For tackling a different kind of terrain, making your ride more efficient, and keeping your gears and chain in a good shape for as long as possible, you will need to know how to change gears on MTB. Churning the pedals at a low speed or pedaling furiously will not only take a lot of energy from you, but it also won’t get you very far. You will need to ride in the right gear and change or shift at the right time and in the right way. Efficient pedaling should keep your riding at a steady rate without feeling like you are pushing too hard or too gently through the pedals. Let’s take a look at basics on how to change gears on MTB. For deeper understanding of gear ratios check the following article.


Gear Shifting On Mountain Bike

The front gears are controlled by your left hand and are the sprockets that are attached to the crank-arm. Technically they are called chainrings. They come as a “double” : ( 2 gears: a big ring and a little ring), or a “tripple” setup (3 Gears: big, middle, and little). The smaller the ring the chain is on, the easier pedaling. The bigger ring will make pedaling harder but faster in the right circumstances. On your shifter the first setup will translate to a lower gear while higher gear will mean that the chain rides over a big chainring.

The rear gears is a cluster of rings at the back which is controlled by your right hand and is called a cassette. (Although less common, some bikes can have freewheel instead of cassette.) Each ring on the cassette is referred to as a cog. Most MTB bikes use 9- 10- or 11-speed cassettes although some models also use 8- or less commonly, 7-speed. With the rear gears, the lowest gear on your shifter (Easiest peddling) is achieved by shifting your chain to a biggest cog, unlike the smaller one in front gears scenario.

How many gears does your bike have ? :¬†Depending on a group set, your mountain bike will have a different combination of chainrings and cogs. For example if your bike has 2 chain rings on the front and 10 cogs at the back, commonly speaking you have 20 speed bike (2×10=20). Some people may refer to only rear cogs and call this setup a 10 speed bike.


The basic principle here is that you need to be pedaling for the gear to shift. The chain will need to be moving forward for the derailleurs to do their job, so always shift while moving. For the smooth gear shift you will need to find the balance to pedal lightly and softly yet with enough pressure. If you put too much pressure on your pedal, your leg power will override the derailleurs and instead of shifting you will hear just grinding noises.

Uphills & Headwinds Downhills Flat terrain
Small or middle front chainring + bigger rear cogs Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs Small or middle front chainring + ­smaller rear cogs

Gear Selection Up The Steep Hills

The steeper the hill the easier the pedaling you want to be. In extreme cases it will usually translate to the smallest ring in the front and the biggest in the rear. Right ? Yes, but not always, at least not in every case. This set up means the least strength required from you legs, but it also means more revolutions required to keep your bike going at certain speed. You will simply come to a standstill if you don’t have enough endurance to spin fast enough on the steepest of the hills. But assuming that you have enough power in your legs, shifting to one or two gears higher on the rear, might save you from stopping. The higher gear will simply keep your bike going at less pedaling.

Pedaling Pressure During Gear Shifting

Don’t pedal with full force during your gear change. Back off your pedal pressure while still rotating the cranks to enable the chain and derailleur to change gears stress free.

Changing Gears Up the Hills

Anticipate the terrain and change gears before you’ll start climbing. When you need to adjust it further, change gears while backing off your pedal pressure. If you shift while hard-pedaling up the hill the more chance you will crunch those gears under full pedal force which apart from losing momentum might lead to a chain damage. Especially, never front-shift up tough climbs. Front-shifting is generally much slower and carries much more risk.

Changing Gears Over Obstacles

Same as with going up the steep hills anticipate and if needed change to a right gear before ditches, fallen trees, drops, jumps, or really rough and fast trail such as rock gardens. If it’s too late change your gear after those features to stop your chain from bouncing off during the gear-shift. It’s also a good idea to shift your chain to a smaller ring on rough downhill rides if you are likely to hit an obstacle. Hitting an obstacle with the biggest ring might call for a chain repair. Remember to choose the right gear combination to keep chain tension to enable you pedaling and reduce the chance of the chain bouncing or dropping off.

Gear Selection That Your Bike Does Not Like !!!

One thing that your multi-speed mountain bike does not like is a condition called a “cross-gear” or “cross-chaining”. In other words chain on the smallest chain ring in the front and the smallest cog in the rear or the big ring and the biggest cog. These bad practices put the chain at too much of an angle and make it wear out extra fast. Cross-gearing will usually be accompanied by some sort of grinding noise coming from the chain. It also makes it more likely for the chain to fall off the bike.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment