While you are shifting gears, you must keep pedaling in order for the chain to move from one gear to the next. When you're in a particular gear and pedaling, the chain is pulling on the teeth of that gear. But, for the split second that the chain is moving from one gear to another, the chain is pulling on nothing, or, you might say, it's just pullin on air. So, you don't want to be pedaling with full force while you're shifting, especially if you're pedaling uphill.
It may sound difficult or counter-intuitive at first, but you have to ease up on pedaling ever so slightly while you shift, while still keeping a nice, smooth pedal stroke. With a little practice, it will become second nature. This will help keep your chain from "slipping" while you shift, and from falling completely off your gears.
For this same reason, don't shift both the front (left-hand) and rear (right-hand) gears at the same time! If the chain is only pulling on air on both the front and rear, that increases the likelihood even more of the chain slipping and potentially doing serious damage to your bike.
Some shifters are labeled with the gear numbers (e.g. 1-2-3 on the left, 1 through 8 on the right) to make it easier for you to tell what gear combination you're currently using. However, try not to get too hung up on the actual numbers; that will only make things more complicated than they need to be.
Have you ever heard this: "Okay, I'm in gear 2 on the left, and in gear 4 on the right, and I have a total of 8 on the right, so that means I'm in gear number 12." Trust us, NOBODY who's an experienced rider or racer thinks about gears in this way. Who likes doing arithmetic, even standing still, let alone when you're trying to enjoy a bike ride?
You should let your shifting be dictated by how you FEEL, not by what number you think you should be in. Your thought process should be something simple, like, "It's too hard to pedal; I should shift into an easier gear." Or, "I'm pedaling way too fast; I should shift into a harder gear."
This article was published on September 13, 2013.
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