How often have you wished you had a few extra gears for going up steep hills. Or conversely a few more to go faster? How many of you often wonder why you have gears on your bike at all because you can’t seem to figure out how to use them effectively and prefer cycling along in a single gear? The gears on a bike are there to help us and there are tons of very technical articles spouting technical jargon like “gear ratios” which are worth a read. BUT to keep things simple for beginner to intermediate cyclists here are my top 5 tips.
(Liz is a Cycling Australia accredited Road and Track Coach and has been cycling for 20 years – she shares her tips for better cycling here. Liz also runs F2F cycling programmes aimed at varying levels of ability.)
Firstly – and it’s not one of my top five tips because it’s a MUST, not a tip for better cycling – get to know your gears. Hop on a wind trainer and practise changing up (ie into a harder gear) and down (into an easier gear). Look down at both the front chain ring and the back cog to see what is happening as you press the levers situated on your right and left. Get to know which side changes the position of the chain on the front chain ring and which changes the position of the chain on the back cog. Do you know the answers to the following yet?
Yes – then you are ready to go out on your bike and have a look at my slightly more technical tips.
1. Think about using a compact mechanism – ie smaller front chain ring giving you lower gears which will save your knees and make going up hills easier. This is NOT something you can achieve yourself without speaking to a bike shop but if you live in a hilly area and continually find yourself running out of gears going uphill or having to grind your gears too hard killing your poor old leg muscles then a compact is a good answer.
2. Think CADENCE NOT GEARS – try to cycle at around 90 rpm and change down from the big gears to achieve this. Pushing a very high (hard) gear will wear you out too quickly. This point should really have been number 1 – its VITAL. Cadence is KING these days – and the power gains you get from increasing cadence by up to 5 revolutions per minute far outweigh those you get from increasing a gear and are more likely to be sustainable over a longer ride.
3. Change down to a lower gear BEFORE you get too slow! This is particularly relevant on hills – many leave it until the last minute to change down making the gear change very clunky and possibly dangerous if something goes wrong (ie you might just topple off!). This goes hand in hand with point 2 – you will go faster and make life easier for yourself by keeping cadence high and gearing easy so change down NOW!
4. Do not always assume that knee and/or back pain results from a poor fit. Check you have selected the right cadence and are not pushing too big a gear (see point 2 – why does it always come back to point 2 ???)
I am a massive fan of everyone having a bike fit BEFORE purchasing a new bike so it fits you perfectly and you are not retro fitting components to your size. Failing one BEFORE a purchase have one immediately after a purchase. That way you know you are optimally fitted to get the best from your bike. And once you are fitted you can more easily figure out if the back or knee pain is coming from selecting the right gear because you have eliminated the other possible causes.
5. Ensure you do not execute CROSS CHAINING. This is when you are on the big chain ring at the front and the big cog at the back (or in the small chain ring at the front and the small cog at the back). This stretches the chain diagonally and risks damage to your bike. Evidence also shows that it wastes power – and you don’t want that eh?! You will get this from more practise coz its hard to describe but its essentially lazy gear changes. You were in a nice high gear on a flat surface trucking along in your small rear cog and big chain ring at the front and then it got harder. You lazily made life easier for yourself by only changing the position of the rear cog until – hey presto – you are now CROSS CHAINING! That is BIG chain ring at the front and at the back! What you should have done is change down to the smaller front chain ring about half way up the rear – you can always change back later when the surface flattens out again.
Now get out and practise these gearing techniques and enjoy the local countryside by bike!
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