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The Secrets To Changing Gears On Your Mountain Bike

One of the best things about a mountain bike are its gears. They magnify your speed and enable you to roll up steep climbs. But there is a little more to it than just a quick “click” down gear or two and powering up the next hill.

Let’s find out more…

General Concepts

Bike gears can be big or small. A big gear – like a high gear in a car – is for flats and downhills. A small, or low gear is for climbs. On your bike’s front chainring, the larger diameter rings are the bigger gears. This is the opposite for the rear wheel cogs/rings, that is, the larger diameter rings are the smaller gears.

When to Shift

Ideally, you want to shift during easy pedaling so the chain moves smoothly. So if you see a steep climb ahead, shift down beforehand. Caught by surprise? You can still shift mid-climb, but do it as gently as possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a snapped chain.

Chain Alignment

You want your chain to travel along the straightest line possible between the front chainring and rear cogs. For example, when the chain is on the middle chainring up front, the rear shifter should place the chain in the middle of the rear cogs. If the chain is on the smaller, inner chainring up front, then the rear position should also be closer to the frame. Extreme angles lead to faster chain wear and possible breakage.

Big or Small Gear?

Gear choice is personal, but don’t be fooled that a big (“harder”) gear is better. Sometimes it’s best to go with a smaller gear and more pedal RPMs to conserve energy. On the other hand, smaller gears aren’t always the best on rolling terrain. Why? Use a bigger gear and you may maintain momentum to roll up shorter climbs.


Learn to be aware of your mountain bike chain position in different riding situations. Proper gearing allows your bike and your body to work more efficiently.

So keep in touch and get out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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