Road Cycling Skills

Technique: How to use your gears efficiently

We’ve got bicycle gears explained in this simple guide. Find out how to change gears on a bike and learn to use your gears efficiently, as it’s one of the simplest was to make your ride better, faster and more comfortable.

No time to read all this? No worries! Pop over and read our super Quick Beginners Cycling Tips: How to Use Your Gears for the essential info.

Find out to use your bicycle gears efficiently

Changing or shifting gears on a bike at the right time will mean you’ll always ride in the right gear to tackle the terrain you are on. It will also mean your gears and chain last a bit longer too!

You can also check out our guides on How to Brake Efficiently and How to Corner Efficiently.

Changing Bike Gears – Beginner Basics:

Many beginners under use their gears, plugging away in a high gear (big cog at the front, small cog at the back), expending lots of energy, churning the pedals at a low speed. Others find themselves pedaling furiously not getting very far, as they are in too low a gear (small cog at the front, large at the rear).

The key on how to use your bicycle gears efficiently is to start by finding the right gear. This means you can keep a steady rate of pedaling, or cadence, without feeling like you are pushing too hard or too gently through the pedals.

Which lever changes which bike gear?

On a bike with derailleur gears

Left-hand shifter/lever: controls the front derailleur, which guides the chain over the chainrings near your pedals – providing large jumps in gears.
Right-hand shifter/lever: controls the rear derailleur, which guides your chain over the back cogs – where you fine-tune your gearing.

The best way to get to grips with this is to experiment, ideally somewhere quiet rather than out on the busy roads.

What bike gear should I be in?

Which bike gears should I avoid?

Avoid using the following combinations of cycle gears, as they will cause your chain stretch and wear your chain out quickly:

Cadence and efficiency when changing gear on a bike

Thinking about your cadence, the rate at which you are pedaling at, can help you to answer the question – am I in the right gear? Try experimenting with different gears on climbs, descents and even on the flat, as it will help your cycling efficiency.

That word – efficiency – is a great word for cycling. For each ride, imagine you have £10 (a limited amount of energy) in your pocket to “spend”. Each time you have to make a hard effort or are pushing really hard on the pedals think to yourself;

Am I spending my money wisely?

An efficient pedalling cadence will push you along the road and help you to conserve energy.

Top tips for finding the right gear when cycling

A good way to understand your cadence and get the right gear on your bike is to find a nice quiet bit of road and practice riding at different cadences. For one revolution you count one foot doing a full revolution. It is best to count this at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

On flat or rolling terrain on your own or in a group you should be looking to have a cadence of between 80-99 revolutions of the pedal per minute.

It’s also worth experimenting with different cadences and work out what feels most natural to you. The same goes for climbs; generally the optimum cadence is between 60-80 revolutions per minute. Again, find a quiet hill and ride up it at different cadences and see which one got you up the hill for the least amount of energy spent (remember that £10 note). You can then try climbs of different gradient, but always look for that optimum cadence and decide what gear is going to get you to that cadence.

Basic Technique

  1. Week 1: Braking
  2. Week 2: Gears
  3. Week 3: Cornering

We’d like to thank Gary Willis, former British Cycling Talent Coach and owner of the .001 Sport cycling holiday company for providing the expert knowledge for this article. .

Liked this guide on how to use your gears efficiently? Why not also learn a thing or two from these:

How to: First Aid for Cyclists

How to: Maintain and Clean your Bike in 10 Easy Steps

How to Avoid Buying A Stolen Bicycle


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