Written by 7:29 pm MTB, MTB Skills

Your Guide to How To Shift Gears On A Mountain Bike

As a mountain biker, if there is one technique you would require virtually everywhere you ride, then it has to be how to shift gears correctly. This technique may sound so simple, but the number of great things you can net from it would practically blow your mind.

However, before you could actually pull it off smoothly and suck all the performance out of your bike, just like any other mountain biking technique, you need to do it correctly.

If you want to learn this technique for the first time, or you have been struggling to shift gears even after years on the road, here is how to shift gears on a mountain bike.

Know the basics

Before we even look at how to shift gears on a mountain bike, it would make a lot of sense if we first learn about the basics

Different parts

Most mountain bikes come with a number of gears ranging from 1 to 11 gears. These gears are made up of a number of components including:

  • Derailleurs: Most bikes come with two of these; one on the front wheel and the other on the rear. This part plays a key role. It actually allows the chain to spin around the cog without any problem.
  • Chainrings: Most bikes come equipped with three of them. Chainring helps transfer energy you create by pedaling right at the rear wheel.
  • Shifters: These rare basically controls use to shift gears. They come often mounted on the handlebars. Here are some of the most common types of shifters you would probably come across if you are an avid mountain bikes.
  • Cassette: This actually allows you to achieve those varied pedaling cadence, giving you those fluid motions
  • Chain: This connects the chainrings to the cassette. It helps rotate the cog as you pedal.

Mountain bike Shifters

Here we have two types of shifters. They are quite popular on bikes meant for mountain riding.

  • Thumb shifters:

These types of shifters often come with two levers for each hand. How this type of shifting mechanism works is pretty much simple. One lever is used to move the chain up it is going through different gears while the other one allows you to move the chain down.

  • Grip shifters:

They are fast becoming very popular and we could see them soon replace thumb shifters. We guess it is because of the ease of use they come with. How to use these shifters is hassle-free. You can shift to a different gear by just twisting an indexed grip of your mountain bike forward or backward. Just like thumb shifter, one twist is said to move the chain up through different gears and doing it in the opposite direction will move the chain down.

How to shift the Front gears

All mountain bikes come equipped with hand controls for shifting mounted on the handlebars. If you want to shift the front gears you need to use the left shifter. When you use the left control, the derailleur smoothly shift the chain from one side to the other, making it catch a new front gear.

How to shift the rear gears

Just like front gears, you can also shift the rear gears with hand controls on the handlebar, but this time you are going to use the ones on the right hand. And pretty much like the front gears, these controls can make the derailleur move from one side to another, making the chain catch a new rear gear.

When to shift gear

When do we know it is time to shift gears? This, obviously, is one the most commonly asked question.  Just like your car gear, you actually need to be strategic when it comes to shifting gear. You might want to guess or know what might be ahead; you need to anticipate what might likely come ahead. That will help you prepare to gradually shift the gear from one to the other. It is important you do that as doing it all of sudden could cause what is called overcompensation; a move that could make the chain slip from its actual position and you know how ugly that could get.

Riding on even terrain

For an even terrain, preferably a very flat surface, as a rider, you need to either shift to a middle or even higher gear. This will allow you to accelerate real fast and intensify your cadence.

Sloped gradients

For this kind of terrain, you can go wrong with a lower gear. If you were moving using a higher gear, downshift your bike to the lowest gear possible. That will come with a number of benefits to you as a rider. First, it will help you conserve energy as it can make those steep ascents less torturous to your legs.

Shifting for more speed

Pretty much like our cars, we can also use our bike gear to achieve more speed. For example, if you are moving really fast you realize those lower gears start to feel a little bit too easy and less powerful if you want to build more and more speed, gear up to bigger gear than what you were riding on.

Shifting to make pedaling easier

Did you know you can also shift your mountain bike gears to make that pedaling incredibly easier but less powerful?  This comes truly come in handy for a number of situations. To pull off this, you need to gear down. This will make each pedaling you do ease; however, you have to know it won’t push you as far as possible. There are two ways you can do this:

  • Shift to a lower gear in the front
  • Shift to a higher gear in the back

Shifting to make pedaling a little hard but powerful

If you want to have a powerful pedal power to push you far, and you wouldn’t mind the hard pedaling you would have to deal with, you can shift to a higher gear. That alone will make those pedaling you do extremely hard, but each pedal will push you further and further, and that will make you move faster.  There are two ways you can pull off this:

  • Gera up in the front
  • Gera down in the rear

What To Keep In Mind When It Comes To Shifting Your Bike Gears

As with any other technique you learn today, there are quite a number of things you need to keep in mind if you want to have those smooth and effortless gear-shifting sessions when you are on the road.

What gearing do you really need?

With mountain bikes now coming with gears, ranging from 1 to even 30 gears, what to go for can be quite confusing for most people. After all, when we think of all the considerations and also an array of chainrings and cogs among other things, clearly, things can get really complicated. So what is the easiest way you can use to know the number of gears you really need?

Your fitness level and the terrain are probably the very first things you need to consider. For example, if you know you will be doing a lot of climbing and lots of hills, going for the highest number of gear will make a lot of sense.

On the other hand, if you are one of those people who do strong cycling and you always do a lot of flat areas, you don’t actually need much low gear to take you up through those crazy hills. In short, you can’t go wrong with fewer gears. This will keep the bike as lightweight as possible.

Listen to your bike

Pretty much like that car you drive today before you change your mountain bike gears, you need to properly listen to your bike itself. Just like a car, it will tell you when to upshift or even downshift the gear. In this case, we are talking about the noise your bike normally makes when it is working well and also those metal on metal noises or even chain chatter the bike makes when things are going not perfectly aligned as it should be. Be good at listening to your bike and you will prevent a number of bad things from happening. You will be able to avoid wearing out of the derailleur, cassette cogs and also chain rings.

Keep the Drivetrain cleaned and lubed

This cannot be overemphasized enough; if you have the drivetrain clogged with dirt and debris, shifting gears is not going to be easy. Not only will you have trouble shifting gears, but you could also end up damaging the entire drivetrain. Thankfully, there is something you could do about that. Have the derailleurs, and chain well cleaned and lubed.

Only shift when you are pedaling forward

You need to only shift your gears when you are pedaling forward. If you shift when you are backpedaling or you are just not pedaling at all, your bike chain won’t be tight for it to catch, and when you start forward pedaling again, that could cause the chain to slip off the gear. That alone is one encounter we wouldn’t want to come across while riding.

Keep Practicing

This has always been emphasized; practice and practice. Just like any other mountain bike technique, there is no way you are going to perfect this great art if you don’t keep practicing. During your free time and you want to take your biking game to a whole new level, always practice up and downshifting in a flat area.

Find a flat place as that will be safe and start pedaling forwards. It is here where you might want to try using one of the hand controls to actually gear up or even down. It doesn’t even stop there; it is also during this time when you might want to learn to listen to your bike. Try to listen to the noise that could give you a clue if you need to gear up or down. It cannot get better than that.

Final Words

Overall, shifting your mountain bike gears the right way could actually come with plenty of benefits. So as a mountain biking enthusiast, this is a top technique you need to learn today. It will not only make you a better rider but also help you tackle a number of different terrains with so much ease. Thankfully, learning how to shift gears in a mountain bike is incredibly straightforward.

Updated on December 6, 2021 by Ben

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