough trails.
A hybrid bike combines a mountain bike and a road bike. Such a bike is ideal for commuting and cycling over different trails. The handlebar of a hybrid bike is usually flat, resembling that of a mountain bike. For this reason, shifting and braking when riding a hybrid bike feels similar to when riding an MTB.
Because bikers use hybrid bikes for mixed terrains, so they do not need a lot of speed. Some hybrid bikes geared more towards road riding even have a single gear. Seven or eight gears are enough to allow a hybrid bike to conquer mixed trails. But some expensive models feature 11 speeds. (source)
Regardless of its type, every bike utilizes a gearing system to help your cycle through obstacles. In mountain bikes, for instance, choosing a higher gear allows you to reduce the effort you exert in pedaling. Understanding how to use your bike’s gears will give you more power when cycling on rough terrains.
It would be best if you control both your bike’s front and back chains when changing gears. You can shift gears using the bike’s shifters on the handlebar. The shifters are the levers (or dials) you see on the left and right handlebars. Most bikes have a handlebar that has two shifters – a left and a right.
The left-hand levers of your bike control the front gears, while the right-hand lever controls the rear. The larger shifter on the right handlebar shifts the bike to a lower gear, thus making pedaling easier. Meanwhile, the smaller shifter on the right handlebar makes the pedals more resistant and increases your bike’s speed.
You can use the larger shifter on the left handlebar if you want to switch to a higher gear on the front derailleur. However, it would be best if you switched the rings on the rear derailleur simultaneously with the front. It would be best if you used the small lever on your right handlebar to make this adjustment.
Some bikes do not have large and small shifters. Such bike models have a double-tap system. Meaning you need to push the shifter until you hear two clicks to access the smaller lever. The reason is that the smaller shifter is behind the larger one.
If you want to use your bike’s gears to go faster, you need to shift to a higher gear. The higher the gear, the faster your bike will go.
However, it is worth noting that high bike gears make pedaling difficult. The pedals will have a lot of resistance, so you must exert considerable effort in every pedaling rotation. Using the bike’s highest gear to go faster is called “upshifting.”
Mountain bikers are usually the ones who utilize a bike’s high gear. The reason is that they need to increase their bike’s speed when traveling downhill. This way, they will still have enough control over their bike wheels and pedals while gravity is pulling them downwards.
But how do you know when to switch to higher gear? You need to anticipate the terrain. Once you feel that you are nearing a descending trail, start shifting one gear at a time before finally going downhill. This way, you will be in the highest gear once you reach the beginning of your descent.
Furthermore, shifting your bike’s gear for a faster speed can be intimidating, especially if you are a beginner. But you will learn the proper technique along the way. Just make sure to maintain the pedaling speed you are comfortable using. (source)
Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last
- Regular maintenance will keep you pedaling for years. Read – DIY Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule
- Everyone wants a new bike, find out when it’s time to buy with this article: Repair Old Bike or Buy New – Options
- DIY Mountain Bike Tune Up – A Complete guide to what to repair and how.
Bikes are becoming more modernized and complicated. The bicycle industry now offers innovative designs with multiple drivetrains, much more modern than the old bikes that only need pedaling and braking to run and stop. But regardless of all the complex designs and innovations modern bikes have, single-speed bikes remain simple and easy to use.
The term single-speed bike is pretty descriptive – it pertains to bikes that run on just one speed. Single-speed bikes only have a single gear that works throughout your ride, so shifting from one gear to another is no longer necessary.
This type of bike does not have a chainring, although some prefer adding a narrow-wide chainring to their single-speed bikes for better chain retention. It also does not have a derailleur and shifter. The absence of these bike components makes a single-speed bike lighter than regular commuter bikes.
For this reason, single-speed bikes are easy to operate. You do not have to exert much effort to make the bike move, as its light weight makes it easy to pedal.
Single-speed bikes are ideal for people whose purpose for biking is to go around slowly. These bikes are suitable for flat terrains, so that they will suit those biking for fresh air and a little exercise.
However, single-speed bikes are not usable on trails with uphill climbs. Since this bike has a single speed, you cannot shift into a low gear to ease up pedaling. (source)
1x, or 1 by mountain bikes, refers to MTBs with a single chainring and no front derailleur. These mountain bikes are called 1x because they only have one derailleur to shift, which is the rear derailleur. This drivetrain system eliminates gearing overlap and cross-chain, thus reducing the wear and tear your mountain bike acquires.
Because 1x MTBS do not have a front derailleur, they need a chainring with narrow and wide teeth to hold the chain in place. This type of chainring prevents the chain from popping off during a ride, making 1x MTBs more convenient than the regular ones.
Moreover, mountain bikes with a 1x drivetrain system have a clutched rear derailleur. The clutch mechanism helps the chainring in holding the chain in place. It also prevents the chain from slapping against the bike’s frame when changing gears.
The term 1x usually has a number next to the “by.” This number refers to the number of speeds your mountain bike has. So, if you see a 1×12 mountain bike, the MTB has 12 gears. (source)
21-speed refers to bikes that utilize 21 gears, the number of gears standard in mountain bikes. They provide cyclists with plenty of gear combinations, allowing them to find the most efficient gears for uphill and downhill climbs. The wide variety of gear combinations makes 21-speed bikes extremely popular.
7-speed is a standard on bikes that travel on flat terrains. This number of bike gears is already sufficient for road and general-purpose bikes. Seven speeds on a bike can also climb hills as long as they are not too steep and high. (source)
You can change gears on a bike using the levers on the handlebar called shifters. Each side of the handlebar has two shifters – a large and a small one. The left shifters control the front derailleur. On the other hand, the left handlebar shifters control the rear cassette. (source)
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
- Rich. How Many Gears Do I Need? Single Speed 3 Speed 7 Speed 21 Speed / Gears / Number of Gears (blog). https://sixthreezero.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360036418713-How-Many-Gears-Do-I-Need-Single-Speed-3-Speed-7-Speed-21-Speed-Gears-Number-of-Gears. Accessed November 24, 2022.
- Mark Langton. Mountain Bike Master: Essential Skills and Advanced Techniques Made Easy. USA: Menasha Ridge Press, 2013. Accessed November 25, 2022.
- Mike Evans. “Single Speeds,” The Crossfit Journal Article. Issue 42 (February 2006.) http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/42_06_Single_Speeds.pdf. Accessed November 25, 2022.
- Chris Foster And Nick Legan. What It Takes. Ask A Gear Guru: What Is A 1X Drivetrain? Should Triathletes Try It? (blog) September 24, 2021. https://www.triathlete.com/gear/bike/triathletes-try-1x-drivetrain/. Accessed November 25, 2022