Road bikes: how to use the gearshift correctly

Since Mr. Tullio Campagnolo invented it in 1935, cycling has undergone many changes. The gearshift is an epochal invention that has allowed us to reduce our own effort when cycling and also make this wonderful sport available for anybody and everybody.

In this way, the gearshift – which can be mechanical or electronic – allows the cyclist to change the ratio between the pedalling cadence (i.e. the speed at which they are pedalling) and the frequency with which the wheels of the bicycle turn. In fact, by modulating the rear derailleur with the front one we can obtain a multitude of cadence possibilities and, therefore, different combinations of pedalling frequencies.

How the change is made

The cassettes are mounted on the core of the bike’s rear wheel, with sprockets of various sizes. The number of sprockets can vary from 6 to 12, depending on the type of gearbox we have mounted. Generally, road bike sprockets can have from 11 teeth (the smallest) to 34 (the largest). Instead, the chainrings are mounted to the pedals. In the latest models of bicycles, they are mounted in two different sizes: a large chainring with 53, 52 or 50 teeth and a small chainring with 39, 36 or 34 teeth, although other sizes are also available.

The front and rear derailleurs allow you to set the transmission ratio, i.e. to move the bicycle’s drive chain on the desired chainring and sprocket. The rear shift (or rear derailleur) acts on the sprockets, while the front shift (or front derailleur) acts on the chainrings. On modern road bikes, the shifts are placed on the handlebars, close to your hands, and are easy to operate.

When to use the gearshift depends a lot on where we are pedalling. On a flat stretch we can decide to go as far as possible in one go, while on a challenging climb, with an incline of over 15%, we can reduce the distance travelled and, consequently, the physical effort required to progress along the path.

How to use the shifts

The gearbox is used to adapt the gears according to the incline of the slope and the own athletic condition of each cyclist. Each cyclist will know, with practice and experience, the best combination for each situation, from the hardest and longest ones that seek a greater pedalling distance, to those agile ones that require a greater pedalling frequency.

However, we can summarise the different possibilities offered by the gears:

– Large chainring (multiplier) and large rear sprocket: not recommended, to avoid problems with the chain or derailleur

– Large chainring and medium sprocket: Combination for high speeds, suitable for low level choices

– Large chainring and small sprocket: Combination for maximum speed, suitable for flat and downhill sections

– Small chainring and large sprocket: suitable ratio for climbing because it results in low speed, but less effort for each pedal

– Small chainring and intermediate sprocket: medium speed ratio, suitable for ascents and flat sections

– Small chainring and small sprocket: not recommended, to avoid problems with the chain and derailleur.

We must follow a basic rule: in the ascent sections, we can use ratios that allow us to have a pedalling cadence of 60-80 pedals per minute, while on flat sections, we can stay between 80 and 100 pedals per minute.

Periodic regulation

The gears, and in this case the rear derailleur, are components that suffer a lot during their use. As a result, they lose precision when you change the chainring or sprocket. For this reason, it is necessary to adjust them periodically, especially after intense use, such as classic climbs.

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