How to Shift Gears on a Road Bike for Triathlon Beginners

Are you wondering how to change gears on a road bike? If so, then this post is for you! We are going to discuss step by step how to change gears on a road bike. Proper gear shifting helps you ride fast and smoothly, and it also makes riding much more fun!

Basic Gearing Terms

Worth referring to if you’re a new rider but, as a brief refresher to make the language below clear:

  • Easy gear (smaller chainrings, bigger cassette cogs) = smaller gear
  • Harder gear (bigger chainrings, smaller cassette cogs) = bigger gear

However, just to make matters more confusing:

  • Upshift = harder gear
  • Downshift = easier gear

Lastly, talking about moving ‘up the cassette’ is a more ambiguous term. When we use it on BikeRadar, it’s in its most literal interpretation:

  • Up the cassette = from a smaller cog to a larger cog
  • Down the cassette = from a larger cog to a smaller cog

With that roughly as clear as mud, here’s how you go about using your road shifters.

Shift Lever

Shift levers are the components that are squeezed, moved, twisted, or tapped to change gears on your bike. Most road bike shift levers are curved pieces of carbon, plastic, or aluminium that fit in the palm of your hand. You will typically squeeze the shift lever (closing it towards the bars) to apply the brakes and push the lever in (towards the midline of the bike) to shift gears.


Chains are the final piece of the drivetrain that connects everything, transferring power from the pedals and through the chain to the rest of the system. The chain is a roller chain that goes around each chain ring and through the derailleur systems. Without a chain, you wouldn’t be able to push power into the rear wheel and move your bike forward.

At worst, a dropped chain will get wrapped around the pedal, chain ring, or derailleur, and it could even be twisted or broken. One of the most frustrating mechanical catastrophes in cycling is when your chain gets dropped off the inside of your front chain ring and ends up wedged between your bike’s chain ring and frame.

Dropping Your Chain

One of the most common cycling terms is “dropping your chain.” This refers to your chain falling off the front or rear chain ring. At best, the chain will be caught by the derailleur (you see where the name comes from?) and be remounted to the chain ring in no time.


The chainrings refer to the spiked circles connected by your chain. Your front chainring (the spelling of chainring can also be chain ring) is the larger chain ring that is centred around your crankset and bottom bracket. Your pedals attach around the front chain ring.

Gear Ratio

Bicycle gear ratio refers to the combination of front and rear gears at any moment. The gear ratio is expressed as the front chain ring x rear cog, such as “53×11.”

When cyclists talk about what gear they are using, they may respond with their gear ratio (e.g., 53×11) instead of just one gear (e.g., “I was in my 28.”)


Derailleurs are components of the gearing system that move the chain from one gear to another. They also help hold the chain in place and prevent it from falling off the chainrings during gear shifts.


The drivetrain refers to all the moving parts that make up the gearing system and transfer power from the pedals to the rear wheel. Bicycle drivetrains include chains, chainrings, and cassettes.

How to Change Gears on a Road Bike: 4 Steps


Step One: Figure Out How Many Gears

First, you need to figure out how many gears your bike has. If it’s a multi-gear bicycle then there will be two sets of gear levers on the handlebar so that one set can be used for upshifting and the other for downshifting.

The number next to each lever indicates what gear is currently selected. Consult your user manual if you are unsure which lever does what!

Step Two: Selecting The Right Gear

Selecting the right gear should always start with selecting the easiest gear. To pedal as little as possible while still achieving good speeds according to the rider’s fitness level.

In the gear selection system, this is known as a “granny gear” and will be represented by either an R or an L on your shifters. If you want to keep pedalling at a steady pace while going up hills then select the granny gear!

Step Three: Practice Gear Shifting

Practice shifting in order from easiest to hardest (R-L-H) until it becomes second nature. It may sound simple, but it takes practice before new riders can change gears without looking down for too long each time they do so!

Eventually, muscle memory should take over and make changing gears much easier. Also remember that if you are working on shifting to a harder gear, you should shift before the end of your current pedal stroke.

Step Four: Practice Starting and Stopping in Different Gears

In order from easiest to hardest (R-L-H), it is easier for beginners to start out with an easy gear such as R or L. when they are first learning how to ride their bike!

You may need more hand strength than leg strength at this point because braking will be used less frequently while starting off due to slower speeds on level terrain.

When you get comfortable with those two gears then try H instead of L which is slightly harder but still possible without using too much arm and upper body power yet.

Keep practising until changing into higher gears becomes second nature like how you learned how to change gears on a manual car!

How To Shift Gears On A Road Bike Properly

Here are the three steps to changing your gear:

Step One:

Start pedalling and push down with one foot (you can use whichever hand you want but we will demonstrate using our right) to shift into easier gears.

This is accomplished by pulling up on the lever to move it left or pushing down on the lever for harder ones. Keep doing this until you find an easy gear such as R or L which helps beginners who don’t have much upper body strength yet,

Step Two:

Pedal again while maintaining pressure on that foot then if needed release some of that pressure before shifting back up.

