How To Shift Gear Correctly On A Road Bike

Published on:

Shifting gears on a road bike is finding the proper gear ratio to match the terrain and your pedaling effort. To shift gears properly, anticipate the terrain or upcoming obstacles like steep hills, sharp turns, potholes, or changes in road conditions. Then, ease off the pressure on the pedals, shift smoothly to your desired gear, and maintain a steady cadence.

Remember to regularly check the mechanical functions of your bike, like your chain, drivetrain, gears, brakes, tires, frame, and cables, to ensure that your bike is in good working condition and that all its components and systems are functioning correctly.

This blog post will discuss how and when to shift gears, different bike shifting techniques, and six essential tips.    

How To Shift Gears?
Specific Shifting Techniques for Different Bikes
6 Essential Tips on Gear Shifting

How To Shift Gears?

Gear shifting works in two ways: When you push the shifter with two clicks, it moves the chain to a larger, easier gear in the rear (right hand) and a larger, harder gear in the front (left hand). On the other hand, a single click moves the chain to a smaller, harder gear in the rear (right hand) and a smaller, easier gear in the front (left hand).

Now, let’s understand what a gear is. In simple terms, a gear is an essential component of your bike’s drivetrain. They are pulleys that help transfer power from your legs through the bike’s pedals and cranks, then through the chain, and eventually to the rear wheel. 

Your bike has shifters connected to a cable inside a protective housing—when you click the shifters, the cable tightens or loosens, which controls the force applied to the derailleur. The derailleur is the part that moves your chain up or down on the cassette or chainrings. 

It is also essential to understand how gear shifting works. Each lever on the shifter has a specific function for shifting gears. Here is a handy in-depth guide to what each lever does during gear shifting:  

Left Hand: 

The left-hand shifter on your bike controls the front gears or the front derailleur. It allows you to move the chain up and down the chainrings. 

When you use these levers, you’ll experience big jumps in gears, which are handy for making sudden changes in terrain. They help you tackle different types of slopes or adjust your pedaling effort quickly. 

Right Hand:

The right-hand shifter on your bike is in charge of the rear gears or derailleur. It allows you to move the chain up and down the cassette. These levers are perfect for making minor adjustments to your gearing, especially during slight changes in terrain.  

Big Lever:

The big lever on a road bike is usually the brake lever. It controls the brakes and slows down or stops your bike. The larger of the two levers move the chain into larger rings. So, big=big. 

When you use the big lever with your right hand, it will make pedaling easier. On the other hand, using the big lever with your left hand will make pedaling harder. It’s a simple way to adjust your bike’s gears and find the right difficulty level for your ride.

Small Lever:

The smaller of the two levers is used to move the chain into smaller rings. So, small=small. When you use the small lever with your RIGHT hand, it will make pedaling harder. On the other hand, using the small lever with your LEFT hand will make pedaling easier. 

To make it simpler, here’s a guideline to refer to:

  • Easy gear (smaller chainrings, bigger cassette cogs) = smaller gear
  • Harder gear (bigger chainrings, smaller cassette cogs) = bigger gear
  • Upshift = higher gear
  • Downshift = lower gear
  • Up the cassette = from a smaller cog to a larger cog
  • Down the cassette = from a larger cog to a smaller cog

Now, moving on to when to shift gears, you’ll want to shift them when you feel like your current gear is either too easy or too hard to pedal comfortably. If you need to maintain a good cadence, shift to an easier gear. On the other hand, if you’re spinning your legs too quickly without much resistance, change to a higher gear.

When shifting gears, there are also vital factors to consider, such as the terrain you’re riding on. If you encounter a steep hill or a challenging uphill section, shifting to a lower gear, like the 48/17 gear ratio, is a good idea. Doing so helps maintain a steady cadence and generate more power with each pedal stroke, making climbing easier.    

Conversely, if you’re riding on a flat or downhill stretch, shift to a higher gear, like the 10th or 11th gear, to increase your speed and take advantage of the momentum. 

Remember that when riding on steep slopes, your glutes play a crucial role as they have the most significant impact in generating power, which means that engaging and activating your glute muscles can help you easily tackle challenging climbs. 

On the other hand, shifting to a higher gear will give you a lower torque, and when you pedal at a fast pace, like 100 rpm, your calves and hamstrings are more engaged than your quads and glutes. This is because the smaller muscles, like the calves and hamstrings, prioritize controlling joint movement rather than generating power.

Specific Shifting Techniques for Different Bikes

Each bike brand has unique gear shifters designed specifically for their bikes, which vary in design, placement, and functionality. Some brands have integrated shifters, where the shifting mechanism is built into the brake levers, while others may have separate shifters located on the handlebars. 

Here’s a helpful guide for shifting gears on different road bike types with distinctive shifters, such as Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo road bikes: 

How to use Shimano road bike shifters?

Shimano road bike shifters allow you to change gears on your bike by conveniently shifting the derailleur’s position, which moves the chain onto different gears. They also offer various shifters, including their popular STI (Shimano Total Integration), combining the gear-shifting mechanism with the brake levers for seamless control. 

Shimano’s gear shifters use a combination of levers and cables to move the derailleur and change gears. The shifters also have a precise and reliable mechanism, allowing smooth and quick gear changes. When you press the smaller lever, it shifts to a higher gear. And when you press the larger lever, it shifts to a lower gear.  

Here’s a simple procedure to use them:                                            

  1. Locate the gear shifters on your road bike, which are built right into the brake levers. They are positioned on the hoods of the brake levers, allowing you to shift gears without taking your hands off the handlebars. 
  1. Use the right shifter to control the rear gears or cogs in the cassette. When you shift with the right shifter, it moves the chain onto different gears in the back. 

The left shifter controls the front chainring(s). Shift to a lower gear with the smallest chain ring in the front and the largest cog on your cassette (rear gears) for easier pedaling, suitable for climbing hills. 

  1. When you want to downshift into lower gears for climbing, push the lever behind the brake inward towards the bike’s middle using your index finger. Keep pushing until you hear a clicking noise. The clicking noise means your Shimano shifter has switched you to a lower gear.
  1. For upshifting into higher gears for descending or accelerating downhill, use your thumb to push the smaller lever just below the brake handle inward toward you until there’s a subtle click—similar to when shifting into a lower gear.
  1. Apply light pedal pressure to smoothly transition between lower and higher gears to reduce undue stress on equipment components like cogs and chainrings of the cycle’s drivetrain.

How to use SRAM road bike shifters?

Using SRAM road bike shifters is a unique process different from other brands as they incorporate a single paddle instead of having separate levers for shifting up and down. Tap the paddle inward with your thumb to change to a higher gear. Push the paddle outward with your index finger to shift to a lower gear.

Here’s the procedure: 

  1. Initiate an upshift by pressing the shifter just enough to hear and feel a distinct click. When downshifting and transitioning to larger cogs, you must apply a longer push on the shifter with your fingers. Instead of just giving it a short click, apply more pressure and hold it momentarily. 

This longer push allows the chain to move smoothly onto the larger cogs, which helps you maintain control during technical descents.

  1. To shift down into a smaller cog (a bigger/harder gear), gently push the paddle inboard from right to left. And if you want to shift into a larger (easier/smaller) gear, push the paddle further inboard.  

On the other hand, to shift down into a smaller chainring (a smaller/easier gear), gently push the paddle inboard from left to right. And if you want to shift into a larger (harder/larger) gear, just push the paddle further inboard.

  1. Customize your shifting styles with SRAM eTap shifters, which make changing between gears easier and more efficient. 

Use the Reach Adjust feature to adjust the paddle reach on SRAM eTap shifters. This feature lets you modify the position of the shift paddles to suit your hand size and riding style. Use an 8mm Allen key to loosen the reach adjustment bolt, move the paddle to your desired position, and tighten it to secure it.

