Changing Gears Under Pressure

I”m going bike riding today! This is the third ride this week. Tuesday night was the potluck with a large group. Wednesday I rode with a friend of mine and we did hills. Today is a breakfast ride with four other people. We’re going to do the bike trails in a giant loop of around 22 miles.

Wednesday when we were doing hills, I spent quite a bit some time changing gears. If you enjoy riding a street bicycle, you probably have a lot of gears on the back wheel and two or three main ones in the front as well.  Learning to shift gears is part of bike riding, especially with hills.

The idea is to keep your legs moving comfortably at a relatively steady rate and compensate for the hill by changing gears.  The big circle on the front chain rings is operated with your left hand.

Probably the biggest trick is timing when you change gears. I like to use the momentum from going down a hill to help me move up the next hill, so I don’t like to change too soon, or my legs will be pedaling like mad, but I won’t be going anywhere.  If I try to change to late, it’s way too tough to pedal and I may have to even stand up to keep moving up the hill.

That’s where it gets dicey.  You can’t put too much pressure on the gears and expect them to shift from one cog to another. The chain may fall off or you may not even move forward.

If the hill is really steep, I like to shift all the way to the little front gear called the “granny gear” because I helps me to ride up a really steep hill at 3 mph. Yep. Even super slow, if I’m in the little gear, I can make it up. I might be breathing really hard and fast, but I can get there.  I don’t use that gear all that often and it took me a while to figure out how to get into it, but I rely on it when I need it. I have to slightly pedal backwards to get it to move into that little gear in the front.

It’s like that in life too isn’t it!?! Sometimes a tiny step back lets you move forward. Switching gears and making changes at the right time is important.  Too soon and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere… even when you work and work and work.  Start the transition too late and there is too much pressure to be smooth.

Changing Gears Under Pressure
Lots of chain grease from all the times my chain has dropped. You can see that the granny gear doesn’t get near as much use as the other two.

Changing gears under pressure is difficult. Timing the gear changes takes practice. And it takes paying attention! Smaller hills are better to practice on than the big hills. And I find that momentum helps with changes as well.

“It is just like riding a bike!” is a phrase people use when they mean you’ll remember how to do it even if you haven’t done it for a while. While that is true about balancing, I don’t think that gear changing is automatic. At least it isn’t for me. I have to keep practicing my gear changes. In the spring, after a whole winter of not shifting gears, I especially have to practice to remember “left hand big gear changes, right hand little changes on the back wheel gears.”

Now that it is summer, shifting gears is much easier and is a little more automatic.

Even with practice, I still messed up at one point on the ride on Wednesday and my chain popped off. I laughed it off, pulled over to the side and moved the chain back onto the smallest front gear. But since I lost all momentum, I had to walk a bit to get to the crest of the hill.  It’s much like life. Too much pressure, wrong timing, and BAM, next thing I know, I have to walk up the hill.

Today I’m going to be mindful of the slope of the hill and try not be chatting too much so that I find myself in the wrong gear at the wrong time.  Yeah summer!

Update: Our planned 22 mile bike ride ended up being 41 miles with a walking adventure! Instead of what we usually call the “Kent loop”, it turned into an Akron/Cuyahoga Falls loop. We averaged about 10 miles an hour and took lots of rest breaks as the temperatures after noon were in the 80’s. I was glad I had two water bottles with me. I’m sure you can tell where we walked the bikes up the hill at the huge elevation rise that felt about straight up. Most of the 41 miles had a nice long elevation drop. It was fun to go on some trails that I had never been on before.  The screen shots below are from a bike riding app I use called Strava.

Steep hills means Changing Gears Under Pressure



2 thoughts on “Changing Gears Under Pressure”

  1. Nice ride! I hear you on dropping a chain if you aren’t careful changing gears going uphill LOL. I also use gears to judge my fitness during ride season by trying to challenge myself to do a bigger gear going uphill as the season goes on.

    1. Lori –
      You are so right. Getting on to the difficult part, I mashed the gears and dropped the chain. No wonder my handlebars have chain lube on them! I like your idea of benchmarking the hills by the gear. I am feeling more confident on the short hills. Although we’re about 1/2 way thru the summer, I’m still struggling on shifting gears correctly. Love reading about your cupcake rides!

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