Cycle Together

Understanding Bike Gearing and Selection

Gearing

We’ve all experienced that over-geared grind up a hill, that little wobble because you can’t push the gear any faster, that feeling they call ‘pedalling squares’. Fear not, let’s chat about all things gears. 

Generally speaking if you purchase a built bike, it will have a standard gearing of 50/34 chainring with an 11-28 cassette – enough to see you around the UK – except for places like the Peak District, where it’s one big, steep hill after another. 

Cassette

Continually climbing on gears that are slightly too big increases your risk of knee injuries and lower back pain. Cycling uses your whole body. Yep, that’s right, you’ll feel muscle burn in most places, so let’s try to make it as efficient for you as possible. You might also require a bike fit – this can also contribute to your need to grind up the hills.

It’s also good to note that track gearing will also be completely different and vary depending on what you can push, some people prefer to spin and some prefer to push a big gear, depending on the event. Off road gearing is also different as you tend to need lower gears to tackle gnarley terrains.

Road gearing

So what are gears? They’re the lovely invention that allow us to get up hills easier and go faster on the flat, all while being comfortable on the bike. 

Your gears will convert the force you put through your pedals from your legs into moving the wheels forwards – turning them faster or slower depending on your level of effort. Your muscles can only produce a certain amount of effort to push the pedals. To optimise this you need to find your most efficient cadence and selecting the right gear will generally help you pedal at your optimal cadence whatever the terrain. 

Gearing

Bicycle External Drivetrains 

A majority of bikes have been refined into simple, lightweight and perfect machines with external drivetrains. 

Standard gearing on road bikes usually has two front chainrings and a cassette at the back. The two front chainrings give the rider two options for changing gears, with the large front chainring generally used on flat and downhill terrain and the small front chainring usually used uphill. Choice of chainring goes along with changing gear on the cassette.

The derailleur at the back of the bike is what changes the gear on the cassette, moving the chain up and down the cogs efficiently. 

If your bike has two chainrings at the front, you’ll also have a front derailleur which will change the gears at the front. Those who opt for a single chainring – also known as a one-by – usually those who are optimising for a specific race, won’t have a front derailleur. 

The front gears tend to have much more of a jump between gear ratios, which is why the big ring is most efficient when on the flat. Being in the big ring and the middle of the cassette at the back is much more efficient than being in the small ring and at the bottom of the cassette at the back. 

Hub Gears 

Hub gears tend to be a bit more robust and are hidden inside the rear hub, with less perishable parts. 

The servicing intervals tend to also be much wider apart – roughly 3,000-5,000km. Internal hub gears are great for someone wanting less maintenance to deal with. 

Hub gears remove the exposed rear derailleur, which removes a risk of damage to an additional bike part. Having everything neatly packed away inside one part, allows you to carry out less maintenance, worry a little less about parts and making sure they’re all clean.

With various options out there you can choose exactly what you want, some of the brands are; Shimano, SRAM and Sturmey Archer. 

The hub gears range from three to 14 gears, so you’ll be covered regardless of your chosen riding and terrain. 

They are however, much heavier than standard gears and can make changing a puncture more difficult, but nothing a bike shop can’t help with. 

Single speed and fixed gear bikes 

Fixed gear bikes tend to be used for track racing, track days and some fixed criterium races. Some people prefer to commute on single speed bikes, especially if their commute is relatively flat. 

A single speed bike allows you to free wheel, but removes the option of gears, but they do have brakes. Many people enjoy commuting on them as they’re simple to maintain and cheaper. Check out our maintenance hacks to keep your bike roadworthy in our blog here.

A fixed gear bike’s rear cog is literally ‘fixed’ in place, which removes the option to stop pedaling and free-wheel. If you try to freewheel the pedals will keep moving around and potentially throw you out of your saddle. We assure you, that you’ll only make that mistake once! 

Fixed gear bikes often don’t have brakes, as they’re built for riding and racing on the track, where you don’t need brakes, as you kick back and use the lack of ‘freewheeling’ ability to slow the bike down. However, you can often add a front brake to these bikes, as long as the fork has a cable hole, should you want to ride it on the road.

Note: it is a legal requirement to have brakes on your bike in the UK, when riding on the roads. 

With no option to change gear, you have to make sure you put a gear on that you know you can push regardless of terrain – uphill, downhill, flat. One gear must do all. 

Although a great option for low cost and maintenance, they can make cycling a little difficult if you are used to using lots of gears. It’s nothing you can’t get used to once you ride one for a while. Single speeds have also become quite fashionable, so why not join the cool kids!

So, choosing your bike and gearing can be a minefield of options, but once you get started and know what you’re looking for it becomes easier. You can always buy a bigger chainring or sprocket for a fixie bike if your current gearing isn’t working. 

Single Speed

If you need to chat about gear options, get in contact, or chat with your club or local bike store. We all want you to enjoy your ride. 

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  • 22 days ago

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