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How to Shift Gears on a Road Bike? (Easy & Simple)

Written by Gary Johnson / Fact checked by Henry Speciale

how to shift gears on a road bike

Riding a bike for long-distance travel will present many challenges, and one that stands out is the difficulty of traversing different types of terrain. But the use of a gear shift system makes this manageable. All that remains is to know how to shift gears on a road bike.

In this article, we’ll look at how to do this task, including the important considerations you need to know. If you’re looking for a guide covering shifters on a bike for dummies, this is a good place to start.

What You’ll Need

  • Road bike
  • Gear shift system (installed on bike)

On a Road Bike How to Shift Gears


Below is a general guide that works for most manual road bike gear shifters. But first, we’ll cover the general setup used for many gear shift systems.

Road bikes will have two levers, one for each handlebar. There are different designs applied to shift systems and some variations in how they are operated.

However, certain aspects of shifter use stay the same. The first is that the left-hand lever controls the front derailleur to change between chainrings, while the rear derailleur shifts between cogs using the control on the right handlebar.

The second is that there are two control levers on each side of the shifter. However, different brands make use of the lever in different ways.

For this guide, we will make use of the general Shimano design that uses the main lever and an inner lever. The main one changes to a larger gear, and the inner one to a smaller gear.

For comparison, Campagnolo shifters will also have an inner lever but do not use the main lever; instead, the handlebars will have a gear-shift button that can be operated using the thumbs.

1. Shift chainrings with your left lever

There are usually two or three gears on the front gear set that is controlled with the left lever. This is the gear you will want to change when climbing, which requires bigger adjustments to your pedaling.

On the chainrings, the bigger the gear, the more effort is needed to pedal and go downhill. The smaller gear makes it easier to pedal and is ideal for uphill rides, but this also makes the bike traverse less distance for each turn of the pedal you make.

2. Change cogs with the right shifter

The rear gear set of a bike has more gears compared to the front set, with around ten being common. Another difference is that the big and small gears have the opposite effect.

The bigger gear is the easier and slower one, while the smaller gear requires more effort but is faster.

We use the rear gears to finetune our pedaling, allowing us to find that sweet spot where we can be more efficient and comfortable. However, this means there is no single way to properly use them. It’s all about looking for what works for you.

Pointers to Shift Bicycle Gears

1. Pedal when shifting but lightly


When you change gears on road bike, it is necessary to pedal for the shift to occur. This is because it is the motion of the gear that allows the chain to latch onto the sprockets of the next gear.

If you switch gears on a bike without pedaling, the chain will stay put and will not move.

Another essential point to consider is that the force of pedaling should be lighter. Applying heavy force may cause grinding and cause the chain to get stuck. Keeping your pedaling light will help avoid such problems.

A good method to accommodate the stretch of light pedaling during shifting is to build some additional momentum before changing gears.

2. Avoid cross-chaining

Cross-chaining refers to a specific gear set combination that causes problems for a bike. This occurs when the chain is positioned in extremes for the front and rear gears, such as when the front gear is set at the biggest level, while the other is at the smallest one.

If you examine your bicycle, you’ll see that if the biggest gear on the chainring is at the rightmost side, the biggest gear on the rear cogs will be at the leftmost position.

This means that having the chain on these gears leaves it in a position where it is angled and stretched, which causes stress. It may also lead to some grinding sounds.

Aside from additional stress that may lead to damage, it is also possible for the chain to fall off when shifting out of a cross-chain.

3. Shift in advance

It is important to plan ahead of situations where you need to change gears. This applies especially to climbing, where you will need to account for the heavy strain that will be put on your bike.

If you are already climbing before shifting gears road bike will lose a lot of force, which will make the climb difficult, especially on a steeper incline.

You can address this by changing gears before the heavy strain is applied to them. Doing so will allow you to retain more of your momentum, allowing you to proceed more easily.

4. Different shifters have different designs

Different brands have different features, and some will have more specialized functions as well. While they will still work similarly, even these small differences can lead to some confusion, and any hesitation can be dangerous on the road.

On a road bike Shimano shifters sometimes have an additional button for changing to a smaller gear that is operated by the thumbs.

Electronic shifters will also involve much of the same considerations as a manual shifter but will have a different control scheme with buttons instead of levers.

Regardless of which system you use, it will always be best to know how to use your tools the right way.


After reading, you will find that how to shift gears on a road bike is intuitive and allows a high degree of control in many situations. All you need to do is to put in the time to familiarize yourself with it, and you’ll be able to enjoy a more efficient and comfortable biking experience.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave your message in the section below. We’ll be happy to hear from you.

Always ride safely.

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