You need to pedal when shifting, but it’s best to ease up on the pressure slightly to allow the chain to index to the next gear.  Applying heavy pedal pressure while shifting can cause excessive wear and skipping on the cassette and chain. Without the pedaling motion the chain will not change gears.

Should You Pedal When Shifting Gears on a Bike?

One of the most crucial mechanical functions of a bike is shifting its gears. Similarly, it is also one of the trickiest things, especially for beginner bikers. You need to watch two derailleurs and different numbers to understand how shifting gears work.

Moreover, bikers often ask whether or not they should pedal when shifting gears on a bike.

Pedaling While Shifting Gears

Changing Gears on a Bike without Pedaling
Changing gears on a bike without pedaling – please avoid this, skipping and damage will result

Before knowing how to shift gears on a bike, it is first essential to understand how gears work,

A bike’s gear is pulleys that allow you to transfer power from your legs to the pedals, cranks, chain, and rear wheel. A chain connects the gears in front of the bike to the gears on the rear wheel.

These gears consist of a cogged outer trim that engages with the chain’s voids. This way, you will be able to transfer pedaling power efficiently.

Pedaling should always accompany gear shifting. A cyclist who stops their bike when changing gears will not be able to engage the chain on the gears that they want to shift.

Bikers also need to avoid backpedaling when moving the chain up or down the gears. The reason is that practice can even damage a bike’s gears.

Additionally, you should not exert too much-pedaling power. Pedaling lightly will allow you to switch gears smoothly. On the other hand, pedaling too fast may launch the chain forcefully, causing it to lose its position on the mechanism.

As you shift your gears, reduce the pressure you are putting on the pedal. This way, the gears will switch smoothly without creating grinding noises.

Biking Uphill While Changing Gears

It would be best if you still pedaled when shifting gears on a bike when climbing a trail. Use your right hand to switch into easier gears while keeping your pedaling pace.

If you notice that your pace is slowing dramatically, using the front derailleur will make gear changing easier as you climb uphill.

But if you are already climbing uphill while pedaling with force, the front derailleurs will not work. In this case, you need to put more power into pedaling before switching the gear. Then, decrease your pedal power right before you shift your gears.

This way, the gears will not grind against each other, preventing you from putting pressure on the chain. (source)

Bicycle Gears and Terminology

It would be best if you pedaled when shifting gears on a bike. This job can be tricky at first, especially if you are a novice biker.

However, practicing will make shifting gears easier in the long run. After mastering how to switch gears, you will be able to figure out how to achieve the most speed while saving a lot of energy.

Bike Gear Terminology
Bike Gear Terminology

Like how challenging it is to change gears on a bike, understanding a bike’s gearing is just as daunting. However, it is essential to understand each term so there will be no confusion once you are already on the trail.

High Gear

The largest chainring in front of the bike and the smallest cog in the rear cassette characterize the high gear. Bikers need to shift into this gear when driving fast or going downhill. SEE #5

It is worth noting that using the high gear will prompt you to be in a difficult pedaling position. The reason is that you need a lot of force to shift into this gear.

Low Gear

Bikers often use low gear when climbing uphill. If you look at your bike’s gear mechanism, the smallest chainring and the largest cog comprise the low gear. SEE #1

Moreover, switching into this gear will require a comfortable pedaling position and a light pedaling force. (source)

[Number]-Speed Bike

You will commonly see terms like 7, 18, and 21-speed bikes when purchasing a bike. These numbers refer to the speed that a bicycle has.

You can determine your bike’s speed by multiplying the chainrings in the front by the number of cogs in the rear cassette.

For instance, a 21-speed bike has three front chainrings and seven cogs in the rear cassette.

1x, 2x, and 3x

Pronounced as “one-by,” “two-by,” and “three-by,” these numbers refer to how many chainrings a bike has.

  • a 1x chainring is common on mountain bikes
  • from 3x, the standard for modern road bikes is now 2x

The chainring is the front gears of a bike. This mechanism is responsible for transmitting your pedaling power by turning the cranks to the rear wheel using a chain. Such is why you need to pedal when shifting gears on a bike. (source)

Gear-Shifting Tips

As mentioned, modern bicycles come in several speeds, such as 21, 24, and 27 speeds, to name a few. For this reason, beginner bikers may find it challenging to understand what to do with these gears.

True enough, learning how to use multiple bike speeds can be an intimidating process, let alone when you need to pedal when shifting gears on a bike. But with a few tips and tricks, you will be able to master the art of shifting bike gears in no time.

Knowing Which Gear to Use

Switching your bike gears will either make it easy or difficult to pedal. The ideal gear to use at a given moment will depend on

  • how fast or slow you are riding
  • whether the ground is going uphill, downhill, or flat

The trick is to change gears whenever needed while you maintain your cadence and pedaling comfort.

If you are biking on flat and smooth ground, you want to use the middle gears. A steep climb will usually require you to use the lowest gears while going downhill requires the highest gears that your bike has.

Some Gear Combinations Are Not Ideal

As you pedal when shifting gears on a bike, you want to avoid cross-chaining.

In a bike with a three-chainring setup, the largest chainring should pair with the largest cog in the cassette. Similarly, the small chainring needs to go with the smallest cog.

Avoid Extreme Chain Angles
Avoid Extreme Chain Angles on Bike

Moreover, cross-chaining refers to when your chain is in a big chainring, and you switch to a small cog on your cassette, or when you are on a small chainring and a small cog.

Cross-chaining positions your chain at an extreme angle, causing it to wear and tear prematurely. It also causes the chain to rub on your bike’s front derailleur.