  1. Instead of abruptly releasing the levers after shifting, keep consistent and steady pressure to prevent sudden jerks or shifts in your bike’s momentum, allowing for a more controlled and seamless transition.   

How to use Campagnolo road bike shifters?

Campagnolo shifters have a distinctive design and feel compared to other brands. They are also known for their precision and smoothness, have a more ergonomic shape, and offer a unique shifting mechanism. 

One important term that Campagnolo bicycle component manufacturers use is “Ergopower,” which is their integrated shift and brake levers. Ergopower levers combine the functions of shifting gears and braking into one unit, allowing cyclists to control both without taking their hands off the handlebars.

With Ergopower, you can shift gears by pressing the brake lever inward or using a smaller thumb lever located behind the brake lever. This unique dual design allows for multiple shifting options and provides a distinct feel when shifting gears.

Here’s how to use Campagnolo road bike shifters:

  1. The system features two prominent controls: 

The first is a shift lever located just behind the brake lever, operated by your index or middle finger. It allows you to upshift to higher gears by pushing the lever inward toward the center of the handlebar.

The second control is a thumb-operated paddle located near the shift lever. This paddle is for downshifting into lower gears. Press the paddle with your thumb to initiate a downshift. This two-control system provides a convenient way to shift gears while keeping your hands securely on the handlebars. 

  1. Locate the shift lever behind the brake lever and place your hand on the handlebars to position your fingers near the shift lever. Then, pull it toward you until you hear a click to move to a larger cog or chainring. 

Keep pulling the lever until you have reached the desired larger cog or chainring. You can then release the lever, and Campagnolo’s system automatically completes the shift.

  1. If you wish to go onto a smaller cog or chainring, press on the thumb-operated paddle inside your shifter. 

This paddle is designed to make downshifting quick and easy. Just use your thumb to press the paddle, and you’ll smoothly transition to a lower gear. It’s a convenient feature that allows precise control while climbing or when you need more power.

6 Essential Tips on Gear Shifting:

Now that we know when to shift gears and how gear shifting works on different road bikes, here are six essential tips to enhance your gear shifting further:

1. Pedaling cadence: 

One factor to consider when shifting gears on a road bike is your pedaling cadence, which is the speed at which you pedal. Ideally, you want to maintain a cadence of around 80-100 revolutions per minute (RPM). If you find yourself pedaling too quickly, it’s a sign that you should shift to a higher gear. 

You must experiment with different pedaling speeds during your rides to find a comfortable cadence. Start by aiming for a moderate cadence of around 70-80 revolutions per minute (RPM). Pay attention to how your legs feel and the effort required. If it feels too strenuous, you must decrease your cadence by shifting to a lower gear. 

On your next ride, you can increase your pedaling speed to around 90-100 RPM to experiment with a different pedaling cadence and take notes of how your legs respond to the increased cadence. 

2. Adjusting Your Gears When Drafting

Drafting is when you ride closely behind another cyclist to reduce wind resistance and conserve energy. When you’re drafting, adjust your gears to match the speed and cadence of the cyclist in front of you to maintain the group’s rhythm. 

You can shift to a lower gear when you’re not pedaling as much in a draft and want to maintain a smooth cadence with minimal effort. For example, you can shift to a gear ratio of 34/28 or 36/30, which gives you a lower gear for those relaxed moments.

Then, shift to a higher gear to generate more power during the draft, when it’s time to pedal harder, like going uphill or sections needing acceleration, such as starting from a stop and catching up to the group. Higher gear ratios like 52:11 or 50:12 can help you pick up speed and match the group’s pace.  

3. Anticipating Your Shifts

By anticipating your shifts, you can smoothly transition between gears, maintain momentum, and prevent sudden, jarring movements. Anticipating shifts also helps you prepare for upcoming changes in terrain, such as hills or descents, allowing you to shift to the appropriate gear in advance. 

Here’s a guide to help you anticipate your shifts better:

  • Know the terrain:

 Familiarize yourself with the route or area you’ll be riding in by taking note of any hills, descents, or changes in road conditions, such as turns or bumps, etc. 

Also, use online mapping tools like Google Maps or GPS devices to study the route. You can zoom in on the map, check the elevation profile, and even use street view to visualize the road conditions. 

Some apps or websites offer virtual tours of popular cycling routes. These tours provide a 360-degree view of the road, giving you a sense of the surroundings and potential challenges.    

  • Anticipate your shifts: 

Consider how fast you’ll be riding. If you’re approaching a section needing to pedal faster, you should shift to a higher gear. Conversely, shifting to a lower gear will help you maintain a comfortable cadence if slowing down.

Similarly, anticipate your gear shifts as you approach a hill or a change in terrain. Shift to a lower gear before climbing to maintain momentum. Anticipation is vital for steep descents, too—shifting into higher gears before the descent will allow you to have more resistance on the pedals and prevent your legs from spinning too fast.

  • Listen to your body:

 Tune in to how you feel during the ride. If you start to feel fatigued or notice your cadence slowing down, it may be a sign that you need to shift to a lower gear. 

Consider shifting to higher gear if you have more energy and want to pick up the pace. On the other hand, if your legs are feeling heavy and it’s getting harder to pedal, it might be a sign to shift to a lower gear.

You must also listen to your breathing. Your breathing can give you clues about how hard you’re working. If you’re breathing heavily and struggling to catch your breath, it might be a sign that you need to shift to an easier gear. 


4. Avoiding Cross-Chaining

The term “cross-chaining” describes those gears when the chain is at an extreme stretch between the inner and outer cogs. There are two types: one is when you’re in the small chainring at the front and small cog at the back, and the other is when you’re in the big chainring at the front and big cog at the back. 

Cross-chaining puts your chain at an extreme angle, causing increased wear and potential for chain drop. So, you must avoid cross-chaining for a smoother ride and to prevent excessive wear on your drivetrain.  

Here’s a guideline that you can follow to avoid cross-chaining:

  • Use proper gear combinations:

 You must avoid using extreme gear combinations, such as the smallest chainring at the front and the smallest cog at the back, or the largest chainring at the front and the largest cog at the back, which can put a lot of strain on your drivetrain, 

Instead, use a gear combination that keeps your chain as straight as possible, like the big chainring in the front with the middle to larger cogs in the rear or the small chainring in the front with the middle to smaller cogs in the rear.

  • Listen to your drivetrain:

 Pay attention to any unusual noises or resistance in your drivetrain. Hearing grinding noises may indicate cross-chaining, which can unnecessarily strain your chain and drivetrain components.

  • Practice proper shifting technique:

 When shifting gears, momentarily ease the pressure on the pedals to allow for a smooth and precise shift. It reduces the likelihood of cross-chaining and helps maintain a smooth pedal stroke.

  • Use the trim feature:

 The trim feature on a bike refers to a minor adjustment made to the front derailleur. The trim feature is crucial in efficient and seamless gear shifting—acting as a fine adjustment tool for the front derailleur, it reduces chain rub and increases the overall performance of your shifts.

Use the trim when going downhill and pedaling hard on a flat surface, especially with the big chainring engaged at high speeds. You can access this tool on the front (left-hand lever) 

To access this took, give the inboard lever a slight push (about half the distance of a regular shift), it will shift the front derailleur cage inwards. This also helps prevent any chain rubbing that may occur in certain gears. 

5. Light Pedal Pressure

Applying light pressure on the pedals while shifting gears reduces the tension on the drivetrain and allows the chain to move more easily between the gears. It minimizes the risk of the chain getting stuck or skipping, resulting in a smoother and more efficient gear change.

Gentle pressure on the pedals, combined with correctly timed gear shifts, also minimizes disruptions in your pedal cadence and helps maintain constant momentum and speed.  

When you’re applying light pedal pressure, focus on making smooth circles. Instead of just pushing down on the pedals, envision making smooth circles with your feet. It helps distribute the effort throughout the pedal stroke and promotes a more efficient power transfer.

Then, decrease the pedal force when it’s time to shift gears by lightening your pedal stroke or briefly coasting. It makes it easier to shift gears and reduces potential damage to the drivetrain components, such as chainrings or cogs. 

Also, remember that timing is crucial when shifting gears. Aim to shift gears in a slightly lighter pedal position, such as when your dominant foot is at the top of the pedal stroke. It will minimize the resistance and make shifting easier. 

6. Avoid Shifting Gears Frequently and Unnecessarily 

Shifting gears requires a brief interruption in power transfer so unnecessary shifts can lead to a loss of momentum and efficiency. Instead, you must find comfortable gear and maintain a steady cadence to optimize your energy output.

Excessive gear shifting can also add wear and tear to your chain, cassette, and derailleur. So, avoiding shifting gears frequently and unnecessarily increases chain and drivetrain longevity. By minimizing unnecessary shifts, you can prolong the lifespan of these components and reduce the need for frequent maintenance or replacements.

Also, remember that frequent gear changes can make maintaining a smooth and stable ride harder and disrupt your rhythm.

Of course, there will be times when shifting gears is necessary, like when encountering steep climbs or descents or adjusting to changes in terrain. The key is to be mindful of your gear selection and avoid excessive shifting when it’s unnecessary.


Shifting gears correctly on your road bike can level up your cycling experience. Proper gear shifting makes your ride smoother, more efficient, and more comfortable. You can seamlessly transition between different resistance levels by shifting gears at the right time. 

Remember, mastering the gears requires regular practice and a willingness to try different combinations. So turn that pedal, listen to your bike’s rhythm, and open up a world of cycling adventures!

Happy cycling!

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are the potential causes of my chain getting stuck between gears?

There can be several potential causes for your chain getting stuck between gears. It could be due to a misalignment of the derailleur, a bent or damaged derailleur hanger, a worn-out chain or cassette, or even debris or dirt buildup in the drivetrain. It’s also possible that the shift cables may need adjustment or replacement. 

If you’re experiencing this issue frequently, it’s a good idea to have your bike checked by a professional mechanic who can address the specific cause of the problem.

2. Which brands are known for providing suitable quality bike accessories related to shifting?

Big names such as SRAM offer tools/systems like Eagle AXS Shifters and mechanical mountain bike groupsets; Campagnolo delivers EPS- its electronic system, among many other items, including Drop-Bar Shifters.

3. How can we learn more about the history behind implementing changes related to improving bicycling aerodynamics?

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of implementing changes to improve bicycling aerodynamics, there are several resources you can explore. Some books you might like are “The Obree Way” by Graeme Obree and “Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History” by Tony Hadland.

Moreover, documentaries such as “The Flying Scotsman” and “A Sunday in Hell” delve into the history of cycling and its technological developments. All these resources provide valuable insights into the evolution of aerodynamic advancements in cycling. 

You can also follow cycling-specific websites, forums, and social media accounts covering aerodynamics in cycling. Additionally, interviews with professional cyclists, engineers, and aerodynamic experts can offer firsthand knowledge and perspectives.

4. How do I adjust the lever reach on my road bike?

Look for a small bolt or screw near the brake lever. Loosen it to adjust the reach (distance) of the lever from the handlebars. Position your hands on the handlebars and bend your elbows to find a comfortable position to reach and wrap around the brake lever without straining or stretching too hard. 

Then, test the brake lever by applying gentle pressure to ensure it engages smoothly and comfortably.