How To Use Gears On A Mountain Bike

When riding the mountain bike trails, you will have definitely heard the heavy clunking sound of someone changing gears badly. This noise sounds awful, but it also sounds expensive. This grinding and crunching of gears can cause severe damage, as you run the risk of snapping your chain while speeding up the wear and tear of your drivetrain. In this post, we will tell you how to use gears on a mountain bike correctly.

Before You Ride

You must check your gears before you set off on a ride. The reason your gears are crunching when you shift may be down to a mechanical issue. For example, your gears may not be appropriately adjusted. Therefore, shifting up and down the cassette may not be smooth, and your chain can jump gears.

Another thing to check is that your rear mech is properly tightened. The bolt that attaches your rear mech to your frame can wind itself out over time on some bikes. When this happens, the mech isn’t correctly aligned, causing gear-changing issues. You can experience similar problems if your rear mech is bent. It only takes a strike from a rock to bend your mech and knock everything out of alignment. Sometimes you can bend it back into place, but you will need to replace it if it is too bent.

It is essential to make sure your chain is clean and lubricated too. A clean and lubed chain is free-flowing with minimal friction, which is critical for smooth gear changes.

Gear cables can stretch over time, and their housing can get full of dirt. When this happens, your gear shifting may be sluggish or inaccurate. Therefore, it is a good idea to inspect your gear cable and replace it if needed. If you ride often, you may want to think about changing your gear cable two to three times per year.

Learn About Your Gears

If you fully understand your gearing, you will have a better chance of changing gear smoothly. Knowing how much of a jump there is between your gears will allow you to keep your pedaling cadence up and know what gear to be in when you approach a climb. This is especially the case if your bike has a 1X setup. For example, if you have a modern 1X12 setup, the jump from a 42 tooth gear to the easiest 50 tooth gear is significant, with a very different feel.

Knowledge of your gearing will come from experience. The more you ride, you will get a good feel for what gear you need to be in at any time. You will also be able to change gear in advance to anticipate changes in the terrain relative to your speed.

Avoid Cross-Shifting

Cross-shifting happens if you have both front and rear derailleurs. This is where your chain is at an extreme angle from being on the big gear at the front and the largest rear gear. You will get the same problem when the chain is on the small gear up front and the small one at the back. When you cross-shift, you put lots of strain on the drivetrain while limiting your gear-changing options. Sometimes you will feel and hear a difference if you have crossed your chain.

How To Make The Perfect Gear Shift

The first thing you need to be doing before you change gear is to keep your pedaling smooth. You also need to reduce how much power you put into the pedals. 30% less energy should be sufficient before clicking the shifter once or twice, depending on what you are doing.

As soon as your bike has changed gear, you can put the power back into the pedals and get going.

This may seem simple, and it is. However, when you get it right, it can be very rewarding. A smooth shift will get the power you need to the rear wheel when you need it. It helps to keep your riding smoother and faster while maximizing your grip.

You will know when you change gear correctly, as you won’t get a loud, clunky noise but a nice quiet click. Also, the chain will slip along the cassette with much less effort.

Changing Gear When Climbing

When you are riding up a challenging hill, your gears are under the most stress. This is the case whether you are standing up on the pedals or sitting on the saddle. For this reason, it is vital to only shift one gear at a time. If you try to change down more than one gear, you will hear a loud crunch and feel the extra strain in the chain as you pedal.

It is a good idea to pre-plan your gear shifts for your climb. Make sure you look at the incline and try to shift as early as you can. By doing this, you will be able to keep your momentum and avoid grinding to a halt or mistiming your gear shift. If you mistime your change, there is a good chance that you will need to change gear while your chain is under lots of stress, increasing the likelihood of snapping it.

Changing Gear For A Descent

Descending can be much easier on your drivetrain than climbing, but there are some things to be aware of.

For example, you have just completed a climb, ready for a big, fast ride back down. But, you have forgotten that you are still in a low gear. So, as you set off, you realize this and bang through the shifter to get to an appropriate higher gear. The danger with this is that the chain can drop off the cassette and get wedged between your chainstay and highest gear.

To stop your chain from coming off the cassette, you need to ensure that your limit screws are set perfectly.

Sometimes, downhill racers will snap their chains. This happens when they don’t reduce the power to the pedals enough, or they are trying to change gear in the wrong position. To prevent snapping your chain, just make sure you back off the power slightly before changing gear.

Refine Your Gear Changing

A part of becoming a good mountain biker is to change gear with finesse. Reading the terrain ahead is a big part of refining your gear changing. Make sure you are looking around corners and well ahead of you, so you know when to brake and shift gear.

By being in the correct gear, you are pedaling at the proper cadence for the climb or descent. Sometimes you can enhance your gear changing by pushing your gear shifter a little further than you need to. This can make the chain shift up the cassette a little quicker. But this depends on the type of shifter you have and how good your gear cable is.

What To Do If Your Chain Comes Off

Sometimes your chain can drop off the cassette. Usually, this happens when you shift with too much pressure on the pedals. This is where that refinement comes in; try not to change gear when you can barely move the pedals. If you really need to change gear at this point, ease off the pedals to allow your chain to slip smoothly into the correct gear.

Another way your chain can drop off is when the terrain is particularly bumpy, especially if you run a 1X drivetrain. This can be especially common on full-suspension bikes. This is because the chain tension changes as the bike’s rear moves up and down with the shock.

If you are running a 1X setup and realize that you drop your chain regularly, you may want to buy a chain guide. A chain guide will keep your chain in place and stop it from coming off. 

However, if you don’t have a chain guide and you drop your chain, there is a simple process to get it back on. Gently push the rear derailleur towards the front of the bike. This will slacken the chain so you can manually hook it back onto your chainring. To make sure it goes on properly, lift up the rear of your bike and turn the pedals. The chain will seat itself back onto the gear and run smoothly. You will get oily fingers, but at least you will be riding again.

You may be able to get your chain back on while you are still riding. If the chain drops off the small gear, pedal slowly while using the shifter to select a larger gear. However, if this doesn’t work straight away, get off your bike and do it manually to prevent damage to your bike.

If your chain drops every ride, you may need to index your gears and set the limit screws. You can do this at home without the need for specialist tools. But if time is an issue, a good bike shop will easily do this for you.

Final Thoughts

If you are new to mountain biking, you will probably come across problems like dropping your chain. However, with experience, you will know how to reduce the likelihood of it happening and have stress-free and fun rides.

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