Switch Gears with Minimal Tension

Putting constant pressure on your bike chain can result in chain wearing and breakage. Such is especially true if you are biking uphill.

To prevent damaging your chain, you want to avoid downshifting in the middle of a tough climb. Instead, anticipate how difficult the climb will be and start downshifting before pedaling uphill.

As you pedal when shifting gears on a bike, you need to switch gears with minimal tension to ensure that the gear switch will be easier. 

Change One Gear at a Time

You should only shift one gear at a time to prevent causing damage to both your chain and chainring. Switching between gears that are far apart in a short span could lead to chain skipping. It may even cause the chain to come off the mechanism.

Know What the Chainrings Represent

Today’s most modern bikes have either one or two gears attached to the pedals. Bikers refer to these gears as chainrings.

At first, you may find it challenging to understand how the chainrings work. But to put it simply, the smaller chainrings located closer to the bike frame represent easier pedaling. On the other hand, the larger chainrings correspond to harder pedaling.

Do Not Pay Too Much Attention to The Numbers

Some bike shifters have gear numbers to tell the gear combination you use in a given environment. However, paying too much attention to these labels will make switching gears more complicated than it should be.

The numbers should not dictate how you shift your gears, as they may confuse you while pedaling.

Instead, switch gears whenever you feel like you need to. For instance, if you feel it is getting difficult to pedal, the ideal thing to do is shift into an easier gear. And if you are pedaling too fast, you need to switch to a harder gear. (source)

Adjusting the Rear Derailleur for Smooth Shifting

A while back I put together a quick video adjusting the rear derailleur. It’s pretty simple all you usually need is a screwdriver.

To accompany this video I have a complete guide -> Adjusting Gears on a Huffy Mountain Bike

Knowing Your Shifters

A bike’s shifters connect with a cable that tightens and loosens when clicking through the gears. The force on the cable applies the same amount of force to the derailleur. This derailleur then moves the bike’s chain up and down the chainrings.

Moreover, there are levers that you need to pull for the gears to shift. To help you understand how they work, below is an explanation of what each lever is for:

  • Right-hand shifter – moves the chain up and down the cassette by utilizing the rear gears.
  • Left-hand shifter – moves the chain up and down the chainrings by controlling the front gears. Bikers use this lever to do big jumps when there are sudden changes in a trail.
  • Small lever – a bike has two shifter levers. The smaller one is responsible for moving the chain into smaller rings.
  • Big lever – moves the chain into the bike’s larger rings. Remember that you always need to pedal when shifting gears on a bike.
Know how your bike shifter works
Know how your bike shifter works

Some bikes do not have either a small or big lever. In cases like this, your bike may have an SRAM road drivetrain, which utilizes the “double-tap” system.

Bikes with a double-tap system have their small lever behind the large brake lever. You can only move the lever in a single direction, different from how other bikes work.

For instance, you can move the chain into a larger gear in the rear with a long push until you hear two clicks. Meanwhile, pushing the lever until you hear a single click will move the bike’s chain into the smaller gear. (source)

Keep Pedaling Smooth 🙂

It would be best if you pedaled when shifting gears on a bike so you can switch with ease. Pedaling will allow you to engage the bike’s chain into the gear without exerting too much force.

However, it is crucial not to pedal too fast to launch the chain into the gear forcefully. If such happens, the chain may come off the mechanism.

There are also different terminologies when talking about a bike’s gearing system. Understanding these terms is essential so there will be no confusion once you need to shift gears while biking.


Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last


David DIY MTB

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.

Sources

  1. Will Peveler. Training for Mountain Biking: A Practical Guide for the Busy Athlete. UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=xA41EAAAQBAJ&pg=PA158&dq=should+i+pedal+when+shifting+gears+on+a+bike&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjG_NW3m_72AhWQGqYKHXTOAigQ6AF6BAgEEAI#v=onepage&q=should%20i%20pedal%20when%20shifting%20gears%20on%20a%20bike&f=false.
  2. League of American Bicyclists. Smart Cycling: Promoting Safety, Fun, Fitness, and the Environment. USA:  Human Kinetics, 2011. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=57TXyzOJi88C&pg=PA52&dq=high+and+low+gear+in+bikes&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwig0cTk4f72AhUHmFYBHfJcCWgQ6AF6BAgCEAI#v=onepage&q=high%20and%20low%20gear%20in%20bikes&f=false
  3. Ethan Clark, and Shelley Jackson. Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance. Microcosm Publishing, 2014. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=bJPQCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA69&dq=bike+speeds&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi185-P3P72AhVkgVYBHcOwBWYQ6AF6BAgLEAI#v=onepage&q=bike%20speeds&f=false.
  4. Selene Yeager, and Leslie Bonci. Bike Your Butt Off!: A Breakthrough Plan to Lose Weight and Start Cycling (No Experience Necessary!). USA: Rodale, 2014. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=-0L7AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA43&dq=tips+for+shifting+bike+gears&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjzpIzA3P72AhX1l1YBHa1iDGgQ6AF6BAgLEAI#v=onepage&q=tips%20for%20shifting%20bike%20gears&f=false.
  5. DK. The Complete Bike Owner’s Manual. UK: Penguin, 2017. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=STxbDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA130&dq=right+and+left+hand+shifters+on+bikes&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiuzPqV3_72AhUZp1YBHfPvDWkQ6AF6BAgIEAI#v=onepage&q=right%20and%20left%20hand%20shifters%20on%20bikes&f=false.