Some cyclists prefer clicking their pedals when they want to change gears, so practice with both your feet and hands.

Step Three:

One of the most important parts of gear changing is shifting down before you shift up so that it gives time for the chain to engage with a higher gear.

This can be done by releasing pressure on the lever. letting off some pressure from your foot.

If applicable or clicking (pedalling), then pulling back up again, all in quick succession as well as moving around to find easier gears such as R or L which helps beginners who don’t have much upper body strength yet.

Here are 3 other things cyclists need to know about how to change gears properly:

1. Pulling hard will make it difficult to pedal fast when pedalling becomes harder.

This often happens while climbing hills or on very long rides. It causes the chain to skip gears, which will cause frustration.

2. Use your fingers for a smooth gear change by pressing with just enough pressure.

So that you can feel the lever release but not too hard because this is how you’ll learn proper technique over time.

3. Make sure to do all of these in quick succession because if one is done incorrectly then there’s no chance of an easy shift.

This means releasing pressure and using your foot while simultaneously pulling back up on the shifter levers again quickly and smoothly before moving around into another easier gear such as R or L (doing any slowly may lead to skipping gears).

If either step was forgotten then employ short pulls until a gear has engaged successfully. When a gear has engaged successfully then you can begin to ride normally and shift as necessary.

How do you change gears on a bike for beginners?

To answer this question, we need to understand the meaning of “changing gears”.

Changing gears on a bike for beginners means you are switching from one gear to another. The process is simple and easy, but it requires some practice. Based on your speed and road you need to change your gear. In general, a bike shift gear requires shifting to low gear when riding uphill and shifting to high gear riding downhill.

Beginner Tips for Gear Shifting

As frustrating as this may sound, smooth and efficient shifting comes with lots of practice. Professional cyclists shift intuitively, they don’t even think about it. Whereas beginner cyclists might be overthinking every single shift.

When you’re first learning how to shift, remember to be smooth on the pedals and avoid shifting when you are pushing hard in your pedal stroke. There is no benefit to shifting gears quickly. It’s always better to shift gears smoothly.

As you get more comfortable with gear shifting, practice shifting into corners and before and after hills. When you decelerate for a corner, try shifting into an easier gear so that your cadence stays the same as you exit the corner at a lower speed.

The same goes for climbing. Practice shifting gears just before you are on the climb rather than when you have already started it. This allows you to find a comfortable cadence before the road gets steep, and you won’t get stuck trying to shift gears while also putting pressure on the pedals.

What gear should you be in?

Picking the perfect gear is a lot like choosing the perfect pair of shoes. We have some recommendations and guidelines for you to follow but at the end of the day, you have to find the gear that is best for you.

If you have a cadence sensor or a power meter, then you can use your cadence data to find your perfect gear. Your cadence is how fast you are pedalling, and it is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). When you shift into an easier gear, your cadence will increase at the same effort level. And when you shift into a harder gear, your cadence will decrease.

A cadence of 80-90 rpm is recommended for most cyclists, but this can change based on the terrain. For example, you might be pedalling at a lower cadence of 70 rpm on a steep hill, or sprinting in your fastest gear at 105 rpm.

A good rule of thumb is to get into the gear where you are pedalling almost as fast as you can without your bottom bouncing up and down on the saddle. Your cadence should feel quick but smooth. And for most cyclists, this ideal cadence is around 80-90 rpm.

Avoid cross chaining

Cross-chaining occurs when your chain is stretching diagonally across your front and rear gears. Imagine looking at your chain from above, and you can see if it is tracking in a straight line.

If you are cross-chaining, your chain will not look straight. Instead, it will be reaching from the right side of the front chain rings to the left side of the rear cassette (as you can see in the picture above) or vice versa. An example of cross-chaining is riding in your 53×28 (above), which means that your chain is stretching diagonally from your big chain ring to your easiest rear cog.

Why Cross Chaining is Bad for Your Bike

Cross-chaining is loud, inefficient, and dangerous. First, it is loud because your chain will be rubbing up against the front derailleur. Metal rubbing on metal usually makes a lot of noise.

This rubbing wastes energy, which means that anytime you are cross-chaining, you are losing watts.

Lastly, cross-chaining is dangerous because it puts extra pressure on your rear derailleur and especially your rear derailleur hanger which is the small piece that connects your rear derailleur to your bike’s frame. The diagonal pressure from cross-chaining is much more likely to bend or break your rear derailleur, which is not a cheap and easy fix.

To avoid cross-chaining, try to use the bottom two-thirds (e.g. 23-11) of your rear cassette with your front chain ring only. If you need an easier gear in the top third of your cassette (e.g. 28-23), you should shift to your small ring.

In other words, don’t use your easiest rear cogs with your big front chain ring. And if you’re not sure if you’re cross-chaining, just look down at your chain and listen for rubbing on your front derailleur.